F & AC
borough of Millville is situated midway between Philadelphia and the South
Jersey shore. During the 1920s this self-proclaimed “hub of South
Jersey" supported an interesting mix of agriculture and industry. It was
also home to the Millville Football & Athletic Club. First taking to the
gridiron in 1921, the “Big Blue” quickly established itself as one of the
premier football teams in the state. By the end of the 1923 season the team had
staked a claim to the mythical championship of New Jersey. It reasserted that
claim the following year, and as the 1925 campaign approached fans had high
expectations. Among the club’s rivals a desire to topple the champions from
their lofty pedestal was equally strong…
Big Blue's Blues: Highs and Lows of Millville's 1925 Grid Campaign
the first week in September football fans in and around Millville had begun to
speculate about the local team’s prospects for the upcoming season. The Big
Blue had experienced great success in recent years, but several rivals were
itching to stake their own claims to the state title. Out in Atlantic City both
the Melrose Athletic Club, nicknamed the Roses, and the newly formed Blue
Tornadoes were gearing up to make runs at the Big Blue. Rumor had it that the
community of Ocean
City was also trying to organize a team for the same purpose. Meanwhile, along
the Delaware, the venerable Riverside Big Green was always capable of mounting a
challenge. The Millville faithful looked forward to seeing their team stare down
these challenges, as well those from strong Pennsylvania clubs such as the
Coaldale Big Green. And speaking of Pennsylvania, there was even hope that a
successful season could entice the NFL’s Frankford Yellow Jackets or
Pottsville Maroons into late a season contest.
a quality football team took money, especially when there was local competition
for the best available players. In previous seasons the Big Blue had suffered
the unpleasant experience of losing key players to their rivals, particularly
Melrose of Atlantic City. At that time, however, the Millville eleven had
operated as a cooperative, with profits divided among the players. This season
was to be a little different. The club's finance committee decided that players
would receive fixed salaries. As a result, Millville Manager Virgil Johnson
spent much of his time just prior to the start of the 1925 season planning and
overseeing the various fund raising activities that would provide the initial
financing for the club. These fund-raisers included boxing matches, baseball
games and even vaudeville shows. It was expected that once the season began
revenues generated from gate receipts would cover the club's operating expenses.
of the club's supporters believed the Big Blue would start the season slowly,
with a few warm-up contests against weaker opponents. But the team kicked off
the 1925 campaign against the Media AC, a rough and tumble aggregation hailing
from the Philadelphia suburbs. These visitors proved to be no walkover, playing
the locals to a standstill for nearly three quarters. Twice in the first half
Millville got within striking distance only to be turned away empty handed –
first losing the ball on downs when within the shadow of the goalposts, and
later when a Michael “Gyp” Downey field goal attempt missed its mark by
inches. In the third quarter, with Media pinned deep in its own territory,
Shirley “Ham” Haines, a product of Millville High School and former standout
at Temple, broke through the line as the visitors attempted to punt. He got a
hand on the ball. A Media player recovered, but Douglas Crate, Millville’s
sturdy right end, threw the man down behind the goal line. This safety put the
locals on top, 2-0. That advantage was maintained until early in the fourth
quarter, when Media pulled ahead on the strength of a field goal. On the Big Blue's next
possession Ellis “Dinty” Moore, another former Millville High player,
dropped back to attempt a field goal. Although his kick fell short of its mark,
it had the good fortune to strike a Media player on his leg. Once again Doug
Crate's nose for the loose ball resulted in points on the board, as he recovered
in the end-zone. The subsequent point after attempt failed, but Crate’s timely
touchdown put the Big Blue back in the lead, 8-3. Finally, in the closing
minutes of play former Vermont star Carroll "Ginny" Gooch took the
ball around right end twice, for gains of forty-five and thirty-two yards
respectively. The second run resulted in a touchdown that safely tucked the game
the Big Blue had notched a 14-3 victory in their first outing of the season,
they paid a heavy price. Mickey Hummel, who in addition to his coaching
responsibilities also served at as the club's starting end, suffered a broken
hand. Gyp Downey, the squad's most gifted kicker, seriously wretched his
fans and management felt that a lack of practice had been evident in the team's
first outing. That shortcoming was addressed the following week, as Coach
Hummell worked his players several times in preparation for their next opponent,
the Olney AA of Philadelphia. At the same time, Manager Johnson made several
personnel moves. He revealed that Bruce Moore and Rex Jones, two Oklahoma
natives recently signed by the team, had been released after it was determined
that they were in fact Bruce Morris and Rex Thomas, students at St. John’s
College, Brooklyn. Johnson also announced that he had secured the services of
Dan Lyons, formerly of Lafayette, and Paul Longua, a respected end out of
Villanova. Longua, it should be noted, later went on to play a few seasons in
the NFL with Orange and Newark.
