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Frankford Yellow Jackets
National Football League
Champions, 1926

  

Most football fans in the Philadelphia area have heard of the Frankford Yellow Jackets and some even know that the team won an NFL championship, "...back in the 30's or something."  Unfortunately, that's about the extent of common knowledge regarding this ball club, and it's a real shame.  Far too few people are aware of the fascinating story of this organization that was once both a dominant force on the gridiron and a vital part of the community...

The Story of the Frankford Yellow Jackets

The game of football in the late 1800s was a little different than the one played today.  The contest was divided into two full halves rather than four quarters, both touchdowns and field-goals scored five points and the on field action more closely resembled a rugby scrum than the display of precision choreography we witness every Sunday.  Yet this was the time and the game that spawned a team that would eventually evolve into the National Football League champion Frankford Yellow Jackets.

In the beginning...

In May of 1899 a meeting was held in the parlor of the Suburban Club to organize the Frankford Athletic Association.  Officers were elected and a committee appointed to formulate by-laws.  The cost of purchasing a share in the association, entitling the holder to all the privileges of membership, was $10. While the number of shares were limited, there were also contributing memberships, at a cost ranging from $1 to $2.50, made available to the general public. 

The Frankford AA initially fielded a baseball team, but subsequently formed both soccer and football clubs.  The association's "eleven," as football teams were commonly called, played several games that season, including victorious contests against the Pioneer AA, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia AC, and Atlantic City.  Their most memorable game of that season, however, was on Thanksgiving Day, when more than two-thousand spectators turned out to watch the Frankford AA defeat the Philadelphia & Reading YMCA by the score of 28-0. 

The original Frankford AA apparently disbanded some time prior to 1912.  A pair of brief 1924 articles marking the silver anniversary of professional football in Frankford trace the roots of the "present organization" to the original association formed in 1899, stating that members of the team which played the Philadelphia & Reading YMCA Thanksgiving Day game formed the Loyola Athletic Club in 1909, and that in 1912 the Loyola AC changed its name to the Frankford Athletic Association.  The articles then go on to list several members of the original association, a number whom served the newer organization as board members or in other capacities.

A long & winding road...


1922 Philadelphia City Champs

By the early 1920s the Frankford AA's Yellow Jackets were one of the finest independent football teams anywhere.  For a sense of their game at that time, one need only consider the 1922 contest against local rival Holmesburg, in which the Frankford captured the unofficial championship of Philadelphia.  By that season the team had improved to the point that it was playing and winning exhibitions against teams from the National Football League.  The first such contest was a 20-0 victory over the Rochester Jeffersons in late November of 1922, while the most memorable was a 3-0 loss to the NFL Champion Canton Bulldogs, in a game billed as the world's championship, to end the 1923 season.  Having compiled a 6-2-1record versus NFL teams over the 1922 and 1923 seasons, the Yellow Jackets' gridiron prowess was finally acknowledged in 1924, when the Frankford Athletic Association was granted an NFL franchise.

The Yellow Jackets assembled in mid-September to begin preparing for the upcoming campaign.  They promptly made their mark as a team to be reckoned with by posting a 21-0 victory over the Rochester Jeffersons in the very first game of the NFL's 1924 season.  Frankford finished that year with an overall record of 17-3-1, 11-2-1 in league play.  The Yellow Jackets’ fourteen NFL games that season, more than any other member team, set the tone for their entire tenure in the league.  In the early days of the NFL, member teams were only required to play a minimum number of games.  While individual teams were free to schedule additional games if desired, not every team did so or did so to the same degree.  The result was that some teams played more league games than others, and the Yellow Jackets played the most of all!  Averaging sixteen league games per season, the Yellow Jackets played more NFL games during their eight years in the league than any other team.  In addition, they also played numerous non-league games.  This willingness to compete, however, more often than not worked against them, as league standings were based strictly upon teams' winning percentages.  This fact was most apparent in 1924, when the Yellow Jackets (11-2-1) finished third in league standings behind the Cleveland Bulldogs (7-1-1) and Chicago Bears (6-1-4).  Interestingly, the only blemishes on eventual champion Cleveland Bulldogs' record that season came at the hands of the Yellow Jackets!  The volume of their schedule not withstanding, the Frankford club soon experienced success.

