With the Green Bay Packers about to play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio on Sunday, the story of the cowardly Canton Bulldogs must be told.
The Packers, founded in 1919, joined the fledgling American Professional Football Association in 1921. The APFA became the NFL in 1922.
From 1921 through 1932, the Packers reeled off 12 consecutive winning seasons. In the first six years of the APFA/NFL, the Packers’ records (and league finishes) were 3-2-1 (6th), 4-3-3 (7th), 7-2-1 (3rd), 7-4-0 (6th), 8-5-0 (9th), and 7-3-3 (5th). The league fluctuated from 18 to 22 teams during this period. A respectable showing.
So, the Packers and the Bulldogs were in the same pro league for five years from 1921 through 1926. Canton was without a team in 1924.
Never once did they build up the gumption to play the Packers.
Though the Bulldogs frequently traveled to Chicago, they were quick to turn back without crossing into Wisconsin.
In 1922, they did work up the courage to play a Wisconsin team. They picked on the Milwaukee Badgers, not the more formidable Packers, winning in Canton 40-6. Avoiding the Packers, the Bulldogs went undefeated and won the first-ever NFL title.
Same story in 1923. Another undefeated season and NFL title, but the Bulldogs again avoided the Packers.
Before the 1924 season, a Cleveland man bought the franchise for $2,500 and relocated the group, leaving Canton without an NFL team.
Following that season, some Canton businessmen paid $3,000 to bring the team back. The Bulldogs had a 4-4 NFL record and 8-4-1 mark overall in 1925. Though they took on the Rochester Jeffersons, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, the Pottsville Maroons, and other pancakes, they continued to steer clear of the team in Green Bay.
The Bulldogs’ final year in the NFL was 1926, when the hapless mutts went 1-9-3, placing 20th in the league. Among their losses, they were flattened by the Providence Steam Roller, frozen out by the Duluth Eskimos, stung by the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and mauled by the Brooklyn Lions, Detroit Panthers, and Columbus Tigers. With two 0-0 ties, they at least avoided being massacred by the Akron Indians.
Alas, before the 1927 season, the NFL — ruthless even then — decided to jettison 12 of the financially weaker teams from the league. That closed the history books on the Canton team.
The Packers’ rise toward glory was by then unstoppable. Two additional winning seasons in 1927 (7-2-1) and 1928 (6-4-3) were but the prelude of things to come.
From 1929 through 1931, the Packers were national champs all three years – the NFL’s first dynasty! The Packers’ cumulative three-year record was 34-5-2.
There you have it. Right up to the time they left the NFL forever, the guys from Canton wouldn’t play Curly Lambeau’s boys.
Instead, the Bulldogs liked to pile up wins (mostly at home) against the likes of the Dayton Triangles, Hammond Pros, Toledo Maroons, Louisville Brecks, Pottsville Maroons, Rochester Jeffersons, and Duluth Eskimos.
The Packers, in contrast, from the get-go relished taking on big city rivals, such as the Milwaukee Badgers, the Chicago Cardinals and Staleys (Bears), the St. Louis All-Stars, the Kansas City Blues, and the Detroit Panthers.
The Pack even took on a pathetic team (history repeats itself) called the Minneapolis Marines. In 1929, someone must have told them the Marines were a branch of the U.S. military, so they changed their name to the Red Jackets, but folded a year later.
Vanquishing the big city boys is still a proud tradition for the Packers and their fans to this day.
Great Article! I wish more was written about the Packers early dominance of the NFL. It’s a period that is too often glossed over along with most of the pre-Super Bowl era.
GOOD GRIEF ROB! What an awesome read. As a History major, that was one awesome piece of what I thought was some fascinating pieces of Packer’s and football’s rich and colorful past just coming out one after another. Thank you!!