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Union Quakers
Philadelphia City Champions, 1921

 

Following a successful but expensive 1920 football season, the directors of Phoenixville's Union Club made the decision to field a team featuring less costly local talent in 1921.  Leo Conway, who had helped to assemble the 1920 squad, had other ideas.  In late September he joined with Heinie Miller to announce the formation of the Union Athletic Association of Philadelphia, and spread the word that their "Union Quakers" would feature the same core group of players that had seen so much success in Phoenixville the previous year... 

Union Quakers of Philadelphia

By April of 1921 the movers behind the remarkable 1920 Union Club football team were already taking steps to build on the previous season's success.   Lud Wray and Johnny Scott were in contact with William Baker, president of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies, to arrange for the continued use of that team's stadium, alternately known as Phillies Park and the Baker Bowl. Around the same time, Leo Conway, who had been involved in organizing the 1920 Union Club roster, attended meetings of the American Professional Football Association. He was there, presumably, to lay the groundwork for his team's entry into the fledgling league.  While it appears that, at least initially, Conway participated in the meetings like any other member of the league, things did not work out quite the way he had hoped.  The league adopted new rules barring players from playing on two teams in the same week.  This presented a serious problem for both the Union Club and the Buffalo All-Americans.  No less than six players, including Lou Little, Heinie Miller, Bodie Weldon and Lud Wray, regularly played with the Union Club on Saturdays and Buffalo on Sundays in 1920.  By the end of the season that number had jumped even higher.  It appears that, as a result of the new rule, Conway dropped the bid to join the league, opting instead to once again field the team as an independent.  He was not present at the second round of league meetings in June.

Under new management...

The next order of business was to secure the sponsorship of the Union Club.  In September, Heinie Miller, coach and later captain of the previous season's eleven, approached the organization's board with a proposal to re-form the club's football team with the same roster in 1921.  The Union Club's directors, however, declined the offer, opting instead to field a team of less expensive local talent.  In short order Conway and Miller announced the formation of the Union Athletic Association of Philadelphia, with the football team adopting the nickname "Quakers."

The Union Quakers kicked off their 1921 campaign on October 22, hosting the Shenandoah (PA) Yellowjackets.  The visitors hailed from the heart of Pennsylvania's anthracite mining belt, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia.  The Quakers featured a lineup very similar to that of previous season's Union Club with Heinie Miller, Lud Wray and Lou Little anchoring the front seven.  Johnny Scott, Butch Spagna and Stan Cofall, who had all made brief appearances with the Union Club, were also on board.  So was newcomer Bull Lowe, the strong tackle who broke into the pro ranks in 1920 with the Canton Bulldogs.  The Quakers dominated the up-staters throughout the first two quarters, running up twenty-four unanswered points.  In the second half a combination of Shenandoah pride and Union reserves combined to end to the scoring.  The Philadelphians coasted to a 24-0 victory in their first outing of the season.

The following weekend the Quakers made a trip up to Coaldale (PA) to take on another member of the Anthracite League, Casey Gildea's well reputed "Big Green."  5,000 enthusiastic spectators watched as local favorites Blue Bonner and Honey Boy Evans led the charge against the Philadelphians.  The only points of the afternoon came off a Stan Cofall safety that occurred early in the first quarter.  The balance of the contest was a bitterly contested defensive struggle.  Frustrations grew for both offenses, reaching their peak in the second quarter.  At that point Lud Wray, the Quakers' spirited center, was ordered out of the game for unnecessary roughness.  The 2-0 victory by Union was Coaldale's first defeat of the season. 

Brickley's Giants, an APFA member club from New York city, were the next opponents on the Quakers' schedule.  Another strong effort by the Union defense prevented the New Yorkers from gaining a single first down, but a Clarence Beck fumble in the opening minutes of play proved to be the Quakers' undoing.  The turnover led to a field goal by the Giants' Jim Laird.  That was all the offense that New Yorkers needed.  Union spent the balance of the game aggressively moving the ball but unable to put any points on the board.  The 3-0 loss left the stunned Quakers at 2-1-0 after three games.