week of extra practice paid-off against Olney, as the Big Blue looked and
performed like the well oiled machine their fans had become accustomed to
watching. Ginny Gooch gave a stellar performance, rushing for two touchdowns and
passing for another. The most dramatic points were scored on a spectacular
thirty yard Gooch touchdown scramble in the final quarter. On the defensive side
of the ball, Mickey Hummell and Gyp Downey were out with injuries, but newcomer
Danny Lyons played a very strong game. With its 19-0 victory over Olney,
Millville gained momentum for an action packed two game series the following
weekend. On October 10 the Big Blue was due to square-off at home against the US
Marine Corps team from Philadelphia's League Island Navy Yard. The next morning
it was off to Staten Island, there to face a team known as the Stapletons.
to have compiled 36 victories and one tie over the three previous seasons, the
US Marine Corp eleven that rolled onto the MSAA gridiron brandished a fine
reputation. At game time cold winds whipped the field. Regardless, the shivering
faithful were no doubt happy to see the home team take complete control on the
field. The locals’ defense dominated from start to finish, putting the clamps
on the "Devil-dogs" and refusing to surrender even a single first
down. On offense Ginny Gooch turned in another fine performance, highlighted by
a twenty-five yard end-around run for a touchdown on the team's first
possession. From that point forward the contest belonged to the Big Blue.
third quarter Millville's defense provided the most memorable play of the
afternoon, when Leo Douglas leaped high into the air to intercept an errant
pass. He then out distanced all would be Marine tacklers on a forty yard dash
into the end-zone. That play sealed a 13-0 shutout.
next day the Big Blue found itself in Staten Island's Thompson Stadium. Facing
their most difficult opponent of the young season, the team turned in another
solid effort. The outcome of this contest, however, was quite different than
that of the previous afternoon.
Stapletons, hailing from their namesake village on Staten Island, were one of
the strongest independent football teams in the New York-North Jersey area.
Big Blue and "Stapes" were well acquainted, having faced each other
twice during 1924. The first of those games resulted in a 19-12 Stapletons
victory, while the late season rematch ended as a scoreless draw. This season's
contest was another well played defensive struggle, with neither club making
much headway offensively. Round about the middle of the fourth quarter,
Millville lined up for what was probably the best scoring opportunity of the
afternoon. With the ball near midfield, Ginny Gooch called for a placement kick.
A long distance field goal, to be sure, but it was as good a chance as either
side seemed likely to get. As soon as the ball was snapped things started to go
wrong. An unidentified Stape broke through the line and leaped in front of
Gooch's kick. A chaotic scramble followed as several players tried and failed to
recover the deflected ball, which was now bouncing and careening toward the
Millville end-zone. Finally, Gooch himself seemed to have a clear shot at the
pigskin, but while attempting to scoop it up he was pushed from behind and
inadvertently kicked the ball over the goal line. There a Stapleton player fell
on it for touchdown. Millville tried several desperate passes on each of their
next possessions, but none were successful. At the final whistle the score stood
at 0-6. The Big Blue had suffered its first setback of the season.
next scheduled opponent was the Hobart Field Club, a well-established
Philadelphia team. But during the week leading up to the game, Manager Virgil
Johnson announced that Hobart had cancelled and the open date was to be filled
by the Shenandoah Red Jackets. The Red Jackets were an up and coming team from
the coalfields of Northeastern Pennsylvania. After a successful 1924 campaign,
this club seemed poised to challenge for that state's so called Anthracite
Crown. Just a week earlier these same Red Jackets had played Millville's
traditional rival, Melrose, to a scoreless draw. As a result, this contest was
widely expected provide a real measure of the Big Blue's strength in relation to
the Roses. A few days prior to the game, Manager Johnson strengthened his roster
by signing Saville Crowther, who had started the season with the Frankford
Yellow Jackets. A few veteran members of the team were also on the mend.
Player-Coach Mickey Hummell was expected to see more playing time as his broken
hand continued to heal, and Gyp Downey's knee appeared well enough to allow his
return to the lineup.
game against Shenandoah got off to a slow start, but turned midway through the
first quarter. At that point Ginny Gooch left the field following a hard blow to
the head, and Gyp Downey took over at quarterback. By halftime the Big Blue had
firmly established control. Ham Haines spearheaded a strong defensive effort
that shut down the Red Jackets, while Downey and Paul Longua combined for two touchdowns and a field goal as Millville
rolled to a 17-0 victory.
six found the Big Blue staring down one of the most aggressive teams from
neighboring Camden county. Undefeated in each of the two previous seasons, Frank
Newman's Greater Collingswood aggregation had previously contested Millville's
claim to the state championship. The team now looked upon this game as an
opportunity to prove their case. Everyone expected a tough contest, and that's
exactly what the 500 fans who braved the elements to watch the game received.
Teeming rain and churning cleats turned the playing field into a sea of mud.
