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Pittsburgh Stars
Founded 1902
Folded 1902
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Home field Pittsburgh Coliseum
League National Football League (1902)
Team History Pittsburgh Stars (1902)
Team Colors Gold, Navy

         

Head coaches Willis Richardson
General managers Dave Berry
Owner(s) William Chase Temple
Barney Dreyfuss
(Both men suspected, but never proven)
Other League Championship wins 1902
Named for Number of football players who
were considered the sport's stars during the era

The Pittsburgh Stars were a professional American football team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1902. The team was member of what was referred to as the National Football League. This league has no connection with the National Football League of today. The whole "league" was a curious mixture of baseball and football. The Stars were suspected of being financed by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. During the league's only year in existence, the Stars won the NFL's championship, beating out two teams that were financed by the owners of the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Contents

History

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Team origin

The Stars began as a part of the baseball wars between the National League and the new American League that began in 1901. Across the state in Philadelphia, the AL's Athletics lured several of the NL's Phillies from their contracts, only to lose them again through court action. When Phillies owner John Rogers decided to start a football team, the Athletics followed suit. A's owner Ben Shibe fielded a team made-up of several baseball players as well as some local football players. He appointed his baseball manager Connie Mack as the team's general manager and named former Penn player, Charles "Blondy" Wallace as the team's coach. Each Philadelphia team was named after their respective baseball clubs and became the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies. However both Rogers and Shibe knew that to lay claim to a World Championship, they had to play a team from Pittsburgh, which was the focal point of football at the time. They called on pro football promoter Dave Berry and a Pittsburgh team was soon formed. These three teams are all that made up the first NFL.[1][2]

The Pittsburgh team was managed by Berry, the former manager of the Latrobe Athletic Association. Berry also served as league president during the 1902 season. However, Berry's modest income showed that he couldn't possibly have the money to cover the salaries of the top pros the team employed, all by himself. Suspicion fell on William Chase Temple, the steelman who'd formerly backed the Homestead Library & Athletic Club and who was still an officer with the Pirates, and Barney Dreyfuss, the Pirates' owner. Both denied any connection to the team's finances, and Berry insisted he was the sole owner. No one believed them then, nor do any sports historians believe them now.[3]

Mistakes

However Berry did make the management decisions. And right away he alienated many potential fans in Pittsburgh when he decided to have his team train in Greensburg, 40 miles away. Berry stated that Greensburg's Natatorium provided better facilities than what could be found in Pittsburgh, but the public outrage continued. Even the benefits of breathing Greensburg's clear, country air failed to impress Pittsburghers who were used to constantly breathing highly polluted air in city during the early 1900s. Wrote one historian: "As far as the fans were concerned, Berry had deserted Pittsburgh and deprived them of the fun of watching practices for free." Berry then added another error by announcing that his team would play a couple of games in Greensburg, coming to Pittsburgh itself only for "big-money" games. As a result, the Pittsburgh Press took to calling them "the Greensburg team".[4]

All-Star cast

However Berry did build a top-notch team. As a player-coach he hired, a former Brown University All-American, Willis Richardson at quarterback. Richardson had quarterbacked the Homestead Library & Athletic Club the previous year. Richardson cemented the QB position and also brought along the respect of other former Homestead players, many of whom signed up immediately. The amount of players, who were considered the stars of football during the early 1900s, led to the team being named "The Stars". New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson became the team's fullback. Along with Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner, he would be one of the first five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Also Fred Crolius, who played several games for the Pirates' in 1902, lined-up in the Stars backfield.

Pre-Season

With all the baseball involvement, training didn't get underway for the football teams until September 29, 1902 with the season was scheduled to open a week later on October 4. However, most of the players were already in shape. Besides the baseball players, many of the others had jobs that kept them in good condition. For example, Pittsburgh halfback Artie Miller joined the team after lumberjacking in the Wisconsin woods that summer. To make the preseason even less stressful, the average football team in 1902 only ever used about a half-dozen plays which were all standard.