Image from the Sports page of the (Philadelphia) Evening Public Ledger, October 22, 1921

On Armistice Day Union faced the Holmesburg AC in an unusual Friday afternoon contest.  This was the first in a series of games against three of the strongest teams in the region – Holmesburg, Conshohocken and Frankford.  Hailing from the Lower Northeast section of Philadelphia, the Holmesburg AC had a proud history that included legitimate claims to the "city championship" in 1919 and 1920.  Lou Little, the Quakers' tackle, was rumored to have donned his moleskins for the 'Burg in 1915, playing under the assumed name of Lou "Small" while a freshman at Penn.  Perhaps the best known member of Holmesburg's 1921 lineup was Joseph "Doc" Alexander.  Early in the season Alexander played several Saturday games for Holmesburg while also playing on Sundays with the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons.  Before the season ended, however, the former All-American out of Syracuse would be a regular on the Quakers' roster.

A well balanced Union attack kept the ball on the move against Holmesburg in the first quarter.  This eventually led to a touchdown when quarterback Ockie Anderson, making his only appearance of the season in the Quakers' lineup, broke free on an end around to score a touchdown.  Two blocked punts in the second quarter kept the visitors in the game.  But the pounding attack of Stan Cofall, Pat Smith and Johnny Scott pushed the 'Burg's defenders backwards until Smith was finally able to punch through the line and into the end zone for the second Quaker touchdown of the game.  A Johnny Scott touchdown in the third period sealed the deal. Stan Cofall's trio of extra points provided the final 21-0 margin of victory.

The next game on the Quakers' schedule was a much anticipated contest with perhaps the most famous pro football team of its day, the Canton Bulldogs.  Although the Canton lineup no longer featured the legendary Jim Thorpe, the contest was still expected to be a big draw.  The pre-game newspaper coverage focused on the newer Bulldogs, like Pete Henry and Charlie "Pie" Way.  A native of nearby Downington, Way drew particular interest as a local boy  who had honed his football skills at Penn State. 

The game that wasn't...

On the eve of the big game news broke that Buffalo (NY) All-Americans Manager Frank McNeil had lodged a protest with APFA officials regarding the Quakers-Bulldogs contest, causing Canton to cancel the game.  It seems that McNeil blamed his team's lack-luster performance the previous Sunday, in a crucial game against the Akron Pros, on the exhaustion of those players who had played in Union's victory over Holmesburg just two days earlier.  Buffalo was in the hunt for the APFA title, and McNeil's club was scheduled to face Canton on Sunday.  Fearing a repeat of the Akron performance, he contacted both league and Canton officials, informing them that he had “just learned” that several of his players were pulling double-duty with the Quakers.  He reminded everyone involved that games against non-league teams were prohibited without the prior approval of the league.  The Bulldogs were already in Philadelphia when the league intervened late Thursday.

Leo Conway was livid, and so were many of his double-duty players.  Heinie Miller, Lud Wray, Lou Little, Johnny Scott and Butch Spagna saw Frank McNeil's interference in the Quakers-Bulldogs game as the last straw in an ongoing financial dispute between themselves and Buffalo's management.  They refused to return to the All-Americans' lineup and played the remainder of the season with the Quakers.

After a quick bit of scrambling Conway lined up another game for his team, this one against the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons.  Although Rochester, like Canton, was an APFA member, the league raised no objections.  The "Jeffs" needed all the revenue they could generate.  On game day the Philadelphia Public Ledger generously reported that Rochester was "equal in strength to the Canton combination."  It also stirred interest by reporting that two of Philadelphia's natives sons, Whitey Thomas and Nig Berry, would be featured in the visitors lineup.  Thomas was a product of Frankford High School, while Berry had attended Northeast High School.  Neither, as it turns out, saw any playing time in the contest.  The Jeffersons certainly seemed as strong as the Bulldogs that afternoon, limiting the Quakers to a single field goal.  Meanwhile, they put up a trey of their own in the fourth quarter to pull out a three all tie.  Both Swede Youngstrom and Pat Smith played in Philadelphia against Rochester before heading back to Buffalo for that club's game with Canton.  Neither player appeared with the Quakers again.

