Monday, April 21, 2008

Author wins debate over Maroons’ title

Author wins debate over Maroons’ title

David Fleming, who argued again and again there was no territorial rule to prevent the Pottsville Maroons from playing the Notre Dame All-Stars on Dec. 12, 1925, won The Great Maroons Debate on Friday night.

The historic debate, organized by Lasting Legacy of Pottsville, pitted Fleming against Joe Horrigan, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and exhibits.

The issue: Do the Pottsville Maroons deserve the 1925 NFL title?

According to three judges scoring the event, Fleming won the debate 254-218.

Four of the 13 questions, which moderator Jim Coles, sports director for WNEP-TV 16, asked during the two-hour event before a packed house at Sovereign Majestic, dealt with the topic of whether the Maroons infringed on the territory of the Frankford Yellow Jackets when the Maroons played the Notre Dame All-Stars at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

And Fleming, the Davidson, N.C., author of “Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship,” said those questions were the most crucial.

“The territory rule never existed. And to this day it probably still doesn’t exist,” Fleming said.

Horrigan’s answer to Question 6 — “Did the NFL have a written rule of territorial rights during the 1925 season? Can its existence be verified?” — was an important point in the debate.

Horrigan quoted the 1926 league rules concerning territorial rights (Section 14, Article 6) then said, “I cannot produce any written rules of any sort from 1925.”

“I think that’s pretty clear that nobody knew if a rule existed,” Fleming said.

“I think that’s a persuasive fact,” said one of the three judges, John E. Jones III, Pottsville, a U.S. district judge. