May 19, 2018

   

Memories of Conshohocken's Professional Football Teams

Philadelphia Eagles Championship

Stirs memories of Conshohocken’s Professional Football Teams

By Jack Coll

2-27-18

 

     During the early part of last century the borough of Conshohocken fielded some pretty good professional football teams.  In the fall of 1893 the first organized football team made its debut in Conshohocken.
     The State of Pennsylvania is the father of professional football and Conshohocken was certainly at the forefront of professional football in its infancy.  The first paid player in the history of the game according to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio was the great “Pudge Heffelfinger, in a game between two Pittsburg Athletic Clubs in 1892.  Pudge was paid an astounding $500 for his services and of course Heffelfinger won the game when he not only caused a fumble but recovered it for a touchdown.
     A year later, in the fall of 1893, Conshohocken formed its first football team, sponsored by the Y.M.A.A. (Young Men’s Athletic Association).   The Conshohocken team was organized two years before the first all-professional game was played in Latrobe Pennsylvania.  Latrobe beat neighboring Jeannette 12-0, each player received ten dollars.
     Conshohocken’s first team was called the “Ironmen,” and consisted of 13 players, most of whom worked in the town’s steel mills, hence the name “Ironmen.”  Members of the team included Sam Wright, Ben Cressman, Charles Herron, Fred and Arthur Clark, (sons of Charles Heber Clark), Eugene and Bud Beaver, (sons of Dr. David Beaver, a civil war surgeon whose home and office was located at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Fayette Street, years later most of us knew the property as the 401 Diner.)  Also playing on the Ironmen team was Alan Caine, George Lukens, (later Dr. George Lukens), and Louis and Max Vielhaber.
     These early organized teams, some paying players from time to time, other players played for the sport of it, the love of the game you might say, well these teams flourished with good seasons and some down seasons.
     It wasn’t until Bob Crawford who owned and coached the professional teams from 1914 until 1922 that Conshohocken’s football teams were cast into the national spotlight.  The 1914 team went on to become undefeated and un-scored upon. The Frankford A. A., (Athletic Association) was the closest game for Conshy all year beating Frankford 18-0.  Other games and scores included a 40-0 win over Wilmington, a 39-0 beating of the Wissahickon All Stars, a 34-0 victory over Paschall of Philadelphia, 33-0 vs. U.S.S. Michigan and a 35-0 thrashing of the U.S.S. Connecticut team.
     Conshy finished the season 12-0 and faced a much tougher schedule in 1915, once again the Conshy Professionals finished the season undefeated and un-scored upon beating the Alpha Club out of New Jersey 60-0.
     In 1916, football was at a fever pitch in Conshohocken, home games would draw between 6,000 and 10,000 spectators to games played at the Conshohocken Football Field located at Eleventh Avenue and Harry Street, (later renamed the Conshohocken Community Field and later yet the Albert A. Garthwaite Field, (The “A” Field).  When the team traveled a train would be chartered to provide transportation for the fans to-and-from the away games.
     Conshohocken won their first five games of the 1916 season outscoring their opponents 210-0, with victories over East Falls, 64-0; Pennsgrove New Jersey, 40-0, Atlantic Fleet Reserves, 33-0; among other victories.
     On November 4, 1916, the Carlisle Indians came to town, the former team of the great Jim Thrope.  Thorpe went on to play with the Canton Bulldogs and later played on the first New York Giants Team in 1925.  Thorpe ran out of the backfield with Conshohocken’s Johnny McBride.  Even without Thorpe Carlisle was a tough team, the 4,000 Conshohocken fans were stunned when Carlisle drove the ball down the field early in the second quarter and a fullback named Herman crossed the goal-line giving the Indians a 6-0 lead.  The locals had never been scored upon or were behind in a game and were as shocked as the fans were.  Conshohocken tied the game at 6-6 before the half.
     Conshohocken was described as a fired-up team following the halftime intermission.  On their first possession the locals drove the ball towards the west goal where they had a first and goal inside the ten yard line.  Quarterback Billy Pownall completed a pass to Pick Campbell, a former West Conshohocken Reliance standout.  Campbell was hit at the goal line, a second Indian came in to hit Campbell feet first.  Pownall and Cal Riggs hustled down to help their teammate.  One thing led to another and a bench clearing brawl ensued.  The Carlisle team left the field under orders from their manager and headed for the Conshohocken train station.     The fans were upset about the Indians leaving the field without finishing the game but became hostile when they learned the Indians were given $800.00 at halftime.
     The crowd rushed out onto Fayette Street in hot pursuit of the Indian ballplayers.  The Indians grew a little un-easy with 4,000 Conshohocken fans screaming and yelling after them as they made their way down Fayette Street so the Indians began to run for the train station.  Half the Indians got bottled up by the crowd as they reached the train station but the other half of the Indian team got lucky as they reached the train station a train was pulling out of the station for Philadelphia.
     Conshohocken Chief of Police Billy Hill gathered up the rest of the Indians and locked them up in the borough hall then located at Hector and Forrest Street.  The chief locked up the Indians for stealing money having received their $800.00 at halftime and not finishing the game.  Once the County District Attorney Aubrey Anderson got involved he claimed that because the Indians were from the Carlisle Indian School that they were part of a federal institution and fell under United States Government protection and Anderson demanded that they be released from jail.  Hill later changed his story that the reason for locking the Indians up was for their own protection from the mob that had surrounded them at the train station.  The Indians were released and escorted to the train station late that evening and given protection to board the train.
     Conshohocken later got the money back and the game was declared a 6-6 tie, although Conshohocken looked upon the game as a forfeit.  The Carlisle Indians Coach Merton Clevett who was locked up with the rest of the Indians later threatened a $10,000 lawsuit for damages and for being illegally locked up. The following week Conshohocken lost to Holmesburg in front of 8,000 fans at the Community Field.  Conshohocken had posted a record of 28-0-1 before the defeat.  Conshy bounced back to win their final three games of the year but Holmesburg claimed the 1916 championship.
    When the 1917 season rolled around our country was at war and Bob Crawford lost most of his talented team to the war effort.  One player of note with the Conshohocken squad was the great oarsman from East Falls Jack Kelly who played running back for Conshy during the 1917 season.  Kelly was the father of the late Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco.  Conshohocken didn’t field a team in 1918 because of the war.  Crawford was responsible for recruiting a large contingent of Conshohocken men to join the war effort.  Conshohocken sent more men and women off to war during World War One than any other town or borough in the nation per capita.  The borough was recognized by the Federal Government by naming a merchant ship, “The Conshohocken.” The Conshohocken ship was the last ship built at the Chester Ship yard.