Even so, it didn't take long for Millville to establish itself as the better
club. On just the second play from scrimmage Egg Warren, the big Collingswood
fullback, fumbled while trying to break through Millville's defensive front.
an instant Sav Crowther was on the loose ball. Five plays later Ginny Gooch
splashed over the visitor's goal line for the first points of the afternoon.
well placed Gyp Downey kick followed, taking the Big Blue's advantage to seven
points. In the third quarter it was Al Nemsic's turn. After substituting for Leo
Douglas, the hefty back battered his way through the line and into the end-zone.
Another Downey dropkick put Millville ahead 14-0. It wasn't until the final
quarter that Collingswood appeared to be mounting a serious threat, but time ran
out before the visitors got to within twenty yards of the end-zone.
following Tuesday it was announced that Mickey Hummel had stepped down as coach.
Although Hummell would remain with the Big Blue as a player, both he and club
management felt that his personal obligations (he commuted daily to Brooklyn for
work, in addition to attending evening classes at law school) were restricting
his ability to oversee regular practices between games. Hummell's replacement
was Robert "Punk" Berryman. An outstanding halfback at Penn State,
Berryman had established a fine reputation as an assistant at Colgate, before
taking over head coaching duties with the Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1924.
Frankford Punk coached the Jackets to an impressive 11-2-1 record (indeed,
17-3-1 overall) in their inaugural NFL season. The new coach took the reigns at
Millville just as the team was preparing to face the Coaldale Big Green.
Coaldale, like Shenandoah a few weeks earlier, hailed from coalfields of
Northeastern Pennsylvania. Led by such hard hitting players as Jack
"Honey-boy" Evans and James "Blue" Bonner, this club was a
perennial powerhouse in its home state. It was also no stranger to Millville,
having defeated the Big Blue 10-0 the previous season. This year Coaldale, like
Millville, had dropped a close game to Stapleton. But unlike Millville, or
Shenandoah for that mater, it had also notched a victory over Melrose.
was a cold and windy Halloween afternoon when the two clubs met in a fiercely
contested tilt. The game remained deadlocked through the first three periods of
play. Ginny Gooch had managed two long field goal attempts during the second
quarter, but both times the brisk wind carried the ball wide. After halftime the
stalemate developed into a punting duel between Al Nemsic and Coaldale's Joe
Glitner. The Millville kicker's stronger leg eventually yielded a slight
advantage, and as the final quarter neared a close Nemsic pinned the Big Green
at its own 3-yard line. Glitner attempted to punt away, but a strong rush
hurried his kick. The wobbly ball went only as far as the 22-yard line before
sailing out of bounds. Gyp Downey, who had replaced the bruised and battered
Gooch, then connected on a quick series of short passes to several different
receivers. These passes, in combination with a few punishing rushes by Nemsic,
soon brought the ball to the 4-yard line. The final play of the drive was
another hand-off to Nemsic. Although firmly in the grasp of Honey-boy Evans, the
hard charging halfback lifted the Coaldale star from his feet and carried him
into the end-zone. Downey's successful point after brought an end to the
scoring, as the Big Blue held on for a 7-0 victory.
first weekend in November promised plenty of action, with a pair games scheduled
against teams from North Jersey and Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley,
respectively. The Bayonne Vikings were said to be on a par with the Stapletons,
but never had a chance to prove it at Millville. In the days leading up to the
game Bayonne's management called-off the contest, claiming that several of its
players had been crippled in a rough Election Day loss to the Elizabeth (NJ)
Collegians. In lieu of the Vikings, Virgil Johnson arranged to bring the Jamaica
Cardinals, of Queens (NY), into town. Another supposedly well-reputed club from
the New York-North Jersey area, it was reported the only blemish on the Cards'
undefeated season was a scoreless tie with New Haven (CT). The Millville-Jamaica
match-up promised to be a tough one, especially with Al Nemsic expected to see
only limited action due to cracked ribs suffered against Coaldale. The injury to
Nemsic was also expected to be a factor the following afternoon when the Big
Blue, taking to the road for only the second time that season, would face
in bright red jerseys and stockings, the Cardinals certainly presented a smart
looking team. But appearances are one thing and play is another. Once the
contest started, the New Yorkers proved no match for the locals. As had been the
case in several games during the young season, the Big Blue's defense provided
opportunities and the offense took full advantage. A forced fumble early in the
opening quarter gave Millville the ball on Jamaica's 25-yard line. From there
the Big Blue's backs pushed the ball forward. Within a few plays Leo Douglas was
standing alone in the end-zone. Gyp Downey followed up with the extra point.
Downey's foot came into play again in the second quarter, as another well-placed
dropkick took the score to 10-0. Then, in the third quarter, Millville drove the
ball the entire length of the field. This time it was Ginny Gooch who carried
the ball, along with several Cardinal defenders, the remaining few yards before
crossing the goal line. The final margin of victory was 16-0.
next morning found the Big Blue headed west into Pennsylvania Dutch country.