On November 24 the Quakers headed out of town to face the Conshohocken AC.  1921 looked to be a banner year for "Conshy."  Fresh off victories over regional powers Holmesburg and Frankford, the only flaw on the club's record was a fourteen all tie against the same Coaldale team that had held the Quakers to just two points earlier in the season.  A Thanksgiving Day victory over the Quakers would leave Conshohocken standing head and shoulders above the rest of the area teams in claiming regional grid honors.  The Conshohocken faithful looked upon this game as a rematch of the previous season's holiday contest, an embarrassing 0-33 loss at the hands of the Union Club.  Winning championship laurels with a victory against the Quakers would be that much sweeter.  For their part, the Quakers were looking to rebound from the disappointing tie against Rochester.  Several players were brought in to strengthen the Union roster.  These included Jim Laird, who had previously faced the Quakers as a member of both the Brickley's Giants and Rochester Jeffersons, and a pair of hired guns by the names of Joe Guyon and Pete Calac, the famous Indian backfield tandem then playing with the Cleveland Tigers.

Prior to meeting up with the rest of his team mates in Conshohocken, Lud Wray spent Thanksgiving morning in Abington (PA).  There the popular Quakers' center fulfilled his coaching obligations by directing the Abington High School eleven to a 14- 0 victory over Cheltenham High.  That game, played in a steady downpour, netted Abington the suburban Philadelphia high school championship.

Once in Conshohocken, Wray and his fellow Quakers faced stiff resistance from the locals.  The first quarter was a constant series of line plunges by Guyon and Calac, but the Conshy defensive held firm.  Then, in the second quarter, the Quakers seemed to take control.  They made headway into Conshohocken territory, but their progress halted when Bull Lowe fumbled a pass from Johnny Scott.  Joe Guyon was close at hand.  The speedy halfback picked up the loose ball and dashed the final twenty-five yards to the end zone, but the apparent touchdown was called back.  The play had been blown dead on a Conshohocken off-side.  Mid-way through the third quarter Guyon and Calac again drove the ball to within twenty-five yards of the end zone.  Scott, the Quakers' sure footed quarterback, dropped back for what appeared to be a field goal attempt.  But instead of the expected drop-kick, he lofted the ball down field to Bull Lowe.  After making the reception, Lowe dodged two tacklers before placing the ball behind the Conshy goal post.  This time the touchdown counted.  Pete Calac's toe provided the point after, putting the Quakers ahead, 7-0.  Later, in the final quarter, Conshohocken took over on its own 20-yard line following a touchback on a Union punt.  After two plays for no yardage Heinie Miller crashed through the Conshy and laid into the ball carrier with a hit that jarred the pigskin loose.  Butch Spagna snatched up the bouncing ball and dashed unmolested into the end zone.  Another successful point after by Calac ended the scoring, and provided the Quakers' final 14-0 margin of victory.

Just two days later the Quakers were in Frankford to take on the Yellow Jackets.  Frankford was also fresh off a Thanksgiving Day victory, their triumph having come at the expense of the Thomas AC, of Bethlehem (PA).  Both the Quakers and Yellow Jackets had defeated Holmesburg, but the Frankford later lost to Conshohocken.  As a result, most fans expected the Quakers to both take the game and the regional gridiron championship.  The Yellow Jackets, however, had another idea in mind.  They beefed up for the contest by bringing in Erling "Dinger" Doane and Phil "Brainy" Bowers.  The mercenary Doane was a former standout at Tufts who went on to play with five different NFL clubs over eight seasons in the league.  Bowers had honed his gridiron skills at Dartmouth and was familiar with the Union lineup.  That same season he played five games for the Cleveland Tigers alongside the Quakers' Bull Lowe, Pete Calac and Joe Guyon.  Union also recruited some help, adding Doc Alexander to its lineup.  One of the best interior linemen in the pro ranks, Alexander had faced Union earlier in the season, not once, but twice – first as a member of both the Holmesburg AC, and later with the Rochester Jeffersons. 

The game itself was a grueling defensive struggle.  The Quakers did not allow a single first down, while the Yellow Jackets surrendered just five.  Most of the hard fought struggle took place at mid-field, which in the Baker Bowl was the edge of the baseball infield.  The back and forth play churned up a muddy mess, and the sloppy conditions contributed to numerous turnovers – five in the first quarter alone.  There also seemed to be a lot of animosity among the high spirited players, but the game officials, including Robert "Tiny" Maxwell, managed to keep the situation under control.  At the final whistle the score stood at 0-0.

