Now everyone knows: Texas, Young are No. 1

Jan 10, 2006 3:58 AM

We all know now that the wrong guy got the Heisman trophy, and we also know now, as I wrote here two months ago, that Texas and not Southern California was number one.

I came from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania whose team won professional football’s championship in 1925 as a member of the National Football League, but had it stripped from them on a territorial technicality and given to the Chicago Cardinals.

In all the years since I never have seen a cooler college cat than Vince Young. This kid is so confident, so unemotional, and so good, that he is destined for certain major stardom in the pros, where he now has cast his lot.

All that now is known. What is less known is the story of the Pottsville Maroons, the professional champions of 1925 mentioned above.

Pottsville is known as the Gateway to the Anthracite, that region of eastern Pennsylvania whose unique underlying geologic structure, known as Pottsville conglomerate and the Pottsville basis, produced hard coal, and hard guys who mined it.

The town also produced John O’Hara, who immortalized it, in a way, by calling it Gibbsville in all of his novels, starting with his first, Appointment in Samarra. As a teen-ager, he covered the Maroons for the Pottsville Journal.

This is not about literature, however, but about pro football, and its early beginnings.

Dr. J. G. Streigel, a Pottsville surgeon, bought the team for $1,500 in 1924. In August of 1925, he paid $500 for an application fee and posted a $1,200 guarantee to join the National Football League. That put them in the NFL — for $800 million or so less than the Washington Redskins — but they needed a name, and the town’s local sporting goods dealer, Joe Zacko — who fought the NFL until his death over the disputed 1925 championship — gave them one. He sold 25 jerseys to Dr. Striegel, who told him color didn’t matter. They happened to be maroon.

The Maroons had some of the best college stars of the day, including the All-American Walter French, of Army. They won 10 and lost 2 in 1925, beating the Cardinals 21-7 in December at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

A week later they played the Notre Dame All Stars in Philadelphia, without the permission of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, a Philadelphia suburban team that had territorial rights. Pottsville won the game, beating the barnstorming team that had Grantland Rice’s famous Four Horsemen of Notre Dame — Elmer Layden, Jim Crowley, Harry Stuhldreher and Don Miller — as its backfield.

The Maroons won the game, 9-7, but lost their title. The league stripped them of it, naming the Cardinals as champions, and Pottsville never got over it, and still hasn’t 80 years later.

Zacko fought tooth and nail, spreading the story far and wide and enlisting much journalistic sympathy and support. He fought so hard that in 1963 Pete Rozelle, then NFL commissioner, appointed a three-man committee, consisting of Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Frank McNamara of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Jack Mara of the New York Giants, to report back to the league on Zacko’s claims. They did, and the NFL owners voted 12-2 against Pottsville.

Now you know why I was delighted when the Carolina Panthers disgraced the Giants last Sunday, shutting them out on their home field 23-0. Coal crackers have long memories.

The Giants were part of the NFL back in 1935, and so were the Chicago Bears and Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. You know them. You may not know that the league at the time also had the Canton Bulldogs, the Akron Indians, the Buffalo Bisons, the Columbus Tigers, the Providence Steamrollers, the Dayton Triangles, and of course the despised — in Pottsville — Frankford Yellowjackets.

The Pottsville franchise lasted through 1928, when Doc Striegel sold it to Boston.

I was born and raised in Pottsville, and my father was a friend of Doc Striegel’s. I grew up immersed in the lore of the Maroons. I’ve watched football ever since, and, as I said at the beginning of this sermon, I’ve never seen a better college quarterback than Vince Young. This guy is phenomenal, and will be a major star in the NFL.