Their opponent, All-Lancaster, was a well-established club that routinely
challenged teams from Delaware, Philadelphia and the Northeastern Pennsylvania
coal fields. Despite darkening skies and pending thunderstorms, a large crowd of
the All-Lancaster faithful turned out. These fans no doubt hoped to see their
club notch a victory over one of the best teams in New Jersey. Instead, they
witnessed a clinic by Leo Douglas. The former Vermont and Lehigh standout was
the workhorse of a sixty-five yard second quarter drive that led to the first
touchdown of the afternoon. Then, early in the third quarter, Douglas
intercepted a long pass and returned the ball to the Lancaster 35-yard line.
plays later he carried the ball off tackle for an eight yard touchdown run.
Downey's point after was successful, but a penalty negated the score, holding
Millville's advantage at thirteen points. Shortly before the quarter ended, the
Big Blue again took possession on a Lancaster turnover, this time a fumble
recovery by Dirk Johnson. A few plays later Leo Douglas, ball in hand, was again
crashing into the end-zone. Downey's kick went wide, so the score remained at
19-0. Finally, as time in the final quarter was about to expire, Downey put his
toe to the ball again. This time he found his mark, making the final tally 22-0.
City mayor Ed Bader's newly organized Blue Tornadoes took to the gridiron in
1925 with one goal in mind – fielding the best pro football team in the state.
As the season wore on it seemed his club just might be succeeding. The
Tornadoes' roster featured a number of veteran players, most notably a local
favorite named Carl "Whitey" Thomas. Over the previous nine seasons
the former Penn standout had donned the togs of numerous successful professional
clubs. These included the NFL's Buffalo All-Americans and two well-regarded
independent teams from Philadelphia – the Union Quakers and (pre-NFL)
Frankford Yellow Jackets. Whitey was joined in the Tornadoes' lineup by Les
Asplundh. A certified gridiron mercenary, Asplundh had been Thomas’ teammate
at Buffalo and Frankford. Dating back to his college days at Swarthmore, the
tall back was best known for his powerful kicking. Ironically, he had also
played regularly for Millville in 1924.
was written in local newspapers concerning the comparative records of two Blues,
with the edge seeming to fall in Atlantic City’s favor. Beginning with an
early October victory over the Holmesburg AC, a strong club playing out of
Philadelphia, the Tornadoes had put together a string of six consecutive
victories, including a 23-0 thrashing of the Stapletons, before dropping a close
game with All-New Britain (CT) in their most recent outing. The Tornadoes were
poised for a showdown with the Big Blue, and the feeling was mutual.
all the hype about Atlantic City's prowess, Millville seemed to have the upper
hand throughout the contest. Ginny Gooch played another fine game, providing all
the offense his team needed. A thirty-three yard first quarter scamper across
the goal line and twenty-seven yard bullet to Mickey Hummell in the end-zone during
quarter number three accounted for both Millville touchdowns. Defensively the
Big Blue limited the Tornadoes to just four first downs, three of which came in
the final minute of play. In comparison, the home team gained eleven.
key to victory, however, was Millville's ability to interfere with Les
Asplundh's much vaunted kicking game. This they did to perfection. Atlantic
City's only points of the 13-6 Millville victory came on what amounted to a
gimme on the final play of the game.
following afternoon the Big Blue was in Pennsylvania for a rematch with
All-Lancaster. Not much had changed in the two weeks since the last meeting
between these clubs, with the possible exception of an explosion of Millville's
confidence. Within five minutes of the opening kick-off, Ginny Gooch capped a
quick series with a two yard plunge into the end-zone. The Pennsylvanians
responded with their best offensive effort of the afternoon, driving the ball to
the Millville 40-yard line. From there a Bunny Sawyer field goal brought the
score to 7-3. Stung, the Big Blue replied in kind courtesy Gyp Downey’s toe.
Downey added another three points in the third quarter. When Millville finally
began to tire under the strain of their second game in as many days, Lancaster
mounted a desperate effort. A series perfect of passes advanced the ball into
Millville territory, before an errant throw by Briggs Kingsley was picked by Ham
Haines. Despite coming down in a mass of players, Haines bulled his way through
the throng, twisting and reversing until he was finally able to break free on a
fifty-five yard dash to the end-zone. That play sealed the 19-3 victory.
off their latest triumph and sporting a 10-1-0 record that included victories
over Coaldale, Collingswood and most importantly the Blue Tornadoes, the
Millville squad was the picture of confidence. They certainly harbored no doubt
concerning the upcoming rematch with Atlantic City.
