F & AC
1931 was a year of change on the gridirons of Frankford. A mid-summer fire forced the Yellow Jackets to abandon their stadium and the former NFL champions eventually cut short that season's campaign -- their worst in history -- never to take to the field again. But even as the sun was setting on the storied Yellow Jackets, Frankford's fraternity of club football was alive and well. The elevens of the Magnolia Athletic Association, Melrose Catholic Club and Wildwood Athletic Association, along with such teams as the Frankford Red Jackets, Steel Jackets and Vikings all competed fiercely for grid honors with other clubs from throughout the area. That season the rising star among the Frankford elevens was a newcomer on the scene, the Legion.
The Story of the Frankford Legion
American Legion Post 211, located in Philadelphia's Frankford section, was large and well organized. It also had close ties to the local football scene, so its decision to field a post sponsored football club for the 1931 season was a serious one. The post's football committee membership role reads like a who's-who of Frankford football, including Howard Bowker, Bob Remmey, Wally Secrist, Horace Latimer and Clifford Fowler, among others. These men were all well respected in the community and had long been affiliated with the Frankford Athletic Association, one of the most successful football organizations in the country. This committee quickly enlisted the services of Carl "Whitey" Thomas to serve as coach. Thomas, a Frankford High School alum, was a veteran of several NFL clubs and had helped coach of the University of Pennsylvania eleven. The committee quickly secured the use of Frankford Memorial Stadium, recruited players and contacted potential opponents to arrange a schedule.
The Frankford Legion kicked-off its inaugural season at home on the first Saturday in October with a shutout victory over the Bethlehem Panthers. A week later they revived the traditional Frankford rivalry with the teams of the Pennsylvania coal region. This was an important step because grid fans in Frankford were familiar with the mining town elevens and knew that they played quality football. A 27 to 0 pounding of Bethlehem was one thing, but defeating Casey Gildea's Coaldale Big Green by the same score was quite another, and immediately established the team's legitimacy. The following weekend the Legion recalled another Frankford tradition, that of back-to-back home and away games, when they defeated the Overbrook White Jackets on Saturday and then headed over to New Jersey for a 13 to 7 victory over a strong Camden eleven.
The weekend of October 24-25 was by far the Legion's most disappointing of the season, with back-to-back games against an unusual amalgamation of the Bayonne Vikings and Long Island Bulldogs. While the Frankford Yellow Jackets had opened their season with a 13 to 0 victory over this team, the Legion didn't fare quite as well as their NFL cousins. The Viking-Bulldogs, as they were called, put up stiff competition, defeating the Legion in both games.
Next up on the schedule was the heart of the "coal-cracker" series, with four of the next five games coming against teams from the state's anthracite belt. The Legion sandwiched a scoreless tie with Coaldale between two blowout victories over Jack Ernst's Shamokin eleven. Then came a mid-week Armistice Day contest with the U.S. Marine team from Quantico (VA), and a bus trip upstate to take on the Shenandoah Presidents, defending champions of the coal-regions.
In Frankford's eyes the Armistice Day contest between the Philadelphia Council of the American Legion and the Quantico Marines was very much a "Legion" game. Their eleven formed the nucleus of the American Legion squad, with a line-up strengthened by the addition of some well known All-Americans: Paul Scull and Charlie Rogers, formerly of Penn, and Martin Brill, formerly of Notre Dame. This fortified version of the Legion did themselves proud, defeating the Marines, 14 to 0. Back to its regular line-up, however, the team wasn't quite as fortunate in Shenandoah. "Shendo" had beefed up its roster with several members of Frankford's recently disbanded NFL franchise, including Bull Behman, Potsy Jones, Tony Kostos and Frankie Racis. The Legion strengthened its own roster with some ex-Yellow Jackets, namely Jim Pederson and Carroll Ringwalt, along with Royce Goodbread who had played for that team the year season, but the always tough Presidents held the Legion scoreless, for their third loss of the season. Despite the loss to Shenandoah the infusion fresh blood brought by the recent additions to the club, especially Goodbread, was something the Legion needed. Next up on their schedule was a run of five games in eight days to close out the season.
