Five Unusual Historic Tales About the Chicago Cardinals

When a team like the Cardinals has been around for over 120 years, we tend to find some unusual stories and circumstances about that team. While we are all aware of how the club has called three major cities home during its lifetime and captured NFL championships in 1925 and 1947, we’ll dive a bit deeper today on “When Football Was Football” to share five of those odd–or unknown—stories. We’ll start with one of the strangest names ever for a pro football team!

Read the whole story or listen to the podcast episode below.

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Joe Ziemba is the host of this show, and he is an author of early football history in the city of Chicago.  Here, you can learn more about Joe and When Football Was Football, including all of the episodes of the podcast.

Strangest Name Ever For A Pro Team?

Let’s begin on January 17, 1917, when the Cardinals’ organization was first incorporated in the State of Illinois. Care to guess the name? We can’t make this up, but management incorporated the name of the football team as the “Racine Cardinal Pleasure Club.”

Note that the name “Cardinal” was singular and not plural (as in “Cardinals”). We’re not sure why the term “Pleasure Club” was utilized, but it certainly does not sound like a football team! In fact, it sounds like something totally unrelated to football! The club was a member of the Chicago Football League in 1917 and finished with a 3-3-5 record, including two indoor playoff games held in January of 1918.

The league held a four-team playoff consisting of the Cardinals, the Tornadoes, the Mohawks, and the Evanstons (with future Cardinal Paddy Driscoll), prompting the Chicago Daily News to declare on December 22 that “The Racine Cardinals have proven themselves to be the best of the travelers in the Chicago league.” Alas, being the best “travelers” in the league did not help the Cards in the playoffs as they fell to the Tornadoes 21-7. Thankfully, the name of the Racine Cardinal Pleasure Club eventually disappeared and simply became the Racine Cardinals!

First Female Owner of an NFL Team?

Next, in 1917, no single individual owned the Racine Cardinals organization since it was a neighborhood athletic club with dues-paying members. By 1927 the team, by then known as the Chicago Cardinals, did have some identifiable owners. This revelation helped us to unveil another obscure fact in the history of the Cardinals.

When the club reorganized on April 22, 1927, the official legal papers filed with the State of Illinois revealed that the organization was “owned” by five individuals: Chris O’Brien, Thomas Burian, John Taylor, James Taylor, and—Mrs. Frieda O’Brien, the wife of Chris O’Brien. While Chris O’Brien maintained the majority shares of the team’s stock, it is interesting to note that Frieda O’Brien was legally recognized as a part-owner of the club.

While we have not researched this thoroughly, we do believe that Frieda O’Brien of the Chicago Cardinals was the first female to be an “owner” of a team in the National Football League!

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    The Cards' Forgotten Gold Medalist

    Can you name an Olympic gold medalist in 1932 who also played for the Cardinals? Of course, the great Jim Thorpe, who was a Cardinal for one game in 1928, won the gold medal in both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Later halfback/sprinter Ollie Matson grabbed bronze and silver medals during the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.  But did you know that the gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics was also a Chicago Cardinal?

    Let us introduce James Aloysius Bausch, a 1931 graduate of the University of Kansas where he was known as “Jarring Jim” for his crushing runs from the fullback position. As a great all-around athlete, Bausch was also a star in basketball and track for the Jayhawks…

    Jim Bausch of the Chicago Cardinals
    Photo Sourced from University of Kansas website

    He qualified for the Olympics by capturing the AAU decathlon and then surprised the field at the Los Angeles Olympic Games by grabbing the decathlon title while establishing a new world’s record for that event. For this remarkable accomplishment, the young man from Marion, South Dakota was presented with the 1932 Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete of the year. Then, without fanfare, it was on to the NFL in 1933, first with the Cardinals for a couple of games and then with Cincinnati for five contests.

    After his signing with the Cardinals on August 15, 1933, the Chicago Tribune noted that “Bausch appears certain of a [roster] berth because of his driving power and all-around ability.” The gold medalist was listed as the starting fullback for the Cards in the pre-season opener against the Aurora (IL) Ideals but injured his ankle prior to the game.

    However, he returned for the next exhibition contest and scored a touchdown against Freeport (IL). On September 27, 1933, Bausch was in the starting lineup for the league opener at Pittsburgh. Even new owner Charles Bidwill gushed about his fullback’s potential in an interview with the Tribune: “And talk about power at fullback–just watch Jim Bausch!” 