did anyone realize it would be over a month more the Big Blue would again taste
up for the Millville eleven was the second in a scheduled two game series with
the Blue Tornadoes. Atlantic City claimed to have been lame in the previous
meeting, missing several key players including Vic Emanuel, Frank Chicknoski and
Ed McGinley from their lineup. Since that contest the Tornadoes had also signed
Rae McGraw, the former Penn captain. Although McGraw wasn't expected to start
against Millville, it was anticipated the talented back would see action off the
bench. The Big Blue, on the other hand, believed the Tornadoes' claims to be
little more than sour grapes, and looked to hammer home the final nail in the
to Millville's chagrin, the Atlantic City eleven that met them on Airport Field
arrived well prepared and ready to play. Marching down the field on their very
first possession, the Tornadoes took only minutes to score a touchdown. In the
second quarter Millville managed to put together a sustained drive, advancing
the ball to their host's 10-yard line. At that point Gyp Downey attempted a
quick pass to Mickey Hummell. But Marv Wood, Atlantic City’s crafty backfield
man, intercepted the ball to kill the drive. Early in the second half the
Tornadoes again began pounding their way forward. After advancing to within a
few yards of the goal line halfback Frank Chicknoski crashed headlong into the
line, only to loose the ball. Les Asplundh, however, was trailing close behind
and recovered the fumble in the end-zone. Millville protested that the play
should have resulted in a touchback, but the referee ruled it a touchdown for
Atlantic City. Asplundh's second successful point after of the day sealed the
Big Blue's 0-14 defeat.
immediately a conversation was initiated with Tornadoes' Manager Bill Shaner
concerning a third meeting between the two clubs. In the mean time, Punk
Berryman began working his charges in earnest for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day
clash with Atlantic City's other, better known team – the Melrose AC. The
rivalry between the Big Blue and the Roses dated to 1921. That year the newly
formed Millville eleven soundly defeated their already established foes, 28-0.
In 1924 the two clubs had played a three game series. After splitting the first
two contests, Millville took the Thanksgiving Day tie breaker, 9-0. This season
the Roses rolled into Millville looking to avenge that setback.
Big Blue couldn't take this game lightly. The Roses' 6-1-2 record, with the lone
setback coming in a hard fought scrape with Coaldale, showed they were entirely
capable of standing up to the Big Blue. That strength, combined with his own
team's stinging loss to the Tornadoes, convinced Manager Johnson that changes
were in order. In the days leading up to the holiday contest he announced the
release of both Mickey Hummel and Al Nemsic, as well as the signing of three new
players: Briggs Kingsley, star of All-Lancaster, Cecil "Tex" Grigg,
who had won two NFL championships with the Canton Bulldogs before jumping to the
Rochester Jeffersons, and Roy Martineau, another veteran of the Rochester NFL
mix of Millville and Melrose fans that gathered at MSAA Field on Thanksgiving
afternoon witnessed a classic battle every bit as difficult as had been
anticipated. The visiting Roses took possession on the opening kick-off and, in
the most explosive offensive series of the game, quickly marched the ball down
field. After yielding three first downs, the Big Blue's defense finally
stiffened, stopping the Roses advance at the 25-yard line. But that was close
enough for Johnny Budd, a hefty guard who would later distinguish himself with
both the Frankford Yellow Jackets and Pottsville Maroons. The big man's dropkick
sailed cleanly through the uprights to put the Roses ahead, 3-0. Playing what
was generally acknowledged as its best game of the season, the Melrose defense
managed to stop Millville on successive drives before eventually allowing the
Big Blue its first scoring opportunity. That effort, however, ended when a poor
snap from center hurried a Gyp Downey field goal attempt, causing the ball to
drift wide of its mark. The balance of the contest was a bitter deadlock until
very late in the contest. At that point Coach Berryman finally inserted Tex
Grigg into the lineup. The talented Grigg made steady progress by pounding his
way through the Melrose line, but time expired before he could bring the Big
Blue to within striking distance.
stunning Thanksgiving Day loss had serious ramifications. First and foremost, it
weakened any claim to the coveted state championship, even if the Big Blue
proved victorious in a third game with the Tornadoes. It also opened the door
for Melrose to stake its own, albeit tenuous, claim to the title. But perhaps
worst of all was its negative effect on fan support. Attendance had been
somewhat light all season, but following the first upset against the Blue
Tornadoes, interest dropped of substantially. Consequently, turnout had been low
for the holiday contest, which pretty much dashed any hopes Millville might have
had for luring the Frankford Yellow Jackets or Pottsville Maroons into a game.
Unsure of its fan base, the Big Blue could not risk defaulting on the sizeable
guarantees that these NFL clubs would require.
ill fortune continued as a highly anticipated contest with the Allentown (PA)
Pros, scheduled for later in the holiday weekend, was cancelled. Almost as bad
as the cancellation was the way in which its news was delivered. Several
Millville players and fans made the trip to the Lehigh Valley on Saturday
evening. Only then did they receive notification. A week later it was déjà vu,
only this time in Lancaster. Again Millville players and fans arrived on
location Saturday afternoon, only to find out that evening that their hosts had
backed out on them. The next day, with several Millville players scouting in the
stands, the Rochester Jeffersons came to Atlantic City. It was the Blue
Tornadoes second game against the Jeffs in as many weeks.
It resulted in the Tornadoes’ second victory in as many weeks too! In
the minds of many, the consecutive victories over an NFL club lent credibility
to the Blue Tornadoes' claim that it was the best football team in New Jersey.
