Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why do short-term successes fail? A look at the National Football League

Some sports teams excel almost consistently, some sports teams fail almost consistently, but most sports teams alternate between good and bad times.

According to these statistics, which show win-loss records for the lifetime of National Football League franchises, my Washington Redskins are in the middle of the pack, with a lifetime win-loss percentage of 0.513. Not embarrassing, but certainly below the record among active franchises, the 0.578 win-loss record for the Chicago Bears. (I hate to say it, but the Dallas Cowboys are second among active franchises with a lifetime 0.573 record - and that includes their initial years of futility.)

But the Bears' 0.578 record is dwarfed by the records of some teams that are no longer in the NFL. Here are the lifetime records for some of the leading inactive teams, according to Pro Football

Detroit Wolverines (1928) - 0.778
New York Yankees (1946-1949) - 0.673
Canton Bulldogs (1920-1926) - 0.667
Los Angeles Buccaneers (1926) - 0.667
Rock Island Independents (1920-1925) - 0.650
Cleveland Bulldogs (1923-1927) - 0.622
Toledo Maroons (1922-1923) - 0.615
Frankford Yellow Jackets (1924-1931) - 0.605
Detroit Panthers (1925-1926) - 0.600

All of these teams had better lifetime records than the Chicago Bears and every other existing NFL team - but they all failed. While one year of success may be an anomaly, I was curious about some of the other teams. I read up on the Canton Bulldogs - after all, Canton is the historical birthplace of the National Football League itself.

According to this source, the team eventually known as the Canton Bulldogs started life in 1911 as the Canton Professionals. During those first years, the Professionals and Bulldogs enjoyed success, primarily due to the talents of one Jim Thorpe. Despite success, the various football teams were engaged in competition that bid up the rates of labor, and the teams decided to take action in 1920:

[Canton Bulldogs owner] Ralph Hay's auto showroom was the setting for two meetings, in August and September of 1920, at which the American Professional Football Association was organized. Hay was probably the instigator and Jim Thorpe of the Bulldogs was named the APFA's first president, solely because he was the most famous name in the game.

Eventually the APFA was renamed the NFL, and Canton won championships in 1922 and 1923. However, those pesky salaries caused trouble again:

But the players who won the championships were too expensive for Canton. Reportedly, the team lost about $13,000 in 1923 and the Canton Athletic Company sold the franchise to Cleveland promoter Sam Deutsch for $2,500 in August of 1924.

There was only one minor little teeny tiny issue with this - Deutsch already owned an NFL franchise, the Cleveland Indians. He pretty much combined the two franchises, created the Cleveland Bulldogs, and won the 1924 championship.

Deutsch then sold the franchise formerly known as the Canton Bulldogs, so in 1925 both the Canton Bulldogs and the Cleveland Bulldogs fielded teams. However, Canton never regained its championship form, and in 1927 the Canton franchise was one of twelve teams that were closed down by the NFL. Other teams with winning percentages, including the Los Angeles Buccaneers and the Detroit Panthers, were axed at the same time, and the Cleveland Bulldogs would only survive one more year.

One issue was travel time - when the NFL was reconfigured in 1927, it had a greater presence in the East, as opposed to the league's early Midwest orientation. The winning team that season was the New York Giants, although the Providence Steam Roller had a respectable record. However, many of those East Coast teams eventually folded themselves - only the Giants, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the (then) Chicago Cardinals have survived to the present day.
blog comments powered by Disqus