The NFL, founded in 1920, wasn’t always the money-printing machine it is today. In the league's early years, college football was much more popular, and many early NFL teams struggled, relocated or folded. From the Canton Bulldogs to the Los Angeles Buccaneers, here are eight long-gone franchises with unusual histories.
1. Canton Bulldogs (1920-1926)
The Canton Bulldogs, a charter member of the NFL, were a powerhouse in the league's early days, winning back-to-back championships in 1922 and 1923. Despite their dominance, the franchise relocated to Cleveland for financial reasons for the 1924 season and won another championship as the Cleveland Bulldogs. Then the team moved back to Canton but folded after the 1926 season, after it finished 1-9-3. The Bulldogs' early success, in part, led to the NFL's decision to locate the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the city.
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2. Tonawanda (N.Y.) Kardex Lumbermen (1921)
The Lumbermen, probably the NFL's most obscure franchise, played one game, a 45-0 loss to the Rochester (N.Y.) Jeffersons in the league's formative days. And with that, they ceased to exist—unable, or perhaps unwilling, to schedule additional games.
"This was typical [of the NFL’s early days], teams just came and went," said Chris Willis, head of NFL Films' research library in 2017. "Mainly why some of those teams didn't survive in those early days was because it cost money to form a team, pay the players."
3. New York Yankees (1927-1928)
When most sports fans hear "1927 New York Yankees," they think of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who were stars on one of the greatest Major League Baseball teams of all time. But there was another New York Yankees team in town that year—an NFL team featuring one of the game’s best running backs, Red Grange, also known as “The Galloping Ghost.”
The Yankees became a pro football team as a result of contractual dispute between Grange and the Chicago Bears, and joined the NFL in 1927. Grange was so dominant at the University of Illinois that newspaper columnist Damon Runyon wrote, “This man Red Grange of Illinois is three or four men rolled into one for football purposes.”
But Grange couldn’t carry the Yankees far in 1927 (7-8-1), and he missed the entire 1928 season because of a knee injury. In 1929, he returned to the Chicago Bears, causing the floundering Yankees to fold.
4. Frankford (Pa.) Yellow Jackets (1924-1931)
In 1926, the Yellow Jackets won the NFL title, shutting out 10 opponents on their way to a 14-1-2 record. That same year, another Philadelphia football team, the Philadelphia Quakers, won the American Football League (a concurrent professional league that only survived one season).
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gordon MacKay spent that fall lobbying for the teams to square off to crown pro football’s true champion, writing, “Perhaps never in the football history of this city has a family quarrel loomed so prominently.” The Quakers' owner, in a statement published in the Inquirer, challenged the Yellow Jackets. Frankford wanted to play, but it was denied permission by the NFL.
Suffering from poor attendance, the team folded following the 1931 season.
5. Pottsville (Pa.) Maroons (1925-1929)
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In the franchise’s first year as an NFL team, the Maroons “won” the NFL championship with a 10-2 record, capped with a victory over Chicago Cardinals. The NFL didn’t have playoffs back then, so the Maroons were named champions … for six days.
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Bizarrely, Pottsville was stripped of its title after playing an unauthorized game against Notre Dame, a college power. Then the Cardinals scheduled "two hastily arranged games against weaker teams," according to a Pennsylvania newspaper, won both and improved their record to 11-2-1. The Cardinals, with the best record in the NFL, were declared champions.
As shady as that seemed, the ploy was allowed by the league, and the NFL still recognizes the Cardinals as the 1925 champions. After the 1928 season, the Maroons moved to Boston.
6. Providence (R.I.) Steam Roller (1925-1931)
Led by a stellar defense, the Steam Roller won the 1928 NFL title with an 8-1-2 record. The following season, Providence recorded three firsts, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It played in a cycling venue—the sport was popular during the era—competed in four games in six days (going 0-3-1) and hosted the first night game in professional football history.
The night game was played at Providence's Kinsley Park Stadium, where floodlights had recently been installed. A local newspaper reported that the ball was painted white for the game against the Chicago Cardinals, giving the orb "the appearance of a large egg.” Added the newspaper: "There was a panicky feeling that the player who made the catch would be splattered with yellow yolk."
The night game, won 16-0 by Chicago, drew 6,000 fans, an impressive figure. But when home attendance plummeted in 1931, the franchise was turned over to the league and never played in Providence again.
7. Los Angeles Buccaneers (1926)
A Los Angeles team in name only, the Buccaneers spent their only NFL season as a traveling team. They were co-coached by their best players, former University of California stars Talma "Tut" Imlay and Harold "Brick" Muller, who earned his nickname because of his flaming red hair. Most of the Bucaneers' players were from California. Despite not playing home games, Los Angeles finished with a respectable 6-3-1 record in 1926.
According to the Pittsburgh Daily Post, the team also played the first NFL game that featured “three all-time All-Americans” when it defeated the Canton Bulldogs, 16-13. The three All-Americans were Muller for the Bucs, and Jim Thorpe (running back) and Pete Henry (tackle) for the Bulldogs.
8. Dallas Texans (1952)
Following their only season in 1952, the Dallas Texans became the last NFL franchise to fold, following an especially ugly 1-11 season. The Texans, the league's first team in the Deep South, were co-owned by Giles Miller, 32, reportedly America's youngest millionaire, and his brother, Connell.
The Millers were rabid college football fans, but neither was ready to run a professional sports franchise, especially one bereft of talent. Midway through the season, the franchise was turned over to the NFL because of a "lack of funds," Connell's son wrote in a retrospective on the team for Texas Monthly magazine in 2019. And, during the season, the team was moved to Hershey, Pa. —the vagabond Texans won their only game on Thanksgiving Day, over the Chicago Bears in Akron, Ohio, before 3,000 fans.
In the last week of the season, head coach Jimmy Phelan cancelled practice and told his players, “Men, I’m not telling you your paychecks aren’t any good, but if I were you guys, I’d run to the bank.”
In 1960, the Dallas Texans of the American Football League began play. The team moved to Kansas City in 1963 and eventually became part of the NFL.