    Bausch started the first two regular-season games for the Cardinals, but then was traded to Cincinnati and helped the Reds defeat the Cards 12-9 later in the season. Overall, Bausch totaled 70 yards on 36 rushes for the year and also completed 6-26 passes for an additional 60 yards. It would prove to be the only season in the NFL for Bausch, who later served in WWII. But today, we remember Jim Bausch as the world’s greatest athlete in 1932 and another important–and proud– part of the history of the NFL’s oldest team!

    Cards Play in First NFL Night Game

    As the oldest team in the NFL, the Cardinals can also claim another “first” in league history. On November 6, 1929, the Cards participated in the pro circuit’s very first night game. Originally, the Cards scheduled back-to-back road contests against Frankford and Providence on November 2 and 3.

    Frankford captured the victory in the first game, edging the Cards 8-0 in a terrible rainstorm as described by the Philadelphia Inquirer in a wonderful example of sports writing for that era:

    “A pour down of rain created havoc as Frankford’s revamped football team registered a splendid victory over Ernie Nevers and his Chicago Cardinals in a lake, which formerly constituted as Frankford Stadium before the deluge broke. The half-drowned score boy succeeded in hoisting the final figures before the continuing rain sent him dripping homeward.”

    That same storm forced the postponement of the Providence game the next day which was then rescheduled for the evening of Wednesday, November 6 when, according to the Boston Globe, “Providence will have its first floodlight football game.” Behind the heroics of Nevers, the Cardinals blasted the Providence Steam Roller 16-0 which the Boston Globe called “the first-night football game played in the National Football League.”

    Nevers tossed a 50-yard touchdown pass, scored on a short run, kicked a 20-yard field goal, and booted one extra point to account for all of the Cards’ scoring. The football itself was painted white for better vision under the portable lights and resembled a “large egg,” according to a later statement from the Pro Football Hall of Fame which added a media quote that stated, “there was a panicky feeling that the player who made the catch would be splattered with yellow yolk.”

    No One Doubted His Toughness

    Finally, there have been many, many “tough” players throughout the history of the Cardinals. Paddy Driscoll played with concussions in the very early days, while Charley Trippi was not afraid to initiate fights with fearsome defenders such as Ed Sprinkle of the Bears. But we’ll share a tale that includes a little different type of toughness. It began in 1945 when Elmer Angsman (from Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School) was in the backfield for Notre Dame in a game against Navy. According to the book Leahy’s Lads, it was a challenging game for Elmer:

    “In the middle of the second quarter, Navy’s Dick Scott caught Angsman with a forearm in the mouth, knocking out his four upper front teeth and causing his four lower front teeth to be jammed into his gums. He ran to the sidelines where he was met by [Coach Hugh] Devore, who was shocked by the severity of Angsman’s injury. Devore said, ‘Elmer, you better go to the locker room.’ Through a mouth that was spurting blood, Angsman replied, ‘No, I don’t want to. I want to go back in.’ He played 54 minutes that day despite his injury. No one never doubted his toughness or his devotion to his team.”

    Later, Cardinals’ coach Jimmy Conzelman recalled: “Angsman was no heralded star at Notre Dame, but an incident in his career really impressed me. Against Navy, he was hit so hard in the mouth that he spit teeth like kernels of corn. Yet I found out that he was back on the field…A guy that tough–I wanted!” Conzelman then drafted Angsman in the third round of the 1946 NFL draft and a year later, he scored two touchdowns in the 1947 NFL championship game win against the Eagles while also establishing a new rushing record for an NFL title game!

    Thank you for joining us on our journey tonight as we explored some strange, but very true, tales from the archives of the Cardinals. We’ll do it again in the very near future since the history of the Cardinals does appear to be endless! On our next episode, we’ll “interview” Bears’ founder George Halas as he recalls the early days of the Decatur Staleys and the Chicago Bears. After all, anything is possible on the Sports History Network, even an interview in 2021 with George Halas! 

    Interested in more from host Joe Ziemba?  You can see him on the other side of the mic as a guest on The Football History Dude podcast talking about the history of the Chicago Cardinals and his book When Football Was Football.


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