Guy Chamberlin, player-coach, 1925-1926
Guy Chamberlin

In 1925 the Frankford Athletic Association enlisted the services of Guy Chamberlin, an All-American out of Nebraska who had played on four of the five previous NFL championship teams, serving as player-coach to three them: Cleveland, 1924 and Canton, 1922-23.  Chamberlin signed on with the Yellow Jackets to both coach and play end. The team got off to a strong start that season, going 9-1-0 in their first ten games, but their run title tailed off after losing several key players, including Chamberlin, to injuries.  Following a 49-0 blowout by the Pottsville Maroons, the coach took the unusual move of suspending team captain Bull Behman for indifferent play, and warning everyone that any player not giving their best effort would be subject to the same.  The feisty Nebraskan then returned himself to the lineup for the next game, against Red Grange and the Chicago Bears.

While the Yellow Jackets lost at home to both Chicago and Cleveland following Chamberlin's dramatic moves, the team's play had improved.  They went on to close out the year on the road with victories in a pair of late additions to their schedule – at Providence, a game in which they substituted for the recently suspended Pottsville Maroons, and at Cleveland, where they substituted for the Chicago Bears – to finish the season with a 13-7-0 record in league play.

The NFL title comes to Frankford...

Healthy and eager to win, Guy Chamberlin was back at the reigns again the following season.  In early October, the team enlisted the services of Danny Coogan.  The addition of Coogan, who brought 40 years of experience as an athletic trainer to the club, was a move designed to combat the effects of injuries, a problem that had hampered the previous season’s efforts. 

The Yellow Jackets kicked off the 1926 season with an exhibition game at Atlantic City, scoring a 45-0 blowout over the always game Roses.  The NFL campaign started just six days later.  Amid sweltering heat and humidity Frankford's first real game of the season ended in a disappointing 6-6 tie at home against the Akron Pros.  This mixed beginning did not bode well as the team headed into a long and grueling schedule brimming with back-to-back Saturday and Sunday games.

Frankford's Guy Chamberlin (left) and Johnny Budd (right) pursue a Dayton Triangles' ball carrier (striped jersey).

Frankford's Guy Chamberlin (left) and Johnny Budd (right) pursue the Dayton
Triangles' Faye Abbott (carrying ball).  Image courtesy Rich Westcott.

The first weekend in October got the club back on the winning track with two solid victories over the Hartford Blues.  Next up was a two game encounter with the Buffalo Rangers.  After a decisive 30-0 blowout of Buffalo in Frankford, the Yellow Jackets headed up to the Queen City for the Sunday game.  That trip, however, proved to be for naught.  The Rangers, in a move that many felt was simply an attempt to avoid another thrashing, cancelled due to wet grounds.  Trudging home the Yellow Jackets prepared for another two game set, this time against the New York Giants.  The Giants were a good defensive club that managed to put the breaks on the Yellow Jackets’ offense.  But the Frankford defense proved stronger and walked away with a pair of 6-0 victories.  The Canton Bulldogs were next on the schedule.  Although Jim Thorpe was once again in the Canton lineup, the Bulldogs, like their legendary captain, were only a shadow of their former selves.  Frankford scored a 10-0 victory in the first game.  The follow-up, at Canton, was cancelled due to rain.  With a league leading 6-0-1 record the Yellow Jackets were in good shape heading into the final weekend of October, and a two game set with their toughest opponent yetthe Providence Steam Roller.

The Yellow Jackets' defense managed to keep the score close in the Saturday game with Providence, but that’s about all.  The offense simply didn’t click as Frankford's players seemed to have difficulty coordinating their attack.  As a result the club suffered a rare home loss.  Rebounding somewhat the next afternoon, the Yellow Jackets managed to squeeze out a tough 6-3 victory at the Velodrome in Providence.

The November schedule included only single game weekends, with a Thanksgiving Day game thrown in for good measure.  This played to the Yellow Jackets’ advantage, as can be attested to by solid victories over the Chicago Cardinals, Nevers’ Eskimos and the Dayton Triangles.  This string of victories left Frankford in excellent shape as the team headed into its Thanksgiving Day tilt with the Green Bay Packers.

Yellow Jacket Field, view of the north stands.

North stands of Yellow Jacket Field, Thanksgiving Day, 1926.

