Leatherheads of the North


Leatherheads is a little piece of local history by Chuck Frederick of the local News Tribune. I saw a promotion at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago, and I had a gift card burning a hole in my wallet, so I picked it up.

I don’t read a lot of history, especially local history, so it was a little departure. I actually follow sports, especially the NFL, a little closer than I’d like to admit, so it was interesting to think about the early days in the 1920s when this violent game came into it’s own on a professional level. Some things I learned are:

  • College football was around since the late 1800s. The “professional” game was not welcomed by the college ranks.
  • It was probably played just as violently back then, and with far less protection (leather helmet).
  • Teams came and went every season, like the Minneapolis Mariners, the Milwaukee Badgers, the Kansas City Cowboys, and of course, the Duluth Eskimos.
  • The only recognizable teams today from those early years are the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, and the New York Giants.
  • Teams scheduled their own games, and sometimes bailed out part way through the season.
  • The kicking game was far more revered than it is now. Drop kicking was common (completely unknown now). A guy who could punt the ball was a big star.
  • You could tackle an unfair umpire, knocking him out of a game, with very little repercussion.

The focus is Ernie Never’s Eskimos from Duluth, on the theory that they saved the NFL. I’m not sure that Frederick proves his case, but the Eskimos had two crazy seasons in 1926 and 1927 where they barnstormed around the country, playing only one home game, using Never’s star power to basically promote the league. They were sort of like the Harlem Globe Trotters, except they were beatable.

At times, the reading got a little tedious because most chapters are basically a series of game summaries. In addition to Nevers (who I hadn’t heard of), Frederick also precedes nearly every figure in the book with the word “legendary” at one time or another, such as the legendary Johnny “Blood” McNally, or the legendary Ole Haagsrud. As Frederick admits in his introduction, records were scarce and unreliable, and interviews often conflicted, so it’s no surprise, perhaps, that “legendary” is the watchword for the book.

Still, it’s a fun read, and it made me hanker for the days of yore when Johnny Blood could get caught reading poetry in his boxer shorts to some fans on a street corner in the snow. Pep talks with Payton Manning aren’t quite the same.

This entry was posted in Books. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leatherheads of the North

  1. Sarah says:

    There are some legendary umpires I’d like to tackle. We should bring that one back into the game. I think it would make them more fair about judging the violence on the field. Instead of thinking it musta only hurt a little bit, they’d give calls based on degrees of pain.

  2. David says:

    Okay quiz time: What was the original name of the Chicago Bears? And for how much did the original owner sell the team (that then became the Bears)?

    For a hint:


Comments are closed.