The Staley Swindle

December 18, 2021

Does the National Football League sometimes seem chaotic to you?  You should have been around in the 20s.  The 1920s.

The 1921 Buffalo All-Americans had their season sidetracked by scandal and lost a surefire championship through some combination of greed, bravado, desperation, politics and alleged outright trickery. (Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame – caption via Buffalo News Jan. 31, 2020/Jason Wolf)

Buffalo had a professional team back then too.  The Buffalo All-Americans of the American Professional Football Association.  In 1921… back when the Rochester Jeffersons were part of the professional football scene… the All Americans were 9-0-2.  Ties didn’t count.  Back then, you pieced together your own schedule with as many games as you could scrape together.  The team with the best record won the championship.  Simple.  Perhaps not fair.

Anyway, the undefeated All Americans, whose owner was also the team’s coach and quarterback, had by all rights won Buffalo’s first professional football championship. 

The Chicago Staleys, the forerunners of the Bears, lost one game, to Buffalo on Thanksgiving.  So, owner George Halas proposed a postseason rematch, which Buffalo agreed to.  They billed it as an exhibition.  It didn’t count in the standings.  It was scheduled the day after the All Americans played in Dayton, Ohio.  The very next day.

“NFL 100 Greatest” ranks the top 100 teams in NFL history, and the 1921 Chicago Staleys land at No. 82.

Chicago won 10-7.  Halas then declared the game counted.  That there was no such thing as an exhibition contest.  And further got the league to pass a bylaw that gave the title to the Bears by providing added weight to the second game of a rematch.  A tie-breaker that stood another twelve years.  George Halas was not a nice a guy.

The incident is recorded as the Staley Swindle.  Perpetrated 100 years ago this month.  A significant, if not entirely forgotten, chapter of Buffalo’s sad professional football legacy. 

Watch Bill Pucko every weekend on The Press Box, airing on 13-WHAM ABC in Rochester, NY

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