In the early years of the 20th century before the start of the National Football League, semi-professional football teams could be found in a number of areas, including Chicago. I used the word “semi-pro” because the individuals playing the games were not always guaranteed that they would be paid for their participation.
Written contracts were usually non-existent and players generally were secured for each individual contest, rather than locked in for an entire season.
In 1919, the Racine Cardinals (short for the Racine Cardinals Pleasure Club) scratched out a 4-2-2 record in the Chicago area with a roster consisting of a combination of local street players alongside former collegiate athletes.
In this episode of “When Football Was Football” we’ll take a peek at those pioneer Cardinals of 1919, the forerunner of today’s Arizona Cardinals, and the energetic teenager named Jack Glynn who basically served as the team’s general manager.
Athletic Clubs Were Common In Chicago
It should be noted that athletic clubs were quite common in the Chicago area in the early 1900s. In the days before movies, television, and even radio, athletic clubs were designed to provide entertainment, social activities, and athletic events for the members.
As such, members could attend dances, chat over a beer, or participate on numerous athletic teams including boxing, track, baseball, and football squads. A different athletic club could be found on almost every street corner in the city of Chicago, and the competition among these clubs was fierce. It also made sense for the various clubs to schedule sporting events with each other due to both the closeness of the locations and the neighborhood rivalries.
As the years drifted by, some of the baseball and football teams moved away from the sponsorship of an athletic club and became more or less “independent.” This was the case of the Racine Cardinals football team in 1919, which although still operating under the umbrella of the Racine Cardinals Pleasure Club (and we can’t make that name up!), began operating separately as a football organization.
While still playing local teams such as the Calerton Athletic Club, the squad also lined up games with the Moline (IL) Fans Association team and the Hammond (IN) Bobcats. The subtle move to embrace more regional, rather than local, teams was now underway for the Cardinals under the leadership of manager Chris O’Brien and Jack Glynn.
While Glynn was officially the paid secretary of the Cardinals organization, it was his job to assist Chris O’Brien in the running of the club, securing players, and making game arrangements. The Cardinals were not owned by any individual at this point in time, but were still linked to an athletic club and relied on contributions from area individuals for economic support.
O’Brien took care of all the major deals like arranging the schedule, preparing the field, and ensuring that the bills were paid on time, while Glynn made certain that there were enough players on the field for each game played by the Racine Cardinals.
Glynn Helped Incorporate The Cardinals
Glynn and O’Brien worked together in a partnership that was bound together by their mutual love of the game of football. Scheduling games was challenging, but ensuring that a sufficient number of players showed up was equally difficult.
Games were often added just a few days before the scheduled date, while the turnstile roster of players was always in a state of confusion! And this is where Mr. Glynn came in…
Glynn was just 17 years old on January 10, 1917, when his was one of the signatures on the documents incorporating the “Racine Cardinal Pleasure Club” in the State of Illinois. While this does not necessarily indicate that he was one of the owners of the Pleasure Club, it does demonstrate that the management of the club held him in very high regard.
Glynn moved from helping O’Brien whenever and wherever possible to assuming responsibilities for securing players to represent that early version of the Cardinals. In my new book Bears vs. Cardinals: The NFL’s Oldest Rivalry, I attempted to explain the job responsibilities of Jack Glynn:
“If the Cardinals would be short of players for a specific game, Glynn would be the man who would track down the replacements. Working from a small, brown notebook, Glynn included names, addresses, and even those rare phone numbers for certain players. The importance of the “Glynn Papers” (which have surfaced only recently) is that we now have some written documentation about the early Cardinals.
We can see that most of the players from 1917-1919 lived in, or near, the Englewood neighborhood, but that Chris O’Brien also was determined to enlist the very best football players available on the south side of Chicago.”
Glynn Papers May Be The Oldest Cardinals' Documents
At some point over the last few decades, the historical records of the Arizona Cardinals were lost in a fire. As such, the Glynn papers may very well be the oldest existing records for the NFL’s oldest team! And, all of this was done while Glynn worked full-time at the nearby Union Stockyards.
So how did the legend of Jack Glynn evolve?
A few years ago, at one of the programs we presented on the history of pro football in the Chicago area, I met a gentleman named Pat Glynn. Pat told the story about his uncle, Jack Glynn, and the position he held with the Racine Cardinals. I was a bit surprised that I had never heard of Jack Glynn or the important role he played with the Cardinals.
Pat went on to share items from his uncle’s belongings, including photos, documents, and even the Racine Cardinals’ armband that members of the team wore, which Pat Glynn later donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The story of Jack Glynn was quite intriguing, especially with the fact that he passed away at such an early age.
There were plenty of stories that Pat Glynn shared about his uncle and I was delighted when Pat allowed me to review and study the journals that Jack Glynn kept during his time with the Cardinals.
Glynn Kept Correct Records
They are rather small, but with the name “Racine Cardinals” clearly visible on each. The entries, of course, are all handwritten. Glynn listed the correctly spelled names of the players, their addresses, and even if they had a phone number at the time.
This type of information is very essential to a researcher since often the key to locating information about a person from a century ago is defining an address. Many of the names were common at the time, and often the census reports from a specific year may be missing information. But to have the correct spelling of the name, along with a viable address, was a researcher’s dream!
