With as much as 20 inches of snow on the ground in some parts of the tri-state area, it’s probably little consolation that there are fewer than 50 days until pitchers and catchers start making their annual trek to warmer climates. After all, before getting to enjoy the first sounds of Spring Training, fans in many parts of the country must first survive at least another two months of cold and snow. However, there was a time when sports fans were able to watch the New York Yankees play under such conditions instead of waiting for the warmth of spring time. From 1946 until 1949, the legendary baseball team shared its name with one that played in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), an upstart league that sort to challenge the incumbent National Football League (NFL) during that period (another New York Yankees football team featuring Red Grange played in the American Football League in 1926 and the NFL in 1927-1928 before disbanding).
Alignment of AAFC and NFL In 1946
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|Boston Yanks (Fenway Park*)||Detroit Lions (Briggs Stadium)|
|New York Giants (Polo Grounds)||Chicago Bears (Wrigley Field)|
|Philadelphia Eagles (Shibe Park)||Chicago Cardinals (Comiskey Park)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (Forbes Field)||Green Bay Packers (City Stadium)|
|Washington Redskins (Griffith Stadium)||Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Coliseum)|
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|New York Yankees** (Yankee Stadium)||Cleveland Browns**** (Municipal Stadium)|
|Brooklyn Dodgers*** (Ebbets Field)||Chicago Rockets (Soldier Field)|
|Buffalo Bisons (Civic Stadium)||Los Angeles Dons (Los Angeles Coliseum)|
|Miami Seahawks (Burdine Stadium)||San Francisco 49ers**** (Kezar Stadium)|
*Became New York Bulldogs in 1949 and then New York Yanks in 1950.
**First professional football team to call Yankee Stadium home.
***Not related to NFL franchise of same name that became the New York Yankees.
****Admitted to the NFL after the 1949 season.
Source: Wikipedia.com and NFL.com
The connection between the football Yankees and their baseball namesake as well as several other professional football franchises is long and convoluted. The team began as an informal football gathering of St. Mary’s College students before organizing as the Dayton Triangles. In 1920, the Triangles became an original member of what eventually became the NFL, but moved to Brooklyn in 1930, at which point the team’s name was changed to the Dodgers. In 1934, a business man named Dan Topping purchased half of the team, and then in 1945, along with Del Webb and Larry MacPhail, also purchased a share of baseball’s New York Yankees. Now with access to the much larger Yankee Stadium, Topping sought to move his football team from Ebbets Field to the Bronx, but his intentions were rebuffed by Tim Mara, the owner of the NFL’s New York Giants. As a result, the team faced financial turmoil and eventually had to merge with another struggling franchise called the Boston Yanks (itself named in honor of the baseball Yankees by an owner anxious to move the team to Yankee Stadium).
By the end of the 1946 season, Topping had exhausted all alternatives, which made him especially receptive to the upstart AAFC. He eventually purchased the rights to the AAFC’s New York franchise, which was to be called the Yankees and play in the House That Ruth Built for baseball. In retaliation, the NFL canceled Topping’s ownership in the Boston Yanks franchise, but several of the team’s players followed him over to the Bronx.
In its first two seasons, the football Yankees played the Cleveland Browns for the AAFC championship, but lost each time. On December 22, 1946, Paul Brown’s powerhouse Cleveland team, which was quarterbacked by the legendary Otto Graham, rallied from behind “on the frozen, snow-swept turf of the huge lakefront municipal stadium” to beat the Yankees 14-9. The winning score was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Dante Lavelli with only four minutes remaining in the game. The next year, on December 14, the two teams met once again on a snow covered field, but this time the venue was Yankee Stadium. For the second straight season, Graham proved to be the difference, rushing and passing for a touchdown in the Browns 14-3 victory in front of 61,879 fans.
Although teams like the Browns and Yankees attracted larger crowds than their NFL neighbors, the marketplace for professional football wasn’t big enough for two leagues, so a merger was agreed upon after the 1949 season. As part of the deal, three AAFC franchises were admitted to the NFL and the combined league was temporarily called the National-American Football League. In addition to the Browns, which won all four AAFC championships and compiled an astounding 47-4-3 record, the San Francisco 49’ers and Baltimore Colts (no relation to Johnny Unitas’ team) joined the new league, while Topping’s Yankees were left out in the cold (the NFL already had the Giants and Bulldogs in New York).
With the AAFC out of business, the NFL’s New York Bulldogs, which had formerly been the aforementioned Boston Yanks, changed its name to the New York Yanks and moved from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium. In addition, 18 former players from Topping’s Yankees squad joined the Yanks, extending that team’s legacy for two more years before the franchise was revoked and moved to Dallas (and later to Baltimore before ending up in Indianapolis). The site of football being played in the Bronx wasn’t dead, however, as in 1956 the football Giants moved from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium, which in 1958 was host to the historic NFL championship between the Giants and Colts (remember, the Colts had been the New York Bulldogs, the NFL’s first Yankee Stadium tenant).
In summary, football’s Brooklyn Dodgers became the New York Yankees, who were later merged into the New York Bulldogs before eventually becoming the Baltimore Colts team that returned to Yankee Stadium and beat the New York Giants in a pivotal championship that helped make the NFL the financial behemoth that it is today. Phew! Talk about a small world. With perhaps only slight exaggeration, it could be said that the House That Ruth Built helped build the NFL. Not bad for a part-time job in the off season.
Football Family Tree