Images from the sports pages of The (Philadelphia) Inquirer, November 27, 1921

Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs spent the afternoon on the Union sideline as a special guest of manager Leo Conway.  Despite the problems encountered earlier in the season, both Hay and Conway were still looking to stage a Canton-Philadelphia match-up.  The lure of gate receipts from such a contest was just too strong to resist.  An announcement that arrangements had been made came at the end of the game.  The Bulldogs were in Philadelphia a week later, and this time the tilt went off as planned.

December 3 was a cold, overcast day that threatened snow all afternoon.  Thankfully the bad weather held off until after the game.  A first quarter series of passes by halfback Harry Robb set the stage for Canton's initial score, a short run into the end zone by Guil Fulcon that put the visitors ahead, 7-0.  The Quakers responded late in the second quarter.  Shortly before half ended, Heinie Miller and Bull Lowe broke into the backfield as the Bulldogs prepared to punt.  Miller blocked the kick, and Lowe was on the ball in an instant.  Three plays later the Quakers were on the board with a touchdown of their own.  A failed point after attempt by Frank Morrisey left the Quakers trailing, 7-6.  Ironically, it had been Morrisey who, as a member of the Rochester Jeffersons, snatched victory from the Quakers just three weeks earlier with a forty-sevenyard field goal.  This was his first, and last, appearance with the Quakers.  Late in the final quarter Union had the ball well into Canton territory. After three plays stalled just outside the Bulldogs' 20-yard line, a perfectly placed Johnny Scoot drop-kick put the Quakers ahead 9-7.  Former Penn State stand-out Pie Way took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line.  That started a Bulldog drive that, in addition to eating up most of the remaining time, culminated with a touchdown reception by Harry Robb.  When the clock ran out the score stood at 14-9 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Play'em again...

In anticipation of their next two contests, a pair of rematches against Frankford and Canton, Union brought in two players well known to locals from their days at Penn State, Hinkey Haines and Harry Robb.  Haines was a talented multi-sport athlete who later went on to win the World Series in as a member of the New York Yankees and an NFL championship with the New York Giants.  Robb was very the same player who just one week earlier, as a member of the Canton Bulldogs, scored the game winning touchdown to defeat the Quakers.  The Yellow Jackets also beefed up for the contest, with a young center by the name of Wallace and a tall blonde interior lineman named Youngstrom.  "Wallace" was actually Herb Stein, the talented All-American from the University of Pittsburgh. S wede Youngstrom, of course, was the same stalwart player who had manned the Quakers line through the first five games of the season, before parting with the team following the Buffalo dispute.

On the Thursday before the game Doc Alexander, Jim Laird, Dan O'Connor, Harry Robb and Manager Leo Conway took some time to attend a local tilt between the Philadelphia Collegians and the Baltimore Professionals.  The Philadelphia squad included several players from South Philly's Ewing AA, while the Baltimore club was said to be composed of "the best colored stars in the East."  It is not clear whether the Quakers were there to evaluate talent or simply to relax and enjoy the game.   The contest was a 54-3 blowout in favor of Philadelphia.  No players from either lineup ever appeared with the Quakers.

Some 10,000 fans turned out at Phillies Park to watch as the Union Quakers and Frankford Yellow Jackets squared-off for the second time in a game touted as the city championship of Philadelphia.  None were disappointed.  From the very outset the contest was a another defensive struggle.  The Quakers, however, seemed to play the stronger game, taking a clear (8 to 2) edge in first downs.  Early in the first quarter, a quick series of runs by Johnny Scott and Hinkey Haines brought the ball to Frankford's 25-yard line.  From there Scott made his first field goal attempt of the afternoon, an unsuccessful effort that hit one of the Yellow Jackets' players in the head.  The balance of the first half was a virtual stalemate. Once again, most of the action taking place at mid-field.  As the half ended Heinie Miller hurled his helmet into the stands.  Walt Dunn, of the (Philadelphia) Public Ledger, reported the Miller was signaling that he was, "in there do or die."  Other newsmen commented that Heinie's relentless defensive play harkened back to the days when he teamed with fellow Quakers Lou Little and Lud Wray at the University of Pennsylvania.  Miller played the rest of the contest bare headed.