December 7 it was announced that the Millville and Atlantic City managements had
come to an agreement for a third and final game between the two clubs. The
contest would be played the following Sunday, at Airport Field, Atlantic City.
One of the biggest points of contention, it seems, was the status of lineman
Russell “Bull” Behman. Virgil Johnson sought to include the former captain
of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, whom he’d signed in anticipation of a finale
against the Tornadoes, in the Big Blue’s lineup. But Atlantic City Manager Ed
Bader objected on the grounds that although Behman had been suspended by
Frankford, he had not been formally released by that NFL club. Behman, Bader
argued, was therefore not a Millville regular, but rather a ringer. Johnson
eventually acquiesced, agreeing to leave the powerful tackle out of his lineup.
game day both clubs came the stadium knowing that the championship laurels, as
well as a year's worth of bragging rights, were hanging in the balance. Millville seemed poised to draw first blood, taking its initial possession to
the Atlantic City 2-yard line. But the Tornadoes dug in to hold the Big Blue on
downs. Later, in the second quarter, those roles reversed. Atlantic City
embarked on its own march down the field, only to turn the ball over on downs at
the Millville 4-yard line. Shortly thereafter time expired in the half with
neither team having scored.
play resumed the Tornadoes picked-up right where they’d left off. This time,
however, their steady advance didn't stop until halfback Frank Chicknoski found
his way across the Millville goal line. The follow-up kick by Les Asplundh put
Atlantic City up 7-0. The two teams traded punts on the next several series,
before Atlantic City eventually took possession just inside Millville territory.
The ball was quickly brought to within striking distance. Then, after three
failed attempts to breach the Big Blue's defense, Asplundh dropped back and
placed a perfectly kicked ball between the uprights. That field goal took the
Atlantic City advantage to ten points.
the final quarter started, both clubs brought in fresh players – Atlantic City
in an effort to clamp down and secure their victory, Millville because it was
now or never. On the first play from scrimmage Gilroy, the Tornadoes fullback
who had just replaced Asplundh, took the ball on a thirty yard tear through the
Big Blue defense for another Atlantic City touchdown. Rae McGraw missed the
extra point attempt, leaving the score at 16-0, but time was quickly running
out. The Big Blue took possession on the ensuing kick-off, and launched an
impressive drive. The key play came when Ginny Gooch connected with Tex Grigg,
for a twenty-seven yard completion that took the ball to the Tornadoes 7-yard
line. From there, three failed attempts to rush the ball across the goal line
were followed by a perfect Grigg to Gooch pass that netted six points. The point
after attempt was unsuccessful, but that mattered little. Time expired just a
few minutes later. Dethroned, the Millville players could only watch as their
foes left the field exulted.
Big Blue took what appeared to be its final bow of the season the following
evening, at a meeting of the club's financial committee. Art Deibel, captain of
the team, spoke for a majority of the players and volunteered to play another
game, if such a contest could be scheduled. But the decision was made to end the
season and begin planning for a new campaign the following autumn.
decision, however, would shortly be reversed.
scant two weeks after disbanding at the end of the 1925 season, the Millville
Daily Republican reported that the Big Blue was reorganizing with a roster
supplemented by the addition of several veteran NFL players. Among the new faces
in the team's lineup were Guy Chamberlin, Rae Crowther (Saville's brother),
Henry “Two-Bits” Homan and Elmer McCormick. All were regulars with the
Frankford Yellow Jackets.
turn of events was arranged by Vernon Pepper. A sales representative for
Haven-Villa, a Winter Haven (FL) based real estate development company, Pepper
was intent on bringing a group of potential investors from South Jersey to the
Sunshine State. His guests would be wined, dined and given the opportunity the
see their favorite football club in action against a local eleven sponsored by
Haven-Villa. The collegial atmosphere, it was hoped, would provide the perfect
backdrop to pitch Central Florida real estate opportunities. As for the team,
this was a chance for the players to get back on the field and earn a few bucks
while on an expense paid mid-winter working vacation.
immediately there was speculation that, once in Florida, the Big Blue might
arrange a contest with Coral Gables, a mercenary team composed primarily of
players from the Pottsville Maroons and Frankford Yellow Jackets. And Coral
Gables was only one possibility. There were a number of barnstorming teams
headed South for the winter, including the Chicago Bears featuring college
sensation Red Grange, and a pair of All-Star teams led by Jim Thorpe and Ernie
one in the Millville lineup had the marquee of a Grange, Thorpe or Nevers, but
there was one player with the football credentials to stand up to those giants
– Guy Chamberlin. A former All-American out of Nebraska, Chamberlin was one of
the most accomplished men of the early NFL. He had been recruited into the pro
ranks by Jim Thorpe himself, and has the distinction of having played on five of
the league's first seven championship teams. In fact, he pulled double duty as
both a player and coach on four of those teams. His presence in the Big Blue
lineup lent instant credibility against any opponent.
first contest of the post-season was a warm-up game on New Years Day, against
the Mount Airy AA. This well-rounded Philadelphia based club hosted the Big Blue
at the 103rd Cavalry Armory. The unusual indoor contest on a shortened field
provided a good opportunity for both old and new members of the Big Blue's
lineup to get to know one another.
the outcome was never really in doubt, the game was a good one. Mount Airy
threatened in the first quarter, driving as far as the Millville 3-yard line.