The end of season stretch began with a pair of 13 to 0 victories in a home-and-away combo versus Clifton Heights. The team then hopped on a bus to the Jersey shore for a Monday night game in Atlantic City's newly constructed Convention Hall and laid a 40 to 0 shellacking on the Atlantic City Olympics. Three days later the team was back in Frankford for a Thanksgiving Day rematch with Shenandoah, which now claimed the title of "state champions." This time around the Legion was better prepared on offense, shutting out the Presidents, 21 to 0, to stake their own claim to the state title. The Legion was scheduled to meet the Orange AC that Saturday, at home, in the season finale. Orange was a former NFL club that claimed the title "champions of New Jersey." This game, however, was postponed due to bad weather. Actually both teams were at the stadium and prepared to play, but rain kept the crowd low -- a mere twenty-odd fans had come through the gate by kick-off time -- so the teams agreed to reschedule for the following weekend. On the first Saturday in December the Legion finally closed their season with a 13 to 0 victory over the Orange AC.
A 12-3-1 record against quality opponents was quite an accomplishment and their late season victory over Shenandoah legitimized the team's claim to the independent state title. With the support of a strong organization, a roster of talented players and a successful first season under their belt the Frankford Legion's future looked bright, prompting even higher expectations for the next season.
In 1932 Frankford hoped to build on the previous season's success by taking their game to the next level, with a plan that included a series of Wednesday night contests against National Football League clubs. Unfortunately the residents neighboring Memorial Stadium had other ideas and petitioned the court to block the games. Although the judge overseeing the case ultimately ruled that the games could take place, he stipulated that they must end no later than 10:15 p.m. The team's management, disappointed with the ruling, scrapped the idea. Oddly enough, this apparent setback may have been a blessing in disguise. The Legion was unable to re-sign a number of players from the previous season's eleven, leaving the defending "state champions" much weaker than expected. The team also lost the services of coach Whitey Thomas. With the departure of Thomas the coaching reigns passed to Wally Secrist. One of the men behind the formation of the team, Secrist was a veteran of several NFL clubs and had captained the previous season's eleven.
The Legion looked sharp as it kicked-off the new season's campaign with a solid victory over Tex Hamer's Overbrook White Jackets. The winning continued with a pair of victorious outings against New Jersey's Orange AC and an upstate aggregate known as the Catasauqua Triangles. The Catasauqua game was unusual in that the Triangles had brought in some new players for the game after having lost to the Raphael AC in a "preview" of the Legion game just one week earlier. Raphael was a club with several Legion players in its line-up and piloted Frankford's Jack Hutton. A 13 to 0 shutout of the Tacony Aces, a local rival, wrapped up the season opening home stand. With four games under their belt the Legion appeared to have picked up where they left off the previous year and were rolling right along, ...when they hit a wall.
The team's offense suddenly dried up, scoring only three touchdowns in the next four games. After falling to Clifton Heights, 7 to 9, and the Clifton Wessingtons, 7 to 14, the Legion was lucky to hang on for a scoreless tie at home against the Washington Senators. Then came a weather delayed rematch, at home, against Clifton Heights. This strong club was led by Marty Brill, the noted All-American out of Notre Dame. Once again the offense could manage only a single touchdown and the team took another loss, 7 to 14. In a period of just eight days the team's spotless 4-0-0 record had turned to a mediocre 4-3-1, and the most important game of their season, the annual Armistice Day contest with the Quantico Marines, loomed just over the horizon. The team rebounded with their strongest offensive performance of the season, a 33 to 0 drubbing of the Eastern League's Bloomfield AA, providing some momentum as the Legion headed out to do battle against the Marines.
The annual Armistice Day contest between the Philadelphia Council of the American Legion and the Quantico Marines, held at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field, was generally regarded as the single most important game the team's season. The American Legion's representatives had defeated the Marines in each of the two previous clashes, with the Frankford post's eleven forming the core of the 1931 squad. Owing to their overall success in the previous season the Frankford eleven had once again been chosen to represent the Philadelphia Council. This year, however, the winning streak came to an end as they fell to the Marine eleven, 0 to 7.
