|Based in||Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States|
|League||National Football League|
Orange, White (1922–1925) |
Red, White (1926)
Budge Garrett (1922) |
Jimmy Conzelman (1922–23)
Hal Erickson (1924)
Johnny Bryan (1925–26)
Ambrose McGuirk (1922–1925)|
Johnny Bryan (1926)
|Home field(s)||Athletic Park|
The Milwaukee Badgers were a professional American football team, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that played in the National Football League from 1922 to 1926. The team played its home games at Athletic Park, later known as Borchert Field, on Milwaukee's north side. The team was notable for having a large number of African-American players for the time.
After the team folded following the 1926 season (largely due to being left broke because of a $500 fine by the NFL for using four high-school players in a 1925 game against the Chicago Cardinals, a game arranged after the Badgers had disbanded for the season), many of its members played for the independent semi-pro Milwaukee Eagles. A few of the players from this team went on to play for the NFL's Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933. This has led some to mistakenly believe that either the Badgers or Eagles became the Steelers.
The Milwaukee market is now claimed by the Green Bay Packers, who played three or four regular season games there from 1933–94, including the 1939 NFL Championship Game and a 1967 playoff game. The Packers still reserve two games a season for their old Milwaukee season ticket holders, and have their flagship radio station there as well.
The Milwaukee Badgers were founded by two Chicago sporting promoters, Joe Plunkett and Ambrose McGuirk. The pair saw the city as a great prospect for a professional football club. In order to create a team that could compete immediately in the early National Football League, the men scoured the East Coast college ranks, signing multiple All-Americans in hopes of building a team of all-stars that could rival the Green Bay Packers for state supremacy. The team's first major signing was Fritz Pollard, who had been a player-coach the previous year for the Akron Pros. Pollard was also the first black man to coach whites in American professional sports. Two other African-Americans played for the Badgers in 1922, Paul Robeson and Duke Slater.
The Badgers played their first home game on October 15, 1922, in which they defeated the Racine Legion 20-0 in front of 6,000 fans at Athletic Park. However injuries and team disunity caught up with the Badgers, as they finished the season with just two wins, four defeats and three ties, resulting in 11th place in the standings.
The next season, the Badgers fielded an all-white team, ending their brief experiment with integration. However the 1923 season would be the high point in the franchise's short history, as they placed third in the league with a 7-2-3 record. However both of the Badgers' losses that season came to the Packers, who keep them a distant second in popularity among Wisconsin's professional football fans. Even worse the Badgers struggled to even outdraw local semi-professional and factory teams. Games between those squads could draw as many as 9,000 spectators, while the Badgers rarely attracted around 4,500. In 1924, the Badgers went 5-8, before losing all six of their games in 1925 and being outscored 191-7. Meanwhile, Milwaukee citizens held so little interest in the club, that the team played just one home game.
However while interest in Badgers dwindled at home, several interested parties within the Chicago Cardinals began to take notice of them.
1925 high school players scandal
In 1925, the Chicago Cardinals were in need of two easy wins to help keep up with the Pottsville Maroons and stay in the hunt of the 1925 NFL Championship. As a result, the Cardinals had planned two extra games were scheduled against the Badgers and Hammond Pros, who were both losing teams in that season. The Pros and the Badgers were both NFL teams, but had ended their season. The Badgers, owned by Ambrose McGuirk, agreed to a game against the Cardinals. However, McGuirk lived in Chicago, and had a tough time putting a team together to play the Cardinals. So Art Folz, a substitute quarterback for the Cardinals, convinced four players from Chicago's Englewood High School into joining the Badgers for the game under assumed names, thereby ensuring that the Cardinals' opponent was not a pro caliber club. The high schoolers were reported to be William Thompson, Jack Daniels, Charles Richardson and J. Snyder.
However NFL President Joseph Carr later learned that high school players had been used in an NFL game. He then stated that the 59-0 Cardinals win would be stricken from the record. However, the league had never got around to removing it. The game is still a part of the NFL records. Cardinals' owner Chris O'Brien was also fined $1,000 by Carr for allowing his team play the game. Meanwhile, McGuirk was ordered to sell his Milwaukee franchise within 90 days. Folz, for his role, was barred from football for life. However, by 1926, Carr toned down his punishment for each party involved in the scandal. Folz's lifetime ban was lifted, probably to prevent him from going the first American Football League, however he chose not to return to pro football. The $1,000 fine against O'Brien was rescinded, probably since the amount would have put the Cardinals out of business. McGuirk though had already sold his Badgers franchise to Johnny Bryan, a fullback with the Chicago Bears. The Englewood players were also forgiven, and two of them, William Thompson and Charles Richardson, earned high school all-star recognition at the end of the season. Folz reportedly told the high schoolers that the game was a "practice game" and would in no part affect their amateur status.
This game would also be used to state that the Pottsville Maroons should have won the 1925 NFL Championship.
Bryan took an aggressive approach to rebuilding the team, even ditching the club's familiar orange sweaters for bright red. While a 2-2 start gave the team hope, but they dropped the last five games of the season and folded the following summer due to a lack of money. In ten games against the rival Packers, the Badgers were winless, managing only a scoreless tie in their first meeting.
Pro Football Hall of Famers
- Jimmy Conzelman, Class of 1964
- Johnny "Blood" McNally, Class of 1963 (inaugural member)
- Fritz Pollard, Class of 2005
|1922||2||4||3||11th||Jimmy Conzelman, Budge Garrett|
- Reimann, George (December 3, 1981). "Pro football lived here". Milwaukee Journal. p. 3, part 3.
- Cliff Christl for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1999-10-23). "Packers' survival in NFL a fluke of circumstance". Retrieved 2008-03-17.
- "Green Bay Packers season tickets". Retrieved 29 April 2012.
- "Badgers, Milwaukee's great 'pro' eleven, to meet Racine Sunday". Milwaukee Journal. October 12, 1922. p. 2, final.
- "Milwaukee pro eleven trims Racine Legion". Milwaukee Sentinel. October 16, 1922. p. 7.
- Prigge, Matthew J. (December 28, 2011). "Smash-Mouth Football: The brief, bruising years of the NFL's Milwaukee Badgers". Express Milwaukee. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
- "Bryan Badgers quit pro league". Milwaukee Sentinel. July 17, 1927. p. 1, section 3.