This is the fifth in a series of examinations of football-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous football legends.
FOOTBALL LEGEND: An NFL team coming off of an NFL championship ceded its city to a competing pro football league that was a year away from even playing games.
When it was formed in 1945, the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was a lot different than most upstart professional leagues, particularly in the field of professional football. There were three major factors that caused the AAFC to be a much larger concern for the National Football League than any of the multitude of small professional leagues in the years leading up the AAFC.
1. Just as a general matter, professional football was not a sport where people made a lot of money, so owners of teams were constantly in a state of financial crisis
2. The owners of the AAFC teams had a good deal more money than the NFL owners. Most of the AAFC owners were owners like you see generally today, rich men who wanted their own sports team, too. The NFL owners tended to be, well, still rich men, but rich men whose biggest asset was their football team. This allowed the AAFC to outspend the NFL, something no other upstart league could.
2A. As a sub-set of this point, the money advantage also allowed the AAFC owners to expand their league cross-country, because they could afford travel expenses – the NFL at the time did not think they could do the same. This allowed the AAFC to go to states without football teams.
3. With the end of World War II, an onslaught of young, unsigned talent were available, allowing the AAFC to populate their league fairly easily.
So all of those things were in favor of the AAFC when they announced that they were coming to America.
So when Dan Reeves of the Cleveland Rams learned that super-rich owner Arthur ‘Mickey’ McBride was going to be starting up a new team in Cleveland, and he was going to have it be coached by Paul Brown (already a legend in Ohio from his three years coaching Ohio State), he was worried.
So worried that even though the Browns did not play their first game until 1946, Reeves wanted out NOW.
But the weirdest thing was, Reeves’ Rams were JUST coming off an NFL title!! They had won the 1945 NFL Championship!
But Reeves still saw the writing on the wall, and he wanted out.
However, his fellow owners did not want him going to where he wanted to go, which was Los Angeles.
They might have been able to keep him in Cleveland were it not for the fact that the NFL’s Brooklyn Tigers left the NFL when it was turned down its request to be able to play in Yankee Stadium. It instead went to the AAFC (under the name New York Yankees), leaving the NFL to 10 teams total. They could not afford to lose another, so they agreed to let Reeves take his team to Los Angeles.
The Browns DID go on to dominate the AAFC, and then later, the NFL (when they merged a few years later), so Reeves likely made the right move!
Still, it’s pretty hilarious to see a team win a championship than leave its city because it is afraid of an expansion team starting the NEXT season!!
FOOTBALL LEGEND: Edgar Allan Poe played an early form of football.
STATUS: False (plus a bit of technical truth)
Reader David wrote in to ask:
I know this sounds weird but I heard that Edgar Allen Poe played some early version of football. Is that true?
That’s not true, I’m afraid, David, but it’s interesting to note just how much truth is involved in it! You see, Edgar Allan Poe was a member of the very first All-American football team!
It just wasn’t the world-famous author and poet, but rather, his grand-nephew, NAMED after his grand-uncle!
American football just was not around when Poe was living.
Heck, it was still in its nascent stages by the time his grand-nephew took the field as quarterback for Princeton University’s football team!
There’s a good joke about Poe’s playing days that one time, after he led Princeton to a rousing defeat of Harvard, a Harvard supporter remarks, “Is he related to the great Edgar Allan Poe?” to which a Princeton supporter retorts, “He IS the great Edgar Allan Poe!”
In any event, Poe was named to the first ever All-American Team for Football in 1899.
Poe went on to become the Attorney General for Maryland.
Thanks for the question, David!
FOOTBALL LEGEND: Two Detroit Lions players received a Gold Record while they were still playing pro ball!
If the saying “every actor wants to be an athlete and every athlete wants to be an actor” is true, then I suppose that must be true for singers and athletes, as well.
As pointed out in last week’s Music Legends Revealed, for a time in 1970, it was certainly true for Marvin Gaye, as Gaye really wanted to pursue a career in professional football.
He never got as far as being allowed to try out (so we’ll never know if he ever really had any chance of doing so, although we do know that he got in very good shape), but he was allowed to train with the players during the offseason (it being Detroit and he being one of Motown’s biggest artists).
While there, Gaye befriended a lot of the other guys training during the offseason.
Two players he particularly became close with were young Detroit standouts Mel Farr (running back) and Lem Barney (cornerback)…
Farr and Barney came in together in the 1967 NFL season, and they made headlines by winning the Rookie of the Year Award and the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, respectively (Barney is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
As mentioned before, the two became friends with Marvin Gaye. That spring of 1970, while he still had hopes of being able to try out for the Lions, Gaye was also working on the song “What’s Going On.” Gaye initially planned on producing it for the Motown group, The Originals, to sing, but he was cajoled by other Motown producers that HE should do the song.
Part of the conceit for the song is that Gaye’s “character” in the song is at a party. So Gaye had various Lions players and their friends, wives, etc. do the ambient crowd noise for the party. Meanwhile, both Farr and Barney had actual lines in the song – they’re the guys who “greet” Gaye at the beginning of the song.
The song was a gigantic smash hit, and Gaye gave gold records to both Farr and Barney for their role with the song!
Pretty neat, huh?
Sure beats “The Super Bowl Shuffle”!!!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org