The 12,000 spectators in attendance at Yellow Jacket Field witnessed the kick-off of what over the next five seasons would become an annual tradition, the Frankford-Green Bay Thanksgiving Day game.  It was a seesaw battle from the outset.  Tex Hamer scored a touchdown on the Yellow Jackets’ first possession but Johnny Budd missed the extra point.  Another touchdown later in the same quarter made the score 13-0.  The Packers later replied in kind, notching two second quarter touchdowns to take a 14-13 lead into halftime.  The second half went back and fourth, until a final period pass from Stockton to Homan netted the Yellow Jackets another touchdown.  The successful kick by Budd gave Frankford a 20-14 lead and the victory.  Just two days later the Yellow Jackets closed out November with a 7-6 at home victory over the Detroit Panthers.

At 12-1-1, the Yellow Jackets headed into December hot on the trail of the undefeated Chicago Bears for the lead in the league standings.  This set the stage for what many were calling the league championship game – Yellow Jackets vs. Bears at Shibe Park, Philadelphia.  In three contests over the two previous seasons the Yellow Jackets had yet to defeat the Bears and had been outscored 65-13.  Playing minus the services of starters Swede Youngstrum and Daddy Potts, this game was expected to be another uphill battle for Frankford.  The contest was a defensive struggle throughout.  The Bears finally managed to break the deadlock and get on the board with a touchdown in third quarter, but in what was perhaps the most critical play of the game, Frankford skipper Guy Chamberlin managed to block the extra point.  Then, in the closing minutes of play, a fifty yard reverse field run by Tex Hamer, followed soon after by a fourth and three touchdown pass from Hust Stockton to quarterback Henry “Two-Bits” Homan, brought the score even.  Hamer’s successful kick provided the margin of victory.  This defeat of the Bears nosed the Yellow Jackets ahead in the standings.  But despite newspaper reports to the contrary the season was far from over, and the championship was far from decided. Ahead lay another home and away weekend against the Providence Steam Roller, as well as the season finale against the Pottsville Maroons.

1927 program cover, Yellow Jackets vs. Dayton Triangles

Image courtesy Mike Moran.

A snow covered Yellow Jacket Field was the scene of the first half of the season's second two game encounter with the Steam Roller.  Behind the fine play of Guy Chamberlin, Two-Bits Homan and Tex Hamer, along with a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown by Swede Youngstrom, the Yellow Jackets trounced the Steam Roller 24-0 to extract a second dose of revenge for their only defeat of the season.  Even more snow in Providence forced the cancellation of the Sunday game, providing the Frankford squad some additional rest as they prepared for the season finale with Pottsville.  The Maroons, a hard driving team from the Pennsylvania coal fields, had laid a claim to the 1925 NFL title.  At 10-1-1, Pottsville was once again deep in the thick of the championship race, but in order to reclaim their "usurped" crown the Maroons needed a victory over the Yellow Jackets, as well as a Green Bay defeat of the Bears.

Some 8,000 fans braved frigid conditions to witness the contest between Frankford and Pottsville at Yellow Jacket Field.  A combination of a game time temperature of 20º and falling, high winds and the fact that there was so much at stake for both clubs, made this game even more difficult than expected.  The first half was a fierce punting duel that offered few scoring chances.  The Yellow Jackets' initial opportunity was a strong first quarter drive that brought the ball to the Pottsville 6-yard line before the Maroons’ defense held, forcing a field goal attempt.  Tex Hamer's kick, from the 20-yard line, skimmed past the uprights just wide.  Frankford mounted another drive, this time to the Pottsville 15-yard line, late in the second quarter, but time ran out as a pass into the end-zone fell incomplete.  The Yellow Jackets’ final scoring opportunity, in the third quarter, occurred when Guy Chamberlin blocked a Jim Welsh field goal attempt at the Frankford 47-yard line, and the ball was recovered in Maroons’ territory.  A short drive followed, but once again the Pottsville defense held fast.  A Johnny Budd field goal attempt from the 30-yard line was blown so far off course by the wind that it went out of bounds at the 10-yard line!  The game ended in a scoreless tie.