Recovery from the Armistice Day setback came in the form of a pair of 6 to 0 victories over Tex Hamer's boys and the All-York Pros, another team that featured several former Frankford Yellow Jackets. The following Saturday's game against the Roxborough Panthers was cancelled due to weather, leaving the team well rested as they hopped a train and headed upstate for a Sunday contest against the Columbia Elks. On defense the Legion held the Elks to a single touchdown, but as was so often the case this season their offense failed to score any points. The once mighty Legion, now a haggard eleven, limped home with another loss and prepared to face the Tacony Aces in the season finale on Thanksgiving Day. The Aces, who had fallen to the Legion back in mid-October, were in no mood for another set-back and beefed-up for the contest. Led by former Legion quarterback Barney Gugle, Tacony played a fine game, holding the much heavier Frankford eleven to a scoreless tie.
The Frankford Legion had started the 1932 campaign with high expectations, but after a promising start ended the season with a 7-5-2 record. In comparison to the previous year's effort this one was only marginally successful, a reality check leaving the future of the Post 211 sponsored grid team in question.
Sometime following the end of the 1932 season it seems that American Legion Post 211 decided to end its sponsorship of football and disbanded its eleven. This was not, however, the end of the Frankford Legion. The following September it was announced that Wally Secrist was organizing a new team, under the auspices of his recently formed Frankford Legion Athletic Association. This team, named the Legion, would represent Frankford in the fledgling Interstate Professional Football League. The Interstate League consisted of six teams, including the Frankford (PA) Legion, Reading (PA) Keys, Bayonne (NJ) Vikings, Clifton (NJ) Wessingtons, Passaic (NJ) Red Devils and Paterson (NJ) Giants.
Almost from the beginning there was controversy regarding the name of the new team. Given the fact that "Frankford Legion" had been the name of its eleven, Post 211 believed that the new Frankford Legion was misrepresenting itself as being affiliated with the American Legion. The post felt strongly enough on this point that it went so far as to publish an announcement in The Frankford Gazette making public its concerns. Before the season was over, however, the Frankford Legion AA would take its own steps to make clear the separation.
The new Frankford Legion opened their season with a pair of road losses, the first coming against the Shenandoah Presidents and the second, in their Interstate League opener, against the Reading Keys. Frankford finally broke into the win column in the third week of the season with a 14 to 0 shutout of the Clifton Wessingtons. The Legion then prepared for a highly anticipated meeting with the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles, in a Wednesday night game a Phillies' Ball Park. While the Eagles were struggling against other NFL clubs in this their inaugural season, they easily dispatched Frankford, 40 to 0. Following the loss to Philadelphia, the Legion was held to a scoreless tie by the tough Hazleton eleven, before heading out to Pennsylvania Dutch country, where they bounced back to defeat the All-Lancaster Roses, 14 to 0. Unfortunately Frankford was unable to build on that victory, following it up with a scoreless tie at Paterson and 0 to 12 defeat at the hands of Passaic. A little more than half-way through the season the legion's record stood at 2-4-2 overall, 1-2-1 in league play, as they headed into their annual clash with the Marines.
While the Frankford Legion had formed the nucleus of the local American Legion teams that had taken on the Marines in each of the two previous seasons' Armistice Day contests, this year's game was different. The eleven of the 3rd Battalion, 19th Reserve Marines would take on the Frankford Legion proper, in what was not only the Legion's first home game of the season, but also the first in their new 7,000 seat stadium. Earlier in the season the Frankford Legion AA had acquired a portion of the old Yellow Jackets' Stadium property. Having cleared and leveled the field and constructed new grandstands, Frankford Legion Athletic Field was now ready for use. The Legion also beefed up its offense through the acquisition of Fait "Chief" Elkins, the former Haskell Indian School standout who was well known to Frankford fans from his days with the Yellow Jackets. The game was a hard fought battle but the Legion did not disappoint their fans. They avenged the previous season's defeat and christened their new home with a 3 to 0 victory.