The journals helped me to locate more information on several players, including a few that I was not previously aware of…
Dominican Nun Discovered Cards' Notebook
But next came the gripping question. How did these invaluable documents survive over 100 years, and where were they during this extended period of time? Pat Glynn was very happy to provide an answer to that question:
“The Cardinals’ material resided with my aunt, Jack’s sister Honora “Nonie” Troller, until her death in 1987. From all those materials, the notebook somehow ended up with my sister, a Dominican nun-Sister Helen Glynn OP. She discovered the roster notebook among some items in a drawer.
My sister was a medical missionary in Bolivia for 25 years and then taught at Marist High School in Chicago for many years. But, I have no idea how she ended up with the notebook[s]. She was in Bolivia when my aunt [Nonie] died. Crazy stuff this historical research! If the Lord steps in on this research someday, other Cardinal items may someday surface in my sister Helen’s ‘stuff.’ She was and still is a die-hard football fan!”
From the Glynn resources, many Cardinals’ players from 1917 through 1919 are now identified. Some of those players remained with the team after the organization became a member of what would eventually become the National Football League. Among the key players listed in the journals were end Red O’Connor, quarterback Marston Smith, end Paul Florence, and center Bill Whalen.
In particular, Paul Florence was an interesting character. He played for the 1920 Cardinals in the new American Professional Football Association and also was a member of the 1926 New York Giants baseball team.
With such stalwarts in his lineup, Chris O’Brien was pleased with the club’s final 4-2-2 record in 1919. Although the Cardinals defeated local powers the Logan Squares and the Pullman Thorns, as mentioned they also ventured outside of the usual nearby opponents to battle with Moline (IL) and Hammond (IN) with both of those games resulting in a tie.
The Hammond contest was certainly interesting since that club recruited heavily and offered its players the unheard-of sum of $100 per game. The star end for Hammond was George Halas, a year before he was offered the position to play and coach for the A.E. Staley team in Decatur, IL. And we know what happened after that!
Three Cardinals Are College Students
When various professional football teams joined together to form the initial version of the National Football League in September of 1920, the circuit was concerned with roster jumping, scheduling, and the use of college players. And, you might throw in a bit of worry over betting as well.
However, that was a year after the Cardinals’ recruiters prepared for the Moline game in 1919. An article appearing in the Dispatch newspaper the day before the game reported: “The Cardinals will present a strong lineup against Moline Sunday afternoon.
Three of the men are college students who are playing under assumed names for obvious purposes…the Cardinals appear to be slight favorites in the betting line, although there is plenty of Moline money to be had and the wagers will probably be made at even money when the game starts.” So much for avoiding college players and placing wagers!
Glynn Traveled To Visit George Gipp
While Jack Glynn was continuously fine-tuning his list of possible players for the Cardinals, he also managed to keep an eye on future prospects. In a story told by Pat Glynn from before the days of the NFL draft, Jack Glynn was clearly initiating efforts to add the legendary George Gipp of Notre Dame to the Cardinals’ roster.
Although George Gipp died at the age of 25 on December 14, 1920, he and Jack Glynn had developed a friendship according to a Glynn family legend. Pat Glynn said: “My uncle traveled to Notre Dame at some point to visit with George Gipp and determine if he might be interested in playing football with the Cardinals after Notre Dame.
Gipp and Jack were also said to have met at a pool hall around 63rd and Halsted in Chicago at some time during or after the season. My aunt and older siblings recall seeing communications with Gipp among our uncle’s papers.” And we hope to see those items someday as well!
The team that Jack Glynn helped create successfully began the transformation into more of a big-time, independent football club in 1919. In less than a year, the Cardinals would be invited to be a charter member of the National Football League, and still one of two remaining organizations along with the Decatur Staleys/Chicago Bears.
Sadly, Glynn would not see that auspicious event, for surely, he would have attended the meeting in Canton, OH when the league was created on September 17, 1920.
Glynn Was a Popular Lad
Instead, John “Jack” Glynn passed away suddenly on December 29, 1919, at the age of 20. If Chris O’Brien was the architect of the transformation of the Cardinals into a regional power in the pre-NFL years, Glynn was certainly the one who made things happen.
His passing was met with both shock and sadness by the local football community as the Hammond (IN) Times reported: “Independent football circles were startled yesterday with the news that John Glynn, secretary of the Racine Cardinals football club, had died suddenly at St. Bernard’s Hospital.
Glynn contracted a severe cold at a recent game of his team and it took a bad turn last Tuesday which necessitated his going to the hospital. Glynn was a popular lad and his death means a vacancy in the official list of the Cardinal club that will be hard to fill.”
We should mention that the football influence of Jack Glynn continues to this day. Many of his descendants have dotted the rosters of powerful high school teams in the Chicago Catholic League and several have played for major colleges including Ohio State and Nebraska. My thanks to Pat Glynn, Sister Helen Glynn, and the entire Glynn family for keeping this important piece of Cardinals’ history alive including their help with today’s episode of “When Football Was Football” on the Sports History Network! Thank you!
Author and Host - Joe Ziemba
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.
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