Shortly after the half, fullback Jim Laird carried the Quakers' load in a long drive that brought the ball to the Yellow Jackets' 9-yard line.  On the next play Heinie Miller came off end and broke clear in the end zone, where Johnny Scott connected with him on a picture perfect pass.  The successful point after attempt by Scott followed, putting Union ahead, 7-0.  Another missed field goal attempt, by Scott in the final quarter, was the last real scoring opportunity of the game.

Images from the sports pages of the (Philadelphia) Public Ledger, December 11, 1921

The 7-0 victory over the Frankford Yellow Jackets gave the Union Quakers bragging rights as regional gridiron champions.  Ed Bader, the honorable Mayor of Atlantic City (NJ), served as head linesman for the game.  Afterward, he tried to arrange for Union to play at the Jersey shore the following weekend, but Leo Conway had other plans.  The Quakers would be back at Phillies Park to host yet another rematch – this time against the Canton Bulldogs.

The Union Quakers' season finale played out on December 17, as Canton Bulldogs faced the locals at Phillies Park for the second time in as many weeks.  This rematch, however, was by no means a replay of the previous contest.  The home team dominated from the opening whistle. 

In the early minutes of the play the Quakers marched the ball to the Bulldogs' 15-yard line.  From there quarterback Johnny Scott connected Glen Killinger, who stepped across the Canton goal line.  It was the first touchdown as a professional for the All-American fresh out of Penn State.  Scott's reliable toe provided the point after, putting the Quakers ahead, 7-0.  The second quarter was all Scott, as the Union quarterback added a field goal, touchdown and another point after to his total.  He led his team mates into halftime with a 17-0 advantage.

Union's offense continued to stymie the Canton defenders after the half.  Toward the end of the third quarter the Quakers' line cleared the way as Jim Laird carried the ball in from the 8-yard line for another Union score.  A short time later Harry Robb, now back in the Bulldogs lineup, unwittingly set up yet another Quakers' touchdown.  With Lud Wray, Butch Spagna and Lou Little bearing down on him as he attempted to field a punt, the Canton quarterback dropped the ball. When the referees untangled the ensuing pile up, Spagna had possession in the end zone.  Johnny Scott was also responsible for the final score of the game.  A late interception gave Union the ball on the Canton 10-yard line.  With time running out Scott spilt the up rights with an incredible drop-kick from across field on a sharp angle, sealing the Union victory, 34-0.

By all accounts Scott had a remarkable game, contributing a touchdown, two field goals and four extra points to the effort.  In contrast, the Bulldogs offense seemed to suffer under the absence of fullback Lew Smith, whose strong passing game had proved to be the difference in the earlier meeting between the two clubs.  On defense, it was the most points surrendered by Canton in nearly twelve years.


The Quaker offense threatens the Canton Bulldogs' goal.

Another change of direction...

After closing out the 1921 grid campaign with solid victories over Frankford and Canton, the future looked bright for the Union Quakers.  During the off season Leo Conway once again attended meetings of the APFA.  This time around he was joined by Heinie Miller.  Before the meetings concluded the APFA would change its name to the National Football League, and Philadelphia would be awarded a league franchise.  1922 seemed poised to be a banner year for the team. 

Once again, however, things did not work out quite the way they were planned.  For unknown reasons the plans to enter the NFL were eventually dropped.  Although the team, for the most part, remained in tact and went on to a highly successful 13-0-1 record the following season, it did so under the banner of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, not the Union Quakers.  Leo Conway appears to have faded for a time from the football scene in Philadelphia, before finally reappearing in 1926 to manage a reconstituted Philadelphia Quakers team to the American Football League championship.

Outstanding Players

The backbone of the Quakers line was Lud Wray, Lou Little and Heinie Miller.  These three men had first played together at the University of Pennsylvania, and later as professionals with the Buffalo All-Americans and Union Club of Phoenixville.  They would go on to play together for another season, as members of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, before parting company to move along separate paths in the coaching ranks. 

