F & AC
Nestled between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, Philadelphia has a long and proud maritime tradition. By the early twentieth century that tradition had found its way onto the gridiron...
A Season On the Water
World War I brought an explosion of shipbuilding activity in and around Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River was home to both the League Island Navy Yard and Hog Island Shipyard in Philadelphia, Sun Ship and Merchant Shipbuilding just south of Philadelphia in Chester and another Merchant yard just north of the city in Bristol, and on the New Jersey side there was New York Shipbuilding in Camden. As these yards swung into action the hard work of shipbuilding became even more intense and workers' leisure time was at a premium. Most of the yards sponsored athletic associations to provide an outlet for employees and these, in turn, fielded football teams. It wasn't until the war effort finally began to wind down, however, that these clubs really came into their own. In addition to shipyards it was also common for naval vessels, when in port, to field football teams. The immediate post-war period, 1919 in particular, saw the high-water mark of such maritime football around the port of Philadelphia.
Among the naval vessels in port along the Delaware to field football squads during the 1919 season were the USS Michigan, USS New Hampshire and USS Connecticut. While these ship-bound elevens suffered obvious limitations, such as a limited pool of players from which to draw, the teams they sponsored were generally solid and willing to take on any and all comers. As a result they routinely played against many of the most successful local clubs.
The USS New Hampshire's 1919 football team took everyone by surprise when, in an early season match-up, they held the strong Dreka Club of Pitman (NJ), to a scoreless tie. The next weekend's game, however, was a 40-0 defeat at the hands of the powerful Chesbrook Club of Wilmington (DE). Then, in a Thanksgiving Day rematch with Dreka, the battleship's gridders closed out the season on the short end of a 24-0 shutout. The USS Michigan Bluejackets, as that ship's football team was known, also took on several tough opponents in 1919. They suffered blow-out losses to both the Holmesburg AC and Conshohocken AC, but need not have been ashamed. These were the two most dominant teams in the region. Holmesburg finishing its season at 8-1-0 to capture the Philadelphia city championship, while Conshohocken went undefeated and was named the 1919 Eastern Pro Champions. The Bluejackets eventually rebounded from those losses to score a huge upset over the highly successful Germantown All-Scholastics. That 8-7 victory by the battleship eleven was Germantown's first defeat of the season.
There was a fierce rivalry among the football teams representing the various Delaware River yards as they competed for the right to claim the title "Champion of the Delaware River Shipyards."
The Hog Island Shipyard operated on the Delaware, at the present site of Philadelphia International Airport, between 1917 and 1921. Although only marginally successful in an overall sense, the yard's grid club was probably the most well known of the local shipyard elevens and certainly received the most press. The team opened its 1919 season on a positive note, holding the powerful Olney AA of Philadelphia to a scoreless tie, but the very next weekend received a 33-0 drubbing at the hands of the Germantown All-Scholastics. Hog Island rebounded with a victory over the Philadelphia's Germantown AA, but were unable to follow up on that success. The weekend before Thanksgiving they were defeated by the Chesbrook Club, 18- 3.
New York Ship's football team opened the 1919 season with several victories, including a decisive 28-6 win over Spring Garden of Riverside (NJ), and by the end of November looked to be the strongest of the shipyard elevens. Their Thanksgiving Day match-up with Merchant Ship promised to be a good one, and seemed likely to settle the question of which team would claim the shipyards' championship.
The much anticipated Thanksgiving Day contest between New York Ship and Merchant Ship was a defensive struggle that lived up to everyone's expectations. In a hard fought battle that remained scoreless until the final period, New York Ship finally squeaked by Merchant Ship, 6-0, and laid claim to the title. As was so often the case in the early days of the game, overall records mattered less than the outcome of end-of-season contests in deciding bragging rights and local championships. Just two days after their victory over Merchant Ship the self-styled champions had a game with Hog Island. That Saturday the Hog Island eleven came to Philadelphia's Strawbridge & Clothier Field ready to play. Hard work netted them a 9-0 shutout over the Camden shipbuilders, a season finale victory that left the Islanders with a 2-2-1 record and sole ownership of the championship of the Delaware River shipyards.
The League Island Navy Yard also fielded a football team during the 1919 season. The Jackies, as the yard's grid warriors were known, enjoyed early season success with a 14-0 victory over the Parkside AC of Wilmington (DE). That success, unfortunately, was tempered just a few weeks later by a 35-0 shutout at the hands of the Phoenixville AC. League Island's hardest fought and highest profile game of the season, however, would not come until the final weekend in November.
Much like their counterparts at Hog Island, the 1919 League Island gridders played games with several well established clubs from throughout the area but ended the season with an only marginally successful record. The team had also receive some press coverage and that helped to catapult them into the spotlight as the day of the traditional Army-Navy classic approached. By 1919 the rivalry between Army and Navy was already a fixture in college football. While Philadelphia had been host to thirteen of the previous twenty contests between these two great schools, that season's tilt – the first since the outbreak of World War I – was to be played in New York. Philadelphia's solution to the dilemma of not hosting the big game was to come up with an Army-Navy contest of its own. On the afternoon of November 29, as the teams from Annapolis and West Point squared off in New York, the Jackies of the League Island Navy Yard took to the field against the Doughboys of Camp Dix (NJ). A soft drizzle did nothing to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm or detract from the afternoon's festivities. There were bands and bunting to mark the occasion and a hard fought game on the field.
Lieutenant Stow, Camp Dix's steady captain, played an outstanding game. In the first quarter he led a drive that culminated with his pass to Chapman for the Doughboy's first touchdown. Stow failed, however, in his attempt at the extra-point. In the second quarter, the lieutenant capped another drive by taking the ball over the goal himself. This second touchdown, followed by his successful kick for the extra-point, gave the Camp Dix a 13-0 lead. League Island played strong game and finally managed to get on the board in the third quarter when Baldwin took the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. The extra point brought the score to 13-7 and gave the Jackies some much needed momentum. In the final quarter, however, Lt. Stow stepped up once again. Breaking free at his own 8-yard line, he broke free for a thirty yard run. Camp Dix maintained possession and was once again driving toward the League Island's goal as the final whistle sounded. In New York City the Middies defeated the Cadets 6-0, but Philadelphia's "Army-Navy, Jr." ended somewhat differently as the League Island Navy Yard Jackies fell before the Camp Dix Doughboys, 13-7.
Shipyards' Win-Loss Records
Links to Additional Information
New York Shipbuilding Historical Site
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Ex-Yardbird Homepage
Saga of Hog Island,1917-1921: The Story of the First Great War
© John J. Fenton, 2007-2004, all rights reserved.