A 14-1-2 final record left the Frankford Yellow Jackets alone atop the NFL standings with an undisputed claim to the league crown.  The club's fourteen wins during the 1926 championship season set an NFL record for regular season victories that stood until 1984, when it was broken by the 15-1-0 San Francisco 49ers.

Frankford Yellow Jackets
1926 National Football League Champions

Frankford Yellow Jackets, 1926 NFL Champions
Top: Mullany (mascot), Reed, Comstock, Budd, Springsteen, Hamer, Carp, Moran, Jones, Wilcox, Chamberlin (player-coach).
Middle: Un-named (ass't trainer), Crowthers, Lowe, Stockton, Bruder, Hoffman, Youngstrom, Weir, Potts, Holden (president).
Kneeling: Douglas, Homan, Coogan (trainer).
Image courtesy the Historical Society of Frankford.

Just one day after capturing the title, however, Theodore "Thee" Holden stepped down as president of the Frankford Athletic Association.  Holden, who was energetic and popular with fans and players alike, felt that his personal business interests had suffer during his year at the helm.  Guy Chamberlin later also departed, leaving the Yellow Jackets to attempt a repeat of their championship performance under completely new management.

Ed Weir
Ed Weir

James Adams took over the reigns of the Frankford AA and brought in former Centre College and Bucknell Coach Charles "Uncle Charlie" Moran to lead the team.  Early in the season, however, Uncle Charlie's son Tom served as interim coach while elder Moran was away umpiring the 1927 World Series between the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.  Unfortunately the club suffered as a result of the changes and with eight league games under their belt the Yellow Jackets stood at 2-5-1.  With the team's hopes of a title repeat dashed, yet another change was in order.  This time Ed Weir, a former All-American at Nebraska who at the time was playing end for the Yellow Jackets, took over the coaching duties with assistance from fellow players Russ Daugherty, Charlie Rogers and Swede Youngstrom.  Weir managed to slow the team's slide and the Yellow Jackets ended their dismal 1927 campaign with a 6-9-3 record – the club’s first losing season in memory. Under Weir's leadership the team rebounded in 1928, but as in 1924, the high number of league games the team played hurt them.  Their 11-3-2 league record placed them second in the standings, behind the Providence Steam Roller – a team whom Frankford played five more games and had three more victories than.  1929, under the leadership of veteran the Yellow Jacket Russell "Bull" Behman, was another strong year, with the Yellow Jackets finishing at 9-4-5 for third place in league standings.  After wrapping up that season with a 26 to 0 exhibition victory over the Battery-H eleven, the team looked forward to a break in the action and the promise of further improvement the following year.  Little did anyone realize, 1930 would take them in a completely different direction. 

The end of an era...

The Frankford Gazette, September 29, 1929

The Great Depression had a severe impact on the communities from which the Yellow Jackets drew support.  Unemployment rose as local textile mills and factories closed, and many of the businesses and individuals that had long supported both the Frankford AA and the team were finding it more difficult to do so.

Looking to maintain fan support by building on the previous season's success, Shep Royle, president of the Frankford AA, arranged for Coaches Bull Behman and Wally Diehl to attend a coaching clinic in Chicago run by Glenn "Pop" Warner and Dick Hanley.  The hope was that Behman and Diehl would improve their technique and develop a way to better utilize their players.  This led to some pretty high hopes for the upcoming season.  At the same time, however, the Frankford AA management also decided to retain only a few veteran players, replacing most of the squad with rookies direct from the college ranks.  The result was a disastrous string of ten consecutive losses; the worst such run in Yellow Jackets' history!  In an effort to stop this slid Frankford purchased eleven players from the floundering Minneapolis Red Jackets.  A few weeks later George Gibson, the former Minnesota All-American, took over the coaching reigns from Bull Behman.  Around this time the local Legion Post tried to rally to the Yellow Jackets' aid, pledging its support even as the effects of the economic depression and poor performance on the field combined to reduce the team's fan base.  The season finally ended with the Yellow Jackets' record a dismal 6-13-1 overall, 4-13-1 in league play.