Joe Guyon -- Hall of Fame link
Joe Guyon

The Quakers' lineup also featured two players who garnered all-pro selections in 1921: Bull Lowe and Doc Alexander.  The Buffalo Evening News honored these men for their performances with their APFA teams – Lowe appeared with in seven games for the Cleveland Tigers, and Alexander in four outings as a member of the Rochester Jeffersons.  Both players were key to the Quakers' success.  Bull Lowe, a fixture at left-end, appeared in all but one game for the Quakers, while Doc Alexander took the place of Swede Youngstrom at right guard for the final four games of the season.

Another pair of APFA veterans who made a brief appearance in the Quakers' lineup was the famous tandem of Pete Calac and Joe Guyon.  The two well known Native Americans joined the Quakers' backfield over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend for the games against Conshohocken and Frankford.  Both men had gained fame playing first at the Carlisle Indian School and later with the Canton Bulldogs.  Guyon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.

By the Numbers

In the autumn of 1921 the Union Quakers picked up where the 1920 Union Club of Phoenixville had left off.  While the competition faced in 1921 seemed somewhat stiffer, victories over the leading teams in the Anthracite League and the strongest teams in Philadelphia area, such as the Frankford Yellow Jackets and Holmesburg AC and Conshohocken AC, left the Union Quakers as the undisputed regional champions.  Click here to view a complete listing of the Union Quakers' 1921 season schedule and results, including links to some newspaper articles reporting specific games.  

The backbone of the Quakers' success was its consistently strong defense.  The team's defenders held opponents scoreless in seven of ten contests.  Strong defensive play was a feature even in the team's two losing efforts, allowing just three and fourteen points respectively in the losses to Brickley's Giants and the Canton Bulldogs.  Unfortunately the Quakers lagged behind on the other side of the ball, with a relatively low scoring offense accounted for just 112 points over ten games.  Quarterback Johnny Scott led all Quakers' scorers with 41 points, while Jim Laird, Heinie Miller and Butch Spagna were a distant second, each contributing 12 points to the team total.  Click here to see the complete scoring information for the Union Quakers' 1921 season.

Beef with Buffalo

As had been the case with the Union Club roster of 1920, the 1921 Union Quakers' lineup featured a number of players who also doubled with the Buffalo (NY) All-Americans.  This was possible because the Quakers, like the Union Club before them, were restricted by local Blue Laws to playing weekend games on Saturdays.  Unaffected by such limitations, the All-Americans, like most American Professional Football Association member teams, played of their games on Sundays.  Lou Little, Heinie Miller, Johnny Scott, Butch Spagna and Lud Wray were all regulars in the Buffalo lineup who played in all ten games of the Quakers' games that season.  Swede Youngstrom played in the team's first five games of the season, while Jim Laird and Doc Alexander played in the final four and five games, respectively.  Other Buffalo players who made appearances in the Quakers' lineup included Pat Smith for two games, and Okie Anderson, Milt Gardner and Bill Ward for one game each.  Carl Beck is another member of the All-Americans who may have been with the Quakers but not seen any playing time.

The fact that the Quakers and All-Americans shared so many players appears to be the reason that Leo Conway dropped his initial bid to join the APFA in 1921.  That move by Conway, however, does not seem to have been a point of contention between the two clubs.  Rather, an ongoing financial dispute between Buffalo Manager Frank McNeil and some of his players, that finally came to a head in November of that same year, appears to have been the real driving force behind the break that affected both clubs.

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, both the Union Quakers and Buffalo All-Americans were schedule to host the Canton Bulldogs, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.  On the Thursday before the games Buffalo Manager Frank McNeil apparently contacted both Canton management and APFA officials to lodge a protest regarding the Quakers-Canton game.  He stated that he had just learned of the game scheduled in Philadelphia, that he had only given his consent for Lou Little, Heinie Miller and Lud Wray to play “light games” on Saturdays, and that Canton was in violation of league rules by playing a team outside of the association.  At that point, it seems, Canton manager Ralph Hay replied that he had been under the impression that the Quakers were members of the APFA, and that he was unaware that members of the team also played for Buffalo.  He then cancelled the Quakers game.

Upon learning of the cancellation Little, Miller, Scott, Spagna and Wray decided to part company with the All-Americans and finish out the season with the Quakers.  Smith and Youngstrom played in Philadelphia on Saturday, in a game against the Rochester Jeffersons that had been quickly scheduled by the Quakers in lieu of the cancellation, and then returned to Buffalo to play against Canton the following day.  Neither Smith nor Youngstrom played with the Quakers again.

