Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keep the Curse Alive


It's safe to say the good folks in Pottsville, Pa. will be rooting hard for the Eagles when they face the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Not because they have a particular fondness for the Eagles, but because they have particular disdain for the Cardinals.

In 1925, the Cardinals were awarded an NFL Championship they may or may not have earned.

What is clear is that title originally belonged to the Pottsville Maroons and the people of Pottsville feel the Cardinals and, more specifically, the Bidwill family stole their championship.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Pottsville Mayor John Reiley campaign for the title to be returned.

The Cardinals have been cursed ever since.

The Maroons, who already had one of the most successful semi-pro teams in the country, joined the NFL that year and took the league by storm.

The Frankford Yellow Jackets, who later became the Eagles, finished with a decent 13-7 record that season, but it included a 49-0 loss to Pottsville. The Maroons, however, went 10-2 with seven shutouts and outscored opponents by a 270-45 margin.

Late in the season, according to the Eagles Encyclopedia, the Maroons traveled to Chicago's Comiskey Park to play the Cardinals for what was considered to be the 1925 NFL Championship Game. The Maroons went on to defeat the Cardinals 21-7.

After that, though, the Maroons scheduled a game against a former Notre Dame all-star team, including the legendary Four Horsemen, to be played in Philadelphia. The only problem was that the NFL said the Maroons couldn't play in the city because it was Yellow Jackets' territory and, perhaps more importantly, the Yellow Jackets had a home game scheduled the same day.

Then NFL Commissioner Joe Carr warned the Maroons in writing not to play in Philadelphia, but the Maroons did anyway, defeating the college all stars 9-7 in front of their former coach, Knute Rockne. Considering that college football was regarded as a better brand of football at the time, it was widely regarded that the win helped legitimize the NFL.

However, Carr was not amused. He canceled the Maroons' last game of the season, suspended the club and returned the franchise to the league. Pottsville had its franchise returned in 1926, but the Cardinals, who allegedly played its last home game against a team that was so bad it used high school players during the game, were awarded the 1925 title because it had two more wins than the Maroons.

According to a story published last February in the Super Bowl XLII preview edition of ESPN the Magazine, then Cardinals owner Chris O'Brien called the championship "bogus" and never accepted it.

Seven years later, though, the Bidwill family bought the team and decided they wanted the 1925 title to call their own. Until then, the Maroons were recognized as the champs. Just like that, Pottsville's only claim to NFL fame was gone and the townspeople put a hex on the franchise.

As recently as 2003, at the NFL owners meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell tried to have the title returned to the Maroons in time for Pottsville's bicentennial celebration in 2006.

Even President George W. Bush chimed in on the subject. According to the article in ESPN the Magazine, Bush sent a handwritten note to ESPN calling the Maroons' case "illuminating."
However, the owners, on the behest of current Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, shot down the request by a 30-2 vote. The only two votes in favor of awarding the Maroons the title were by Steelers owner Dan Rooney and Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie.

Arizona fans have bought into the curse put on them by Pottsvillians. They have discussed raising money to send a replica trophy to be given to the city. But until the 1925 NFL Championship is returned to Pottsville, the Curse of the Maroons will haunt the Cardinals.
It may not mean anything, but the Eagles will be happy to take any help they can get.

Cross-posted at Save the Maroons.

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