The off season brought little in the way of relief, as Yellow Jacket Field was severely damaged by a fire prior to the start of the 1931 season.  The second such incident in recent years, it forced the club to find another location to play its home games.  Doing so, however, proved to be no simple task.  Most facilities suitable for profession football were already booked, leaving the Yellow Jackets unable to schedule all of the season's home games at a single location.  The team eventually arranged for its games to be played at three different locations around the city of Philadelphia: Frankford High School's Community Memorial Stadium, Philadelphia Municipal Stadium and Phillies’ Ball Park.  While these last two fields were located well outside of the Frankford area, making attendance difficult even for those local fans who could still afford the expense, it was hoped that the team would draw broader support from Philadelphia at large.

With Herb Joesting as coach and several other former Gophers on board for the 1931 campaign, a decision was made to adopt the playing system espoused by of the University of Minnesota's Dr. Clarence Spears.  Unfortunately Frankford’s 1931 campaign started right where the previous one had ended, and by mid-season the team was in desperate shape.  And while some in the press had taken to referring to the team as the Philadelphia Yellow Jackets, the much needed support from the rest of the city never materialized.  After witnessing first hand the poor turn-out at a late October home loss to the Portsmouth Spartans, league president Joe Carr approved a plan for the Yellow Jackets to finish the season as a traveling team. The thinking behind this strategy was that allowing the team to reschedule their remaining games for the road would conserve finances, enabling them to recover for the following season.  Such a move to traveling status, however, generally represented the last gasp of a dying franchise.  The Yellow Jackets played only one more game before it was announced that the team was disbanding for the remainder of the season.  This prompted many reminiscences about the Yellow Jackets, including one by noted Philadelphia sports writer Gordon Mackay, hoping against hope for the survival of the team.  Unfortunately that was not to be, and shortly thereafter the franchise was forfeited to the league.

Eagles connection...

Image appears courtesy the Historical Society of the Buffalo All-Americans, Bisons & Rangers -- click to visit.
Lud Wray

On July 8, 1933, the NFL awarded the former Frankford franchise to a syndicate headed by Bert Bell and Lud Wray, a former Yellow Jackets' player, in return for $2500 and payment of 25 percent of the outstanding Yellow Jackets' debts.  Bell and Wray formed a new team under the franchise, which they christened the Philadelphia Eagles in honor of the symbol of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Recovery Act.  Wray coached the club for its first three seasons.  The Eagles went on to win championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960, and to this day remain a playoff caliber championship contender.

Many fans mistakenly believe that a simple name change transformed the Frankford Yellow Jackets into the Philadelphia Eagles, but that is not the case.  Bell and Wray did not buy the Frankford Yellow Jackets but rather the franchise, or license to field a team in the National Football League, that formerly belonged to the Frankford Athletic Association.  That franchise had been revoked by the league in the wake of the Yellow Jackets' collapse in 1931.  As licensees Bell and Wray then formed an entirely new team to operate under the old franchise.

Another fact unknown to most Eagles fans is that the old Yellow Jackets' franchise is today held by the Pittsburgh Steelers, not the Philadelphia Eagles.  This is because in April of 1941, in a rather confusing move, the Eagles and Steelers swapped franchises.  Eagles' co-owners Bert Bell and Art Rooney took their franchise (then Eagles' but formerly Yellow Jackets') to Pittsburgh and assumed control of the Steelers, while Steelers' owner Alexis Thompson brought his Steelers' franchise (originally Pirates') to Philadelphia and took over control of the Birds.

In the final analysis, the Philadelphia Eagles of today are neither a direct continuation of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, nor do they any longer possess even ties on paper to that once great club.  Even so, they most certainly have deep historical roots in the 'eleven' of old that once brought pride to the entire city by taking a small Philly neighborhood to the pinnacle of professional football.

Outstanding Players

Link Lyman -- Hall of Fame link
Link Lyman

Like many early National Football League teams the Frankford Yellow Jackets were relatively short lived.  Be that as it may, the team was well represented by outstanding players throughout its short tenure in the league.  Frankford can proudly boast a pair of Hall of Famers, Guy Chamberlin (1925-26) and William Roy "Link" Lyman (1925), among the many Yellow Jackets' standouts.

At the close of the Yellow Jackets' first NFL season, Tex Hamer was the league's second leading scorer, with 72 points coming on a league high 12 touchdowns, while teammate Jim Welsh led the league with 17 points-after-touchdowns.  The next season Hamer tied for the league lead in touchdowns, with 5, and finished fifth among scoring leaders with 45 points.  Similarly, Bert Jones finished the 1926 championship campaign ranked fifth in scoring, with 54 points, and Ken Mercer continued the trend by ranking fifth in scoring in 1927, with 38 points, and again in 1928, with 38 points.  Mercer also led the league in field goals, with 5, in 1927.

