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The 1925 NFL controversy was a raft of disputes surrounding the tussle between the Chicago Cardinals and the Pottsville Maroons for the 1925 NFL Championship. The main bone of contention was the Maroons’ suspension from the NFL for territorial infringement which prevented them from being crowned 1925 champions despite having the best record in the league.
The Chicago Cardinals on their part were involved in a match fixing violation in which QB Art Folz induced four of his former high school’s students to make up the numbers for the Milwaukee Badgers in a bid to make the fixture between the two teams easier for the Cardinals.
Why did the 1925 NFL Scandal Happen?
The NFL season in the first decade of the NFL followed an open schedule format, where teams were allowed to draw up their own calendars with teams of their choice. On December 6, 1925, the final listed league match day, the Maroons beat the Chicago Cardinals 21-7 taking their season record to 10-2 against the Cardinals’ 11-2-1. Since draws did not count in the win percentage at the time, the Maroons were ahead of the Cardinals in the league standings by half a game by virtue of the final day win.
The Maroons final scheduled game was against the Notre Dame All-Stars. In a bid to increase the revenue from the much anticipated game, the Maroons shifted the game from Minersville Park to the much larger Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
However in so doing, they were infringing on the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. When the Yellow Jackets protested, NFL commissioner Joseph Carr wrote to the Maroons and warned them that they risked suspension if they went ahead with the game. However the Maroons played the match in Philadelphia, claiming that the league office had verbally given the green light.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Cardinals scheduled two hastily arranged games against the Milwaukee Badgers and the Hammond Pros respectively. Both teams had already folded and had to reassemble their rosters for the match. The Milwaukee Badgers had trouble bringing their full roster together and sensing an opportunity, Maroons QB Art Folz arranged four high school players to fill the missing Badgers places under false names. It is not clear whether Folz got the go ahead from the team but the plot worked as the Maroons faced an understrength team and hammered them 58-0. They then beat the Hammond Pros 19-12 in their final match.
The Aftermath of the 1925 NFL Scandal
The Pottsville Maroons were suspended from the NFL and prevented from playing their scheduled game against the Providence Steam Roller. As a suspended team they could not be awarded the title and so the Cardinals were the designated champions. The controversy deepened owing to the league’s failure to consider the Cardinal’s own violations when awarding the trophy.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals and the Badgers did receive severe sanctions from the NFL. Cardinals owner Chris O’Brien was fined $1000 though he denied knowing about the arrangement prior to the game. Art Folz was banned for life from NFL football and Badgers owner was required to sell the team within 90 days. The league also said they would remove the controversial game from the Cardinals season records but this never happened. After protests by the Maroons, the title awarded to the Cardinals was rescinded but later returned to the team.
Chris O’Brien however declined to accept it, arguing that his team did not deserve it. The creation of the AFL in 1926 saw the NFL lower their stance and either lift or soften the punishments on all parties involved in the controversy in order to reduce the risk of the teams joining the new rival league.
When the team was purchased by the Bidwill family in 1933, they started claiming the title again and in 1963, the NFL officially recognized the Cardinals as champions. The issue did not die down however as it was again revisited in 2003, but the NFL voted 30-2 against reopening the debate.
Many of those who look at the whole issue as an injustice to the Maroons believe that the Cardinals, now known as the Arizona Cardinals are suffering a curse placed on them by Pottsville. They believe the curse is behind the Cardinals’ championship drought which has seen them win just one NFL Championship since 1925. They have now gone 58 years without a championship, the longest such drought in American football.