Rock Island Independents
1907-1919: The roots of the Rock Island Independents go back to 1907. Rock Island located in Western Illinois, and is part of the Quad Cities with Moline, Illinois and the Iowa cities Davenport and Bettendorf. The Original Independents were a group of men with no Athletic Club affiliation, no Social Club ties and no Corporate Company backing or sponsorship. The team went unbeaten and unscored upon in 1908 in five games. Two year later the reunited and went unbeaten and went unbeaten again in 1910. They would also be unbeaten and unscored upon in eight games in 1912.Walter Flanigan would join the team in 1913, as the Independents went unbeaten again, he would become the team’s owner two years later. Flanigan began promoting Rock Island in 1915 helping them get National Attention as they went unbeaten again in 1918. Flanigan began to bring in players from outside Rock Island hiring Rube Ursella to serve as player-coach. Ursella would bring in several players he coached in Minneapolis as the Independents lost just once in 1919. Walter Flanigan challenged the Canton Bulldogs, champions of the Ohio League to a game to determine the National Champion of Professional Football, offering a $5,000 guarantee if they would come to Rock Island for the game. However, Canton owner Ralph Hay did not believe the Independents could deliver on the guarantee after drawing only 1,700 fans in a game against the Akron Indians. Flanigan would then declare the Rock Island Independents “Champions of the USA.”
1920: Ralph Hay would host a meeting of professional football owners at his Hupmobile dealership in Canton on September 17th. Walter Flanigan was there representing Rock Island and enthusiastically supported the idea of a new football league. With the Rock Island Independents becoming a card-carrying charter member of the league which was first called the American Professional Football Association. Flanigan was also named to a committee charged with framing the league’s constitution. The Independents began the season with a non league game against the St. Paul Ideals, winning 48-0 at Douglas Park. A week later in what some believe may have been the first AFPA game to kickoff on October 3rd, the Independents blanked the Muncie Flyers 45-0 as Arnie Wyman scored three times. Following a 26-0 win over the Hammond Pros, the Independents suffered their first loss against the Decatur Staleys led by George Halas 7-0. After rebounding to beat the Chicago Cardinals and Chicago Tigers, the Independents got a second chance at the Staleys and played to a scoreless tie. Rock Island saw several players injured in the game against Decatur, including Sid Nichols, Fred Chicken, and Oke Smith. Playing just three days later the Independents would fall to the Dayton Triangles 21-0 as they finished the season with a record of 6-2-2.
1921: Under new Coach Frank Coughlin the Independents would get off to a rocky start, with a tie against the Detroit Tigers and a 14-10 loss to the Chicago Staleys. The Independents were down 7-0 against the Chicago Cardinals on October 16th Coughlin would score two touchdowns to lead the Independents back to a 14-7 win but when he came to the sideline received a message from Walter Flanigan that he was fired. With Jimmy Conzelman coaching the team the rest of the season Rock Island would win four of their last five games and finished the season with a record of 5-2-1.
1922: Jimmy Conzelman remained coach of the Independents, who continued to struggle against the George Halas and the Chicago Bears. The Independents would lose twice to the newly renamed Chicago Bears. It would be their only losses of the season as they finished the season with a record of 4-2-1.
1923: Walter Flanigan left the team to concentrate on his real estate and insurance businesses, selling the Rock Island Independents to local businessman Dale Johnson. Under new Coach Herb Siles, the Independents got off to a solid start beating the Chicago Bears 3-0 to open the season. Following a scoreless tie against the Cleveland Indians, Rock Island crushed the Rochester Jeffersons 56-0. However, they would not win another game, posting a record of 2-3-3.
1924: Jim Thorpe considered by many to be the best athlete in the world joined the Rock Island Independents, with Johnny Armstrong taking over as their new coach. The Independents would go unbeaten in their first four games, tying the Chicago Bears in the season opener before winning their next three games. However, a road loss to the Kansas City Blues deflated their title hopes. Rock Island would go on to finish the season with a record of 5-2-2 but again were in the middle of the NFL standings.
1925: Rube Ursella returned to Rock Island, as the Independents started the season with back-to-back scoreless ties with the Chicago Bears and Dayton Triangles. The Independents would get their first win by shutting out the Green Bay Packers 3-0.However, a midseason slump again held the Independents out of the championship picture as they finished the season in eighth place at 6-3-3. Following the season several Independents would join Jim Thorpe on a barnstorming tour to promote professional, football playing as the Tampa Cardinals.
1926: The barnstorming NFL players along with Red Grange helped boost the popularity of professional football and second league was formed called the American Football League. The Rock Island Independents chose to leave the NFL and join the first AFL, while several players left the team for bigger salaries elsewhere. The move proved disastrous for Rock Island, as the league was poorly run and folded after one season. Fans in Rock Island saw the NFL as the more established league and attendance suffered. The Independents play also suffered as they posted a record of 2-6-1, finishing the season as a traveling team due to poor attendance. The Independents unable to rejoin the NFL would go out of business, with the name Rock Island Independents living on as a minor league team for a few more seasons.
©MMXV Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the National Football League. This site is not affiliated with the Rock Island Independents or the NFL. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on January 11, 2015. Last updated on January 11, 2015 at 9:55 pm ET.