Among those Yellow Jackets players to receive first team all-pro honors were Charley Way, 1924; Johnny Budd, 1926; Ed Weir, 1927; Bull Behman, 1927 & 1929; and Wally Dheil, 1928.  Click here to view a complete listing of players who received all-pro honors as members of the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

Lou Molinet
Lou Molinet

In 1928 Fait "Chief" Elkins returned a kick-off 98-yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Cardinals.  This return, the longest in Yellow Jackets’ history, was at that time an NFL record.  Outstanding for another reason was Ignacio "Lou" Molinet.  While Molinet played in only nine games with the Yellow Jackets, his 1927 signing by Frankford made this native of Chaparra, Cuba, the NFL's first Hispanic player.

The Frankford Yellow Jackets' yearly player rosters are viewable by clicking desired year: 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931A number of contemporary newspaper clippings on several Yellow Jackets' player-coaches, including Lou Little (1923), Punk Berryman (1924), Guy Chamberlin (1925-26), interim coach Tom Moran (1927), "Uncle Charlie" Moran (1927) and Herb Joesting (1931) are also viewable. 

By the Numbers

Over the years the Frankford Yellow Jackets consistently fielded highly competitive teams, playing longer and harder schedules than any other squad in the National Football League.  During their eight NFL seasons the Yellow Jackets played 128 league games, including a record 20 league games in 1925, for an average of 16 NFL games per season.  No other team came close to those numbers.  Frankford also compiled more victories during their eight season tenure than any other team in the league during the same period.  In addition, the Yellow Jackets also played numerous non-league games every season.

The table below gives a stats summary of the Yellow Jackets' eight seasons in the NFL.  This table, however, includes only league games.  To view a breakdown of any season's game schedule and results, including non-league opponents, click on the year desired.

Frankford Yellow Jackets' NFL Season Summaries

Year

Won

Lost

Tied

Pct

Rank

PF

PA

 1924

11

2

1

.846

3

326

109

 1925

13

7

0

.650

6

190

169

 1926

14

1

2

.933

1

236

49

 1927

6

9

3

.400

7

152

166

 1928

11

3

2

.786

2

175

84

 1929

9

4

5

.692

3

139

128

 1930

4

13

1

.222

9

113

321

 1931

1

6

1

.143

10

13

99

Totals

69

45

14

.605

--

1344

1125

Similar information is also viewable for the Frankford Athletic Association's 1899 thru 1903 seasons, as well as the five seasons prior to the team's entry into the National Football League: 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923.

The Philadelphia Record, December 19, 1926

Guy Chamberlin of Frankford and Jack Ernst of Pottsville meet before the game
in which the Yellow Jackets captured the 1926  National Football League title.

Traditions & Rivalries

Turkey Day contests...

Football, like turkey, goes hand-in-hand with Thanksgiving. For the Frankford Yellow Jackets the traditional Thanksgiving Day game traced its roots to that long ago victory over the Philadelphia & Reading YMCA in 1899.

"Wild Billy" Kelly slashes through Green
Bay tacklers, Thanksgiving Day 1929.

Frankford's independent seasons from 1919 thru 1921 saw Thanksgiving Day victories over the Ewing AA, Lebanon Valley College and Bethlehem's Thomas AC.  These successes were followed in 1922 and 1923 by victories over New York City's first NFL team, Brickley's Giants.  The Yellow Jackets experienced similar holiday victories in 1924 over the NFL's Dayton Triangles, and in 1925 over All-New Britain, the champions of New England.  The 1926 season, however, brought a new "Turkey Day" tradition – that of playing the Green Bay Packers.  This holiday rivalry continued uninterrupted until 1931, when the Yellow Jackets disbanded prior to that season's scheduled Thanksgiving Day game.

Between 1919 and 1931 the Frankford Yellow Jackets were 9-2-1 in games played on Thanksgiving Day.  Their holiday rivalry with Green Bay was tied at 2-2-1, while the Packers held a 5-4-1edge in overall meetings between the two clubs.  More detailed information on this rivalry can be found at Ghosts of the Gridiron's The NFL's Forgotten Thanksgiving Rivalry page.