Frankford hoped to follow up on the Armistice Day victory by beating the Passaic Red Devils the very next day in a home game made possible by recent changes to the Blue Law prohibitions on Sunday sporting events, but dropped that contest 7 to 10. Following the loss to Passaic the Frankford Legion Athletic Association reorganized as the Northeast Philadelphia Athletic Association, renaming its football team the Yellow Trojans. These changes were intended to put an end to the confusion over the team's relationship with American Legion Post 211. That confusion had created two problems. First, the appearance of an affiliation that did not exist upset post members, but perhaps more importantly, it left some fans with the impression that they couldn't join the Frankford Legion AA unless they were veterans. This was especially troublesome because the association was looking to broaden its membership beyond the confines of Frankford to the whole of the "Greater Northeast" section of Philadelphia. The club also rehired Whitey Thomas, whom local newspapers had recently reported as actively interested in returning as the team's coach. In the midst of these changes the Reading Keys decided to cancel their scheduled Thanksgiving Day contest, leaving the newly christened Yellow Trojans scrambling to fill the slot. Fortunately they were able to entice Shenandoah with guarantees of a large crowd. On Thanksgiving Day, before 4,000 enthusiastic fans, the Legion avenged their earlier loss to the Presidents by defeating Shenandoah, 17 to 12, on the offensive strength of Fait Elkins and Spike Collins.
The Clifton Wessingtons, an Interstate League opponent previously scheduled for December 3, was replaced with the Tacony Aces. The Aces, who had held the Legion to a scoreless tie in the previous season's Thanksgiving Day contest, fielded a strong eleven. A long tradition of rivalry between these two neighborhoods meant this match up was sure to be a big draw. The game, however, never came off. After being postponed a week due to bad weather it was cancelled when the Shenandoah Presidents, stinging from their Thanksgiving Day defeat, agreed to meet the Trojans in the season finale.
The Reading Keys, Shenandoah Presidents and Yellow Trojans were generally regarded as the strongest "independent" teams in the state. Although they had suffered early season losses to both Shenandoah and Reading, the Yellow Trojans had been playing winning football since their victory over the Marines and had defeated the Presidents on Thanksgiving Day. The following Sunday Shenandoah avenged its own early season loss to Reading with a 21 to 0 thrashing of the Keys. In the minds of many that victory, coupled with the fact that Reading had cancelled the scheduled second game with the Yellow Trojans, eliminated the Keys from contention for the state title. Thus the stage was set for a championship game between the Northeast Philadelphia AA Yellow Trojans and the Shenandoah Presidents. That game, held in Shenandoah, proved to be a bitter contest. The scoreless first half was primarily a punting duel. The Presidents scored the first points of the game in the third quarter and put a cap things in the final period by plunging for a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage following the recovery of a blocked punt on the visitors' 4-yard line. The 0 to 13 loss knocked the Yellow Trojans out of the championship picture, giving Shenandoah the state title.
By the Numbers
With a strong offense and powerful defense, 1931 was by far the Frankford Legion's most successful and saw the club lay a very credible claim to the mythical independent pro championship of Pennsylvania. The following seasons, however, saw a much weaker offense and this was reflected in the team's win/loss record.
Frankford Legion / Yellow Trojans Season Summaries
Home Field Advantage
Initially the Frankford Legion played its home games at Community Memorial Stadium, the home field of Frankford High School. In 1933, however, the club acquired a portion of the old Frankford Stadium/Yellow Jacket Field property. The Legion opened that season on the road, putting off its first home game until the new playing field was refurbished. By early November, after the field had been cleared and new grandstands constructed, the facility was finally ready for use. The 1933 home opener, the Legion's annual Armistice Day game against the U. S. Marines, saw Frankford Legion Athletic Field christened with a 3 to 0 victory. Shortly thereafter the Frankford Legion Athletic Association reorganized as the Northeast Philadelphia Athletic Association. The football team was renamed the Yellow Trojans and the stadium was renamed Yellow Trojans Athletic Field.
While the Legion's overall performance dropped off after its first season, most of the team's difficulties seemed to be while playing on the road. The club's inaugural game, a 27 to 0 victory at home over the Bethlehem Panthers, set the tone not only for that rest of the season but also for the team's overall style of play at home for the next three years. From 1931 through 1933 the Frankford Legion compiled a very strong 17-3-2 record while defending its home turf.
Links to Current Frankford Area Football Clubs
© John J. Fenton, 2007-2003, all rights reserved.