 

 

John Kelly, Former East Falls resident, well known oarsman and father of Princess Grace Kelly was a running back for the Conshohocken Professionals in 1917.

 

     In 1919 the Conshohocken Professionals bounced back in a big way after World War One had ended.  Crawford assembled a great team that included Earl Pottieger, Seth Mitchell, Pick Campbell, Pat Ryan, Blubber Jones, Cal Riggs and Harry Bergey.

 

 

   The Conshohocken professional football team were Eastern Seaboard Champions in 1919. Their team photo hangs in the Halls of the Professional Football Hall of Fame located in Canton Ohio on a rotating basis. (if you get the chance check out the Hall of Fame)

     The locals powered to a 9-0 season outscoring their opponents 232-14.  Conshohocken’s biggest victories came against the Union Club of Phoenixville, 19-0; against Holmesburg, 19-7, in a game played at the Norristown Stockade later renamed Roosevelt Field.  The highest scoring game of the years was a Conshohocken victory over The Kaywood Club of Philadelphia 62-0.
     In the early 1970’s the Professional Football Hall of Fame located in Canton, Ohio, acknowledged that Conshohocken in 1919 was the champions of the professional circuit and therefore have displayed the Conshohocken 1919 team Photograph in the National Football Hall of Fame.
     Crawford enjoyed another three years as the owner and skipper of the Conshohocken Professionals and was later offered a spot in the up-start National Football League, but it was reported that Crawford didn’t feel he could attract the crowds needed to pay all the players and make a profit.  So following the 1922 season Bob Crawford went back to running his cigar store once located at the corner of Second Avenue and Fayette Street.  His store was demolished in 1924 to make way for the Knights of Columbus Building constructed in 1925.  The building currently serves as home to the Great American Pub.
     Everyone in Conshohocken “Thanks” the Philadelphia Eagles for a Super Bowl Championship in February 2018, and Thanks for the memories from one hundred years ago when the 1919 Conshohocken Professionals were crowned Champions of the Eastern Seaboard League.
     Conshohocken had professional and semi-professional teams throughout the 1920’s, 1930, and 1940’s but never drew the crowds of the teams that played from 1914-1922.
     Conshohocken had some pretty good teams when they were part of the Eastern Pennsylvania Football Conference from 1938-1942.  They won a number of championships with local legends like Thomas Knute Lawler, Big Dan O’Donnell, Jordan Olivar, Tony Travaglini, Whitey Mellor, Peppy Campbell and Mack Simon.
     The teams of the 1940’s played well under head Coach Harry Fox where they played a championship game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park beating Norristown L.A.M. 14-0.  Two years later Conshohocken won another championship beating the Camden Indians 22-8 for their second championship in three years.
     The following year the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged their teams due to World War Two being fought and once again Conshohocken’s semi-professional football team faded into the background.

 

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