Coal-country foes...

The coal regions of Northeastern Pennsylvania produced a number of excellent football teams.  Towns like Coaldale, Edwardsville, Gilberton, Mount Carmel and Shenandoah regularly fielded strong clubs.  Chief among these "Anthracite League" teams were the Pottsville Maroons, who competed in the NFL from 1925 thru 1928.  Some of Frankford's more memorable games against these coal-town teams were a pair of scoreless ties against Gilberton and Pottsville in 1923 and a late November defeat by Pottsville in 1925.  In that particular contest the Maroons, arguably the best football team in the nation, laid a 49-0 shellacking on the Yellow Jackets while en route to claiming a much disputed NFL title!

More often than not, however, the Yellow Jackets came away from these contests victorious.  Between 1920 and 1928 Frankford compiled a 18-2-3 record in some twenty-three games against their coal-country foes.

The Hornets’ Nest

Yellow Jacket Field, aerial view.

Aerial view of Yellow Jacket Field. 
Image courtesy Wissinoming Historical Society.

In 1899 the original Frankford Athletic Association laid out a new athletic park at Oxford Road and Leiper Street in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.  Called Wistar Park, it served as the home field for all the organization's sporting teams, including its football eleven.  Several years later the association moved its playing fields a few blocks west, to the site of the old Brown's farm, in order to accommodate the construction of a new high school.  Brown's Field, as the new location came to be known, served as the home field of the Frankford AA and their Yellow Jackets through the early 1920s.  The Yellow Jackets’ continued success, however, both encouraged and enabled the construction of a new football stadium.

1923 saw the Yellow Jackets move to a new home, Frankford Stadium, more commonly known as Yellow Jacket Field, located at the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Devereaux Street in Philadelphia's Wissinoming section.  With a cost in excess of $100,000, this new facility had all the amenities befitting a team of the Yellow Jackets' caliber – a scoreboard, grandstands and press boxes.  It officially opened, with much fanfare, on September 29, 1923.  That afternoon the field was christened with a victory, as Frankford triumphed over the All-Lancaster eleven.  The new stadium served as home to the Yellow Jackets during the club's golden years as one of the most dominant and successful teams in the National Football League.  It was the site of many great games and feats of athleticism, including a ninety-eight yard kick-off return for a touchdown – believed to have been an NFL record – by Fiat “Chief” Elkins in 1928.  It also played host to any number of future Hall of Famers, including such greats as Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, George Halas, Ernie Nevers and, of course, the Yellow Jackets’ own HOF inductees, Guy Chamberlin and Link Lyman.  Frankford Stadium’s finest moment, however, undoubtedly came when it served as the site of the game that clinched the 1926 NFL championship for the Yellow Jackets!

The Frankford Gazette, October 2, 1931

Click here to view a 1931 news article
featuring announcer Bobby Calhoun.

During that same period the Yellow Jackets also played late season home games against the Chicago Bears (1925 and 1926) at Shibe Park, home of baseball's American League Philadelphia Athletics.

Fire destroyed a portion of Frankford Stadium in the early autumn of 1929.  The damage was repaired, but on morning of that season’s Thanksgiving Day game with the Green Bay Packers, high winds tore away the roof and sides of the press box and the upper boxes of the north stand.  Finally, on the afternoon of July 27, 1931, another fire swept through the grandstands, destroying a large portion of the stadium.  This incident, coupled with a decision by the city of Philadelphia to extend Aramingo Avenue through the stadium property, forced the team to abandon the facility.

As a result, the Yellow Jackets' first home game of the 1931 season was played at Frankford High School's Community Memorial Stadium, located just a few blocks from the team's old Brown's Field and Wistar Park gridirons.  Their next home game, a night-time contest, was played at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia.  The Yellow Jackets' final two home games were played at Phillies’ Ball Park, home of baseball's National League Philadelphia Phillies.

When all is said and done it is clear that the loss of the Frankford Stadium was one of the final nails in the Yellow Jackets’ coffin as the team struggled to stay afloat during the early years of the Great Depression.  

Entertaining fans...

Women's football exhibition, 1926.
Image courtesy Mike Moran.