1902 season

The league played all of its games on Saturdays, since there were no Sunday sports events according to Pennsylvania blue laws in 1902. The Stars first game, played at the Pittsburgh Coliseum was rained out. The Stars played many independent teams as well as the two Philadelphia teams that made up the NFL. The very next week, the Stars defeated the Pennsylvania Railroad Y.M.C.A. 30-0. The team played its home games at the Coliseum. Temple was the proprietor of the Coliseum but he continued to deny he had any part in the football team. Those who figured Dreyfuss as the backer were surprised that the team hadn't scheduled its games for Exposition Park, the Pirates' home.

As the season progressed, Pittsburghers began to take interest in the talented Stars. In their first six games, the gave up no touchdowns. Meanwhile, the team never scored fewer than three touchdowns in any game. Sometimes they played local semi-pros like the Cottage and East End Athletic Clubs, while sometimes they played colleges. The Stars won their game against Bucknell, Christy Mathewson's alma mater 24-0. In early November, in front of nearly 4,000 fans, the Stars beat the Philadelphians, 18-0 at the Coliseum.

However the team's fortunes took hit when Mathewson disappeared from the team. Some historians speculate that the Giants got wind that their star pitcher was risking life and baseball career for the Stars and ordered him to stop. While others feel that coach Richardson got rid of Mathewson because he felt that since the fullbacks punting skills were hardly used, he could replace him with local resident Shirley Ellis. However Ellis, while a strong runner that was hard to knock down, he lacked Mathewson's punting skills. That factor cost Pittsburgh a game when the Stars went to Philadelphia to play against the Athletics. In the first half, Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns but failed to cash either extra point. The Athletics also got a TD and added the point. Then two weeks later, the Stars went back to Philadelphia and lost to the Phillies, 11-0.

On Thanksgiving Day 1902, Berry billed a game between the Stars and the Athletics as being for the championship of the National Football League. The Athletics had split on the season with the Phillies, as had Pittsburgh. Although a Philadelphia victory on Thanksgiving would give the A's the championship, a win by the Stars could tie the league race tighter. Mack agreed to the game, however he refused to play until his team was paid their share of the gate, $2,000. With the stands almost empty, it looked as if the game wouldn't be played. However Mack soon after received a check for $2,000 from William Corey, the head of Carnegie Steel who impatiently wanted to see the game. Only then did the game soon begin. Corey got his money's worth, if he liked evenly matched games. Both teams played to a scoreless tie. It was a fair verdict, but Dave Berry's "championship game" hadn't decided anything.

1902 championship

Another championship game was soon planned between Berry and Mack. But due to a lack of funds Berry almost ended up cancelling the game. However, he later promised to his players, they would all share equally in Saturday's game, which was sure to be a sell-out. After some complaints were addressed, everything was set. The crowd was a little better on Saturday, but not much. About 2,000 fans showed up, and the Pittsburgh players knew before the game began that they were going to come up short at pay time. The game looked like it might once again end in a tie. However a late touchdown by Ellis and another by Artie Miller led Pittsburgh to an 11-0 win over the Athletics.

Afterwards

Not many fans noticed the championship win. The Pittsburgh players were too busy suing Temple for their Thanksgiving Day money to do much gloating over their victory, and the story disappeared from the newspapers before the suit was settled. Most of the players tried it again with the Franklin Athletic Club or the Canton Bulldogs or the Massillon Tigers in the next few years. The Philadelphia Athletics went home and beat the Phillies to wrap up second place. It was a nice win and gave them the city championship, but that's all it was; the season was won by Pittsburgh the week before.

Controversy

With the win, A's players decided to call the Stars game an exhibition, and declared themselves the champs. However the team had agreed to that season-ending championship game against Pittsburgh the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and they had lost it. This was recognized by all parties at the time as the championship game. Each team carried a record of 2-2 for league play. Pittsburgh had by far the better point ratio, scoring 39 points to their opponents' 22. Both the Athletics and the Phillies gave up more points than they scored in their league games. Finally Dave Berry used his power as league president and name his Stars the 1902 champions.

Notes

  1. ^ "NFL History by Decade". NFL.com. http://www.nfl.com/history/chronology/1869-1910. Retrieved 2008-12-09.  
  2. ^ Carroll (1980), 1-2.
  3. ^ Carroll (1980), 3.
  4. ^ Carroll (1980), 3.

References

External links


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