Were the Cardinals Named After The Faded Football Jerseys They Wore?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Cardinals got their name from the faded used jerseys they wore.

The University of Chicago Maroons were one of (probably the) most dominant football teams in the early days of college football. It is fascinating to think of what the program would be like if the school had not discontinued the sport in the late 1930s (by the time they picked it up again, decades had past).

In any event, it was likely the success of the Maroons that inspired Chicago painter/contractor Chris O’Brien to create an amateur football team in Chicago in 1898. The local club soon began playing at Normal Park on Racine Avenue in Chicago. The team therefore became the Racine Normals.

In 1901, O’Brien made a major purchase that would eventually lead to the name of the team, a name that has stuck with them even as they have moved states twice.

He bought the used uniforms of the Chicago Maroons to use for his team. Here is a basic idea of what the maroon color looked like in the Chicago Maroons’ uniforms…

Obviously, by the time the Normals received the used jerseys, they were faded. O’Brien famously quipped, “That’s not maroon! It’s Cardinal red!”

And thus, the Racine Cardinals were born.

After a break from 1906 to 1913 (just not enough people were interested in football in Chicago), O’Brien got the team back together and began to turn it into a semi-professional team. O’Brien and another Illionois semi-pro team owner, George Halas, felt that their teams would benefit by being part of an organization – both by helping to promote the sport but also by preventing players from jumping from team to team…if there was an organized league, the players couldn’t play teams against each other.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was born. The following year, a team from Racine, Wisconsin joined so the Cardinals became the Chicago Cardinals. In 1922, the league was re-named the National Football League.

Ninety years later, the Cardinals are still part of the NFL, one of only three original franchises (Halas’ Decatur team, who also moved to Chicago and eventually became the Chicago Bears) and a team that joined the year that the American Professional Football Association became the National Football League – the Green Bay Packers (so depending on how you want to look at it, the Packers might not be considered an original franchise).

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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