While on the surface this whole affair looks pretty straight forward, the reality is that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface.  The whole situation, as it turns out, seems to have been an offshoot of a financial dispute between Buffalo's Frank McNeil and some of his players that dated back to the previous season.

Heinie Miller
Heinie Miller

According to Heinie Miller, in the latter part of the 1920 season Frank O’Neil promised his players a bonus.  Then, when it came time to make good on that promise, he apparently stalled several times before finally saying that there was no money available.  The players eventually received a portion of the bonus the following season, after threatening not to play in a critical game against the Akron Pros on November 13.  The Akron game went off with Buffalo's regular lineup intact, but the game ended in a scoreless tie.  According to newspaper reports McNeil then blamed the result on his players being worn out after having played a hard game for the Quakers just two days before.  In that contest the Quakers defeated the Holmesburg AC, 21-0.  The following Thursday is when the issue of the Canton games arose.

McNeil's concerns regarding the the state of his players physical condition heading into the Canton game may have been sincere.  After all, his undefeated team was in the hunt for the APFA title.  At the same time, it is highly unlikely that he was so unaware of his players were doing in Philadelphia on Saturdays.  He also probably knew some of those players had a financial stake the Quakers.  As a result, he may have simply been playing tit-for-tat with the players who had strong armed him for the bonus money a week before.  With regard to Ralph Hay, manager of the Canton Bulldogs, it's also unlikely that he did not know that the same men played for both the Quakers and All-Americans.  His team had played Buffalo twice and the Union Club once in 1920.  One of the reasons Hay had scheduled the Quakers game was that it was essentially the same team that had represented the Union Club and defeated his Bulldogs in the previous season. 

In the end, the whole dispute probably hurt Frank McNeil and his Buffalo All-Americans more than it hurt the Quakers or the players involved.  The Quakers, of course, went on to play two games against the Canton Bulldogs later in the season.  As for the All-Americans, the team had a 6-0-1 record in the seven games leading up to the Canton game.  That contest, played by quality replacements but without any team practice for the new lineup, ended in as a seven all tie.  Although Buffalo went 3-1-0 in its final four games, a 9-1-2 record only proved good enough for a second place finish behind the 9-1-1 Chicago Staleys.  The All-Americans offense clearly suffered as a result of losing Little, Miller, Scott, Spagna and Wray.  After scoring 169 points versus just 6 allowed over its first seven games, the team netted just 42 points versus 23 allowed over its final four games.  This offensive drop-off was most evident in what turned out to be the two most critical contests of the season – the 7-7 tie with Canton and a 7-6 loss to Chicago in the season finale.  A victory in either of these close games would have placed the All-Americans ahead of the Staleys in the final standings and probably brought them the 1921 APFA championship.

What's in a Name?

When the directors of Phoenixville's Union Club declined Heinie Miller's proposal to sponsor his team for a second season, Miller and Leo Conway quickly announced the formation of the Union Athletic Association of Philadelphia.  The Union Club, however, was often referred the as the "Union AA" by the press.  So to avoid confusion, the new organization's name was soon changed to the Union Quakers of Philadelphia.  The "Union" reference was, no doubt, an attempt to maintain some continuity and remind the fans that this was essentially the same team that had been so successful for the Union Club a season earlier, while the nickname "Quakers" highlighted its strong ties to the University of Pennsylvania.  Bert Bell and Bill Hollenbeck, two well known former All-Americans at Penn, had been driving forces behind the original organization of the team in 1920.  Manager Leo Conway was a Penn alumnus.  And, of course, the core of the Union Quakers' line – Heinie Miller, Lou Little and Lud Wray – had all honed their gridiron skills by playing together at Penn. 

Links to Additional Information

Ghosts of the Gridiron's Virtual Scrapbook Vol. 1: Union Quakers
An extensive collection of digitized newspaper clippings and other related images from the Union Quakers' 1921 season.

1921: Once More, With Feeling
An excellent article by the PFRA research staff that chronicles the second season of the American Professional Football Association.  It touches briefly on Leo Conway's aborted bid to join the league, and provides additional insight regarding the Union-Buffalo conflict.


© John J. Fenton, 2012-2006, all rights reserved.