There the Big Blue finally stiffened, and the Philadelphians turned the ball
over on downs. Early in the second quarter Millville advanced to the opposing
15-yard line. At that point a Gyp Downey dropkick put Big Blue up 3-0.
while later that lead increased to 10 points when Sav Crowther breached the
Mount Airy line and blocked a Johnny Hedron punt. The quick thinking Crowther
alertly snatched the loose ball and raced thirty-five yards for a touchdown.
Downey added the extra point. Then, not long before the half ended, Downey
rounded out the Big Blue's scoring with another well-placed dropkick, this time
from the Mount Airy 22-yard line. Hedron stepped up in the third quarter,
leaping high on a defensive play to intercept the ball. The wily backfield man
then dodged and weaved his way through the entire Millville offense and on into
the end-zone. After that play the Big Blue clamped down, quashing any further
hopes of a Mount Airy comeback.
the less than strenuous 13-7 victory, the Big Blue hopped on a train for the
Sunshine State. They arrived in Florida two days later, with their first game,
against the locally successful Haven-Villa team, scheduled for January 6. Back
home in Millville, the Daily Republican reported that none other than Red
Grange had been secured to referee the contest. This was certainly possible,
given that Grange and several other members of the Chicago Bears had apparently
spent New Years in Winter Haven as guests of the Haven-Villa Corporation.
heavy rains on game day forced the contest's postponement until the following
afternoon. In reporting the postponement, the Winter Haven Daily Chief also
announced that the legendary Jim Thorpe would appear in the Winter Haven
lineup. When the two clubs finally did meet, it was on a sloppy field.
result was a lopsided 28-6 victory for Millville. That win, however, proved
costly, as Gyp Downey, the team's gifted kicker, suffered a season ending
injury. Tackled hard between two defenders after catching a pass, he fractured
his collarbone. Reports of the contest make no mention of Grange officiating,
and Thorpe did not take to the field, although several of his old teammates from
the NFL. These included Pete Calac, Joe Little Twigg and Rube Ursella.
after the game it was announced that the Millville squad would, for the
remainder of its stay in Florida, play under the Haven-Villa banner. Art Bulger,
a member of the old Haven-Villa lineup, was added to roster. Bob Daley took
over as the team's manager.
New lineup intact, the Haven-Villas headed to Palm Beach to square-off against a local club known as the Evergladers on January 11. Although reportedly undefeated in seven previous outings and touted as the Southern professional champions, the Palm Beach eleven presented little in the way of opposition. The first points of the contest came on a second quarter safety, when the Evergladers' Jim Kendrick, a regular with the NFL's Buffalo All-Americans, fumbled a pass near his own goal line and then fell on the ball in the end-zone to prevent a Haven-Villa touchdown. While the resulting safety wasn't the end of the visitors' scoring, it was all they really needed. The Millville-Winter Haven aggregation rolled to a 16-0 victory.
Haven-Villa of Winter Haven
Standing: Gyp Downey, Art Bulger,
Ginny Gooch, Two-Bits Homan, Leo Douglas, Ben Jones, Bob Daley (manager)
days later the Villas were on the road for the first in a two game series with
the St. Petersburg Cardinals. This St. Pete aggregate featured essentially the
same lineup as the “Tampa” Cardinals team that had originally been
organized to play a New Years Day exhibition against Red Grange and the Chicago
Bears. Its roster included a number of familiar faces including Jim Thorpe, Pete
Calac and Joe Little Twigg, all of whom had also appeared in the Haven-Villa
lineup for Millville's initial game in Florida. Staged at the St. Petersburg
Kennel Club, this tilt was a bitterly contested defensive struggle. Although the
press previewing the game was rife with speculation regarding Thorpe's age and
rumors of his pending retirement from the sport, he had a hand in what were
perhaps the two best scoring opportunities of the afternoon. In the Cards' only
real chance, Big Jim attempted a first quarter field goal from forty-five yards
out, but the dropkicked ball drifted just wide of the uprights. Later, in the
second quarter, Ben Jones connected with a wide-open Art Bulger for what looked
to be a sure Haven-Villa touchdown. On that play the Old Indian managed to catch the dashing halfback from behind and prevent the score.
teams picked up the pace throughout the second half, and played frantically in
the fourth quarter. But those efforts went for naught as the game ended a
two teams faced each other again just a few days later, on the grounds of the
high school at Winter Haven. Although the Cards, paced by Pete Calac and Rube
Ursella, started strong, neither team managed to put any points on the board
during the first two quarters. That changed shortly after the intermission, when
Ginny Gooch broke free on an end-around and quickly covered the sixty yards to
the end-zone. That touchdown initiated a landslide of Haven-Villa scoring, as
the locals went on to run up 38 unanswered points before the final whistle blew.
