Bulldogs, Yankees and Redskins

Bulldogs, Yankees and Redskins A.M. Sportstalk Podcast

There were a couple (technically a few) professional football teams that played in Beantown before the Patriots set up shop in the American Football League in 1960

One of these was the Boston Yanks, who were in the National Football League for 5 seasons in the mid 1940s. They split their home games between the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, and the Manning Bowl in Lynn, whenever the Olde Towne Team had a home game. It is surprising that a gridiron squad in Boston would choose the moniker of Yanks, considering that the arch-enemy of the baseball team that shared its home field was called the Yankees. Unsurprisingly, the team did not go over well.

Boston Yanks playing Washington in 1944

The Yanks would only win 13 games in their 5 seasons in the Hub,  even though they had the number 1 draft pick in ‘44 and ‘46, selecting a quarterback from Notre Dame both times, Angelo Bertelli and then Frank Dancewicz. They even merged with the Brooklyn Tigers in 1945 because of World War II player shortages. After 1948, they razed stakes and headed to the Big Apple, sharing the Polo Grounds with the New York football (and baseball) Giants.

Boston Bulldogs logo

A pigskin pioneer that didn’t even make it a season was the Boston Bulldogs, who played 6 games in the original American Football League back in 1926. The original AFL didn’t do that much better, as it only lasted till the end of its inaugural season. The city didn’t have to wait too long for a new team, though. 

George Preston Marshall

After the Newark Tornadoes went out of business after the 1930 season,  the franchise was sold back to the NFL. It ended up in the hands of laundromat chain owner George Preston Marshall, who renamed the team the Braves and moved them to Braves Field in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, where the baseball organization of that name was already residing. The team would have a decent first year, ending up with a 4-4-2 record under coach Lud Wray, who would eventually go on to co-found the Philadelphia Eagles with his old college teammate, Bert Bell. 

The Braves would get a new coach in ‘32, a purported Native American named Lone Star Dietz. They would be rechristened the Redskins and moved into Fenway Park, occupied by the other diamond dweller in Boston at the time, the Red Sox. They would remain at .500 that year as well, finishing 5-5-2.  Seeing pictures of football played in Fenway Park, as they somehow packed 100+ yards sideways into the little green park that could, is astonishing.

The Skins continued to be unable to leapfrog over a .500 winning percentage in 1934, as they finished at 6-6. Dietz, who would later be outed as an imposter regarding his heritage, was shown the door, replaced by Eddie Casey at head coach. 

Casey would not make a good first impression in 1935, as his group only won 2 games, with an anemic offense that only scored 65 points for the whole season. Cliff Battles was one of the few offensive standouts in this defensive minded era, leading the team in rushing 3 times and receiving yards twice during his tenure in Boston. 

Cliff Battles

Ray Flaherty would replace Casey at head coach after the season, and things were looking up in ‘36. After starting the season 4-5, the club would win their last 3 games, only giving up 6 points in those, to win the Eastern division championship. 

Owner Marshall was fed up with the dwindling crowds at Fenway, though, as a little under 5000 fans showed up for the last home game before the playoffs, a 30-0 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was so incensed in fact, that to spite the fans who never came to games, he allowed the NFL championship against the Green Bay Packers to be played on neutral territory at the Polo Grounds. 

Not many fans followed them down to Coogan’s Bluff in Manhattan, and they were beaten soundly, 21-6, as this was the Pack’s first NFL championship of many. Marshall, for his own part, packed his crew up and moved them to Washington D.C., and owned the team till his death in 1969.

It was an unstable era in the early years of pro football, with the college teams often getting more ink on newsstands and adoration from fans than professional players. Boston was no different, having Harvard University and Boston College close by. The Redskins may’ve gone on to bigger and better things in our nation’s capital,  but they got their humble start as the other Braves in Boston during the Great Depression.

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