The Frankford Athletic Association was a community-based organization, and entertaining fans was job one.  This feat was accomplished not only with the quality of the Yellow Jackets' play, but also with the music of the Yellow Jackets' Band and the Frankford Legion Post 211 Drum & Bugle Corp.  Audience participation was widely encouraged among the faithful.  Game day programs regularly included the words to the team's fight song and official cheers, which appeared along with the instructions, "Take home and memorize," and "Everybody Sing Along!"  Frankford's team spirit wasn't left behind when the club went on the road.  The Frankford AA also sponsored bus and train trips for fans to travel along to games in such places as Pottsville and New York, where even the host teams' sportswriters took notice of their enthusiasm.

Yellow Jackets weren't always the only local team taking the field.  The club occasionally sponsored half-time exhibitions by the Frankford Midgets, an 85-pound team, as well as women's football.

Discouraging foes...

An enthusiastic crowd and long tradition of winning football came together to make the Frankford Yellow Jackets particularly difficult to play on their home turf.  Between 1920 and 1931 the team compiled a remarkable 96-22-15 record at home, bearing witness to the fact that the Yellow Jackets nearly always benefited from the home field advantage!

A Legacy of Community Service

Philadelphia Fire Department, Engine 14

Image courtesy Virtual Patch Museum.

Until near the end of the team's existence the Frankford Yellow Jackets were not only financially self-sufficient, but actually generated excess revenue.  The Frankford Athletic Association, however, was a community based non-profit organization, comprised of local residents and businesses, with the expressed purpose of supporting local charities.  In keeping with its charter, which stated that "all profits shall be donated to charity," all income in excess of that necessary to cover player salaries and team expenses was donated to local charitable institutions.  The beneficiaries of this generosity included Frankford Hospital, the Frankford Day Nursery, the local Boy Scouts and the local American Legion Post 211.  Incredibly, the officers of the Frankford AA received neither salary nor compensation for their work on behalf of the team.  This whole concept is no doubt hard to believe in our present era of sport as business.

While the Frankford Athletic Association has long since ceased to exist, its spirit remains even today.  One shining example of this is the Philadelphia Fire Department's Engine 14.  Stationed in the very neighborhood the Yellow Jackets called home, the firefighters of Engine 14 have not only adopted the Yellow Jackets moniker, but in their every day duty to the citizens of Frankford keep alive that old team's legacy of service.

Links to Additional Information

Frankford Yellow Jackets, Part 1: Pre-NFL

Frankford Yellow Jackets, Part 2: The Good Years
A pair of excellent articles on the history and development of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, by Richard Pagano and CC Staph. Originally published in The Coffin Corner, Vol. 9, No. 2 and Vol. 9, No. 4, respectively.

Bull Behman and the Jackets
A fine article by Al Myers on Russell "Bull" Behman, the long time Yellow Jackets player and coach, who also played on the Philadelphia Quakers of the AFL. Originally published in The Coffin Corner, Vol. 5, No. 8.

Hap Moran, 1901-1994
Mike Moran's tribute to his father, former Yellow Jackets' player Francis "Hap" Moran.

Pigskin Pioneer Remembered: Ignacio Molinet
An interesting bio of the NFL's first Latino player, former Yellow Jacket Ignacio "Lou" Molinet. 

The NFL's Forgotten Thanksgiving Rivalry: Green Bay Packers vs. Frankford Yellow Jackets
A brief article by this website's author detailing the Green Bay-Frankford holiday rivalry of 1926-1930.

Packers Thanksgiving History
A radio segment that originally aired during the Packers Radio Network pregame show on Thanksgiving Day, 2009.  It features commentary from this website's author regarding the Green Bay-Frankford holiday rivalry of 1926-1930.

Links to Current Frankford Area Football Clubs

Frankford Chargers
The home on the web of the Frankford Chargers Sports Association, a non-profit agency whose primary goal is to expand the limited choices and resources of its community's youth by offering productive and wholesome athletic opportunities principal focus is on competitive team sports training and development, the building of character/self-esteem and setting the foundation for meeting and achieving goals.

Frankford Chiefs
The official website of the Frankford Chiefs, a local semi-pro club belonging competing in the LaBelle Community Football League.


© John J. Fenton, 2013-2000, all rights reserved.