|New York Knickerbockers
|New York Knickerbockers
The first National Football League of 1902 was formed by three teams: The The Phillies and Athletics of Philadelphia, and the Stars of Pittsburgh. All three played matches against each other as well as teams not from the League, but had tangled their League standings so much it was impossible to tell which had actually won. The fourth power at the time Watertwon Red and Blacks from Upstate New York had already claimed to be “World Champions”.
With a large Arena to fill for New Years Eve, and so many other attractions in New York at the time, Tom O’Rourke, the famed Irish-American Boxing Promoter, who was manager of Madison Square Garden at the time decide to hold the first “World Series” of Professional Football. He invited both the Phillies and Athletics from Philadelphia, and the Watertown Red and Blacks, but declined to invite the Stars of Pittsburgh, as he thought New Yorkers would not go the see a team from Pittsburgh.
The Phillies and Athletics combined to enter one team, although the team was named “New York” for the occasion. The Watertown team declined to take part, so to pad out the schedule, Syracuse Athletic Club, from Upstate New York were invited, as were Orange Athletic Club from New Jersey, and Warlow Athletic Club from New York. The Hometown Knickerbockers were also invited, Both the Knickerbockers and Warlow were expected to be a big Hometown draw. The Syracuse team added players from Watertown Red and Blacks, also Upstate New York, so could also with some justification consider themselves a Major Football Team like the “New York” team of Phillies and Athletics. The team called itself All-Syracuse for the occasion.
The scheduling was a problem, and with a six-team tournament, Orange AC were given a bye to the Final game. The first game on 28 December 1902 was between the two teams who could likely have contested a World series Final: All-Syracuse and New York, which All-Syracuse won 6-0 depriving Tom O’Rourke of his big draw for the Final. In the other preliminary match New York Knickerbockers beat Warlow AC 11-6. They lost to All-Syracuse in the knockout second round, or Semi-Final, 36-0. This deprived O’Rourke of another big hometown draw for the Finale on New Years Eve. In this match All-Syracuse again won 36-0 against inferior opposition in Orange AC.
Pennsylvania and Upsate New York were the big football regions at the time and scheduling them for the first match rather than keeping them apart until the Final is bizarre. Another aspect of the series that was unusual was the field: Indoors in Madison Square Garden, and only 70-yards between the goalposts rather the 110-yard field that was standard at the time. It has gone down on record as the first Indoor Professional Football match. The field was laid with earth after the wooden floorboards were taken up, but it described as “sticky and holding” which meant speed and cleverness were neutralized and the games were about size and strength eve more than usual. One football player knocked himself silly running into the walls in the opening kickoff of the first game and never took part in the rest of the game.
An interesting footnote to the the Series to Irish readers is that a Gaelic Football match was played as a curtain-raiser to the main event on New Years Eve.
 National Football League (2014) “Chronology of Professional Football” 2013 NFL Record & Fact Book. pg. 353
 Professional Football Researchers Association | Wayback Machine (2010) The Coffin Corner Annual Volume 2 (1980) The First Football World Series Experiment in the Garden https://web.archive.org/web/20101127053946/http://www.profootballresearchers.org/Coffin_Corner/02-An-054.pdf [Accessed 20 May 2020
Thanks to Mom Tully.
About this document
Researched, compiled and written by Enda Mulcahy for the
Eirball | Irish North American and World Sports Archive
Last Updated: 20 May 2020
(c) Copyright Enda Mulcahy and Eirball 2020
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