very next day the two teams met for a third contest, this time at Lakeside's
Adair Park. On this afternoon Thorpe and his mates were playing under the banner
of "Lena Vista," while the Millville-Haven-Villa aggregation was
touted as the "Eastern States All-Stars." The Eastern States squad
took to the field under the direction of Matty Owens, who had made a name for
himself in Pennsylvania, directing the Wilkes-Barre Panthers. This contest was
not much different than the previous afternoon's game. Thorpe's team was clearly
overmatched, as the All-Stars ran up 24 unanswered points en route to their
second shutout victory in as many days.
the game it was generally agreed that, after such a long season, everyone
involved was ready for a break from football. The decision was made to disband
the team and head home. Most of the players caught the train back to
Philadelphia the following evening, although a few stayed a little longer to
pursue some real estate investment opportunities.
post-season swing through Florida had mixed results. The team certainly met with
great success on the field. Overall the Jersey boys went 5-0-1 in postseason
play under a variety of banners (two victories as Millville, a pair of victories
and a tie as Haven-Villa, and another victory as the Eastern States All-Stars).
But the lack of fan interest was a surprising disappointment. The final games
against the Thorpe led teams drew small crowds of only a few hundred spectators.
By the Numbers
Big Blue generated 201 points during 1925, including the two post-season contests against Mount Airy and Winter Haven.
Ginny Gooch led all
scorers, with 60 points coming off ten touchdowns, while Leo Douglas and Gyp
Downey contributed another 48 and 32 points respectively. Douglas' total came on
eight touchdowns, while Downey's was a result his strong kicking game. The
dynamic trio of Gooch, Douglas and Downey would continue to compliment one
another during the next season, and not just with the Big Blue. In 1926 they
pulled double duty, playing for both the Millville Big Blue and the Bethlehem
Bears of the short-lived Eastern League of Professional Football. The table
below provides a breakdown of all the players who contributed to the Big Blue's
1925 regular season points total:
On the New Jersey Championship of 1925
The Riverside Big Green, for many seasons a contender out of South Jersey, raised little challenge for the state championship in 1925. As a result, Millville's primary competition for the title came from the two Atlantic City clubs – the Blue Tornadoes and Melrose AC.
13-6 victory over the Tornadoes in the season's first meeting of the two teams,
coupled with a dominant performance against All-Lancaster the following
afternoon, took the Big Blue's season record to 10-1-0 and seemed to indicate
that the club would once again lay claim to the state championship. That
success, however, was fleeting. Two rematches with the Tornadoes and a
Thanksgiving Day tilt with the Melrose AC all resulted in losses. Millville's
favorite sons, in fact, were out-scored 33-6 in those three contests, finishing
the regular season campaign with a 10-4-0 record. Championship hopes dashed, the
Big Blue would have to be content with the satisfaction derived from the success
of their post-season tour through Florida.
on the strength of its 12-2-0 record, as well as the diversity of opponents
played, the Atlantic City Blue Tornadoes could certainly lay claim to the title
of strongest team in New Jersey. And if a team's strength is the
determining factor in the state championship, then the Tornadoes may very well
claim that title as well. But although the club notched decisive victories over
Holmesburg AC, Holyoke of Brooklyn, the Cleveland Panthers, Staten Island
Stapletons, and a team from Steubenville (OH), before edging the NFL's Rochester
Jeffersons in a pair of late season contests, the Tornadoes only faced two New
Jersey opponents – the Orange AC and Millville Big Blue. Granted, they defeated
Orange 21-7 and took two out of three from Millville. But it raises the
question, are those victories weighty enough to form the basis of a claim to the
Melrose AC, in comparison, finished its 1925 campaign with a 9-3-2 record.
strongest argument in support of the Roses' claim to a state title is that they
played more New Jersey based opponents than any of the other contenders. Their
season opener was a 9-0 shutout of the Newark AC. This was followed a few weeks
later by a 13-0 victory over Greater Collingswood, an up and coming South Jersey
club. A week later the same Collingswood team would fall to Millville by a
similar score, 14-0. Melrose then embarked on a series of games against North
Jersey teams from Paterson, Englewood and Elizabeth, before finally defeating
Millville on Thanksgiving Day. Until that contest Millville seemed the strongest
contender in the race for the state championship. On balance, the Roses played
only .500 ball against teams from outside the state, although two of those
losses came at the hands of NFL clubs, the Cleveland Bulldogs and Pottsville
Maroons – a team that staked their own claim to that season's NFL
championship. The Roses, however, had also suffered a loss and a tie against
Coaldale, whereas both the Blue Tornadoes and Millville had defeated the Big
Green, 9-0 and 7-0 respectively.
© John J. Fenton, 2008, all rights reserved.