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American football franchise Cleveland Bulldogs played in the NFL from 1923 to 1927. The team went by the name Cleveland Indians, borrowed from the city’s baseball franchise during the 1923 before adopting the Bulldogs moniker in their second season. The Bulldogs’ home games were played at the Dunn Field from 1923 to 1925 and Luna Park in 1927.
How did the Cleveland Bulldogs Start up?
The team was formed in 1923 and was then known as the Cleveland Indians. The Indians franchise was owned by jeweler and boxing promoter Sam Deutsch. In 1924, Deutsch paid $2,500 to acquire the Canton Bulldogs who had won the NFL championship in 1922 and 1923. The Canton Bulldogs had been struggling financially, losing $13,000 in 1923 despite winning back to back NFL championships. Deutsch merged the two teams to become the Cleveland Bulldogs. The new team’s roster combined the best players from each team. Canton Bulldogs player coach Guy Chamberlain would be the new team’s first coach.
The Cleveland Bulldogs in Competition
The Bulldogs’ can be termed as a successful team courtesy of their Championship win in 1924. The Indians had finished the 1923 season with a 3-1-3 record. The Bulldogs announced their intent by winning their first six games of the 1924 season. Their first loss came at the hands of the Frankford Yellow Jackets on November 16th. They then won one and tied the other of the final two games of the season, finishing with a 7-1-1 record. The Chicago Bears meanwhile finished the season with a 6-1-4 record.
As it stood, the Bulldogs were supposed to be crowned champions because they had a better win percentage since at the time ties did not count. However in December, the Bears beat the Bulldogs 23-0 in a challenge match and claimed that they were now the deserving champions. Ironically, Dutch Sternaman, a Chicago Bears owner had made a proposal prior to the season that the league fixtures should end on November 30. For this reason, the league refused to recognize the exhibition game but the issue remained unsolved. A vote by league owners eventually settled the matter, awarding the championship to the Bulldogs.
In 1925, the team split, with the Canton half being purchased by business men from Canton for $3,000. The remaining half retained the Bulldogs nickname but it was visibly depleted as they lost five of the opening seven games of the 1925 season. They finished the season with a 5-8-1 record. Due to attendance problems, the team was going through tough financial times and nearly went bankrupt. Herb Brandt, who had acquired the team midway through the 1925 season, requested the league for permission to suspend operations in 1926.
In 1927, the team returned to action with an improved roster having acquired players from the Kansas City Cowboys that had just folded. Deutsch also regained principal ownership of the team. The Bulldogs struggled early in the season winning just once in five games. However, rookie quarterback Benny Friedman came to life in the second half of the season, helping the team to put together a marvelous streak where they lost just once in the last eight games of the season. They finished the season with an 8-4-1 season that placed them fourth in the league.
The Cleveland Bulldogs most Notable Moments
The 1924 championship win is undoubtedly the standout moment of the Bulldogs franchise. The controversy surrounding their crowning as champions did not dampen the excitement among players and Cleveland residents. The NFL also came up with stricter rules to govern exhibition games and stipulated that the league would officially end on December 20 each year.
Cleveland Bulldogs most Notable Players
Rookie quarterback Benny Friedman played for the Bulldogs during the 1927 season and was the standout performer rushing a total of 458 yards and making 18 touchdowns.
Other notable Bulldogs players include Guy Chamberlain, Hoge Workman, Doc Elliot and Jay Williams.
What happened to the Cleveland Bulldogs?
Despite the strong finish to the 1927 season, the owners had lost patience with the team. Financial losses continued as attendance failed to pick up and the economy tumbled due to the Great Depression. In fact, times were so hard that a dozen teams had folded prior to the 1927 season. Deutsch sold the Bulldogs to Elliot Fisher who relocated the team to Detroit and renamed them the Detroit Wolverines. The new team lasted only one season in Detroit. In 1929, they were sold to New York Giants owner Tim Mara and absorbed into the New York franchise, effectively marking the end of the Bulldogs franchise.