My brother-in-law and I recently went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and on the giant board that lists every NFL team, there’s a 1921 entry “Tonawanda Kardex” that went 0-1.
Utterly fascinated by the concept of my hometown having had an NFL team (a fact that I previously knew, but without much detail), I decided to write a story about it for our Sunday Lifestyle section.
Below is that story (which appears in the Nov. 23 Tonawanda News and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal), as well as (promised for print readers who are visiting the site) the team roster from back then.
If anyone out there has additional information on the Kardex (perhaps you’re the descendant of a team member of historian with more information), please leave a post on this message informing me of such and giving me a way to contact you; you can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to gather as much information as is humanly possibly about this team.
Note that due to incomplete record-keeping during this time, some players from the 1921 team are only known by their last name.
Backnor, C; Fred Brumm, LT; Cassidy, QB; Joe Dussosoit, RE; Andy Fletcher, LHB; Art Georke, LE; Clarence Hosmer, LG; Rudy Kraft, LG-C; George Kuhrt, LT; Buck MacDonald, RG; Tom McLaughlin, RHB-FB; Bill Meisner, RHB; Frank Morrisey, RT; Frank Primeau, RE-QB; Tam Rose, LHB; Spin Roy, LE; Bill Sanborn, RE; Charles Tallman, RT; Red Werder, C; Wex, FB;Wise, QB
The Twin Cities will forever have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame thanks to the brief stay in the NFL by the Tonawanda Kardex in 1921.
The All-Tonawanda Lumberjacks (or Lumbermen) began playing games in 1916 as the All-Tonawanda All-Stars, according to records from Geocities and the Pro Football Archives. The Jacks played their home games on the Tonawanda High School field, sometimes drawing up to 3,500 fans for a contest.
The team went 7-1 in 1920 against a combination of independent teams and franchises from the American Professional Football Association, the NFL’s predecessor, according to the Western New York Committee of the Professional Football Researchers Association. The 1920 squad was the first team to be recognized as associated with major professional football.
The team joined the APFA in 1921 (the first year the league kept official standings) as the Tonawanda Kardex. Records from the national Professional Football Researchers Association show that the Kardex were admitted along with the Minneapolis Marines, Evansville Crimson Giants and Green Bay Packers, while membership bids from Davenport, Iowa, and Gary, Ind., were denied.
According to the Aug. 31, 1921, edition of the Tonawanda News, the Kardex were meant to play every game on the road.
“There will be eight or 10 such teams to do the touring to the big cities, where the large ‘dough’ lies, thereby covering the (costs of the) season,” the paper said.
Local talent on the Tonawanda team consisted of five players — four from a local semi-pro team and Walter “Tam” Rose, a former captain of the 1915 Syracuse football team, according to Joe Horrigan, a public relations official with the hall of fame. Rose, a left halfback, also served as coach.
After one non-league game and one cancellation in 1921, the Kardex — also known as the Tonawanda Lumbermen — traveled east to battle the Rochester Jeffersons, losing a 45-0 decision on Nov. 6, 1921. There is no record of the Kardex — named after an office product company still in existence in Ohio — playing after that. Records from the national PFRA indicate that Tonawanda didn’t technically drop out, but rather could find no one against whom to schedule games. In all, 13 of the 21 teams that started the 1921 season finished it.
With the franchise fee for 1922 increased from $50 to $1,000, Tonawanda and several other franchises backed out. Tonawanda, however, likely fell into the category of teams that “wouldn’t have operated had the guarantee been 10 cents,” according to the national PFRA.
Tonawanda holds a presumably unbreakable record as the shortest-lived NFL team in history.