The National Football League was founded 100 Years Ago
Conshohocken Won a Championship 100 Years Ago
And That Team Photo hangs in the National Football Hall of Fame
By Jack Coll
You might have noticed the National Football League has been celebrating its 100th anniversary having been founded back in 1919, although it was called the “American Professional Football Association” from 1919 through 1921. The league formed with eleven teams, in 1921 the organization dropped the word “Association” from the name and became known as the “American Professional Football League.” Since 1922 the league has been known as “The National Football League,” today there are thirty-two teams evenly divided into two conferences.
Two charter members of the league including the Chicago Cardinals, (now the Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys, (now the Chicago Bears), are still in existence. The Green Bay Packers, founded in 1919 is the oldest team not to change locations, but did not begin league play until 1921.
Conshohocken organized football goes back to fall of 1893 when thirteen Conshohocken residents got together to form a football team calling themselves the “Ironmen,” most of members on the team worked in the borough steel mills. The Ironmen were sponsored by the Conshohocken Y.M.C.A. and played their games on a makeshift football field located at Ninth Avenue and Fayette Street, the current site of a bank and several other homes and businesses.
The 1893 team roster included Dr. George Lukens, Charles Edward Herron, Fred and Arthur Clark, Louis and Max Vielhaber, Eugene and Bud Beaver, Sam Wright, Ben Cressman, Harry Steen, Howard Harry, and Alan Caine.
A flurry of Conshohocken teams followed the Ironmen but it wasn’t until 1914 when Robert Crawford, a cigar store owner and former athlete whose store was located at Second Avenue and Fayette Street, (currently the site of The Great American Pub) took over the team as owner and coach that the Ironborough was thrust into the national spotlight.
Crawford fielded winning teams from 1914-1922, beating teams throughout the east coast including some of the best teams in the professional ranks. In 1914 the Frankford A.A., (Athlete Association), were reigning champs and one of the best teams in professional football at the time. The Conshy Pros not only beat Frankford 18-0 but went on to record an undefeated and un-scored record with their 12-0 season. In 1915 Conshy posted an 11-0 record and again were un-scored upon.
By 1916 Conshohocken was drawing between eight and ten thousand spectators per game to the Community Field located at Eleventh Avenue and Harry Street, (The ”A” Field). Conshy won their third straight championship in 1916.
In 1917 the football season was lean as many of the football players went off to war. One notable player in the 1917 season was John B. Kelly, Sr., who went on to become a 1920 and 1924 Olympic Gold Medalist in Men’s Rowing, he was a pretty good running back for the Conshy Pros and was the father of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco. In 1918 there was no professional football in Conshohocken due to the war.
The borough of Conshohocken has always taken their service duty to the country very seriously from the Civil War to current conflicts but during World War I, the Borough of Conshohocken sent more men and women off to war than any other community in America per capita maybe you should read that again, Conshohocken during World War I sent more men and women off to war than any other community in America per capita. That’s a fact!
The Federal Government recognized Conshohocken and ordered a merchant marine ship built at the Chester Ship Yard and christened it the Conshohocken in honor of the borough’s service to the country.
The following year in 1919 Bob Crawford put together another championship team, a team like no-other. The team’s line-up included Earl Pottieger, Seth Mitchell, former Captain of the Brown University team, Pick Campbell a lifelong West Conshohocken resident and standout football player, Pat Ryan, an outstanding end at Penn State, Llwellyn “Blubber” Jones, Cal Riggs, Jim Lukens, a speedy halfback out of Lafayette College, Harry Rosetsky, a University of Penn standout, Charlie McGuckin, a talented drop kicker from Villanova and another Villanova standout, center Leo Lynch. Also Archer out of Syracuse, four standouts from Rutgers including Duff, Franke, Garrett, and Neuschaffer and Harry Bergey among others.
The 1919 Conshohocken team won all nine games and beat powerhouses of the day including the Union Club of Phoenixville 19-0, they also beat the mighty Holmesburg Eleven 19-7 in a game played at the Norristown Stockade, later the site of Roosevelt Filed. The highest scoring game of the 1919 season was a 62-0 thumping of the Kaywood Club of Philadelphia. Conshy outscored their opponents 232-14 and earned the team the Eastern Seaboard Championship.
The Conshohocken 1919 football team was later recognized by the National Football Hall of Fame located in Canton, Ohio and a team photograph was displayed along with other early championship teams of the 1920’s era.
In a nine year span from 1914-1922 Bob Crawford led his football teams to a 55-4-15 record. The National Football League in the early 1920’s paid Bob Crawford a visit, due to the team’s outstanding record and star players the Conshohocken Pros were invited into the NFL, but Crawford declined thinking the team wouldn’t survive the higher ticket price in order to pay the players up to $50.00 per game.
Conshohocken no longer has professional or semi-professional football teams. Gone are the high school games that once filled the “A” Field with games between St. Matthew’s and Conshohocken High School. The Conshohocken Youth Football Program that has been around since 1961 continues to develop young players. For nearly 60 years the Bears organization has done an excellent job preparing our youngsters for high school football and beyond.
While the National Football League continues to celebrate a century of football, Conshohocken will forever celebrate the 1919 Championship season.
For more than 125 years the sport of football has provided millions of memories for Conshohocken players and residents, perhaps we’ll visit a few more memories in the coming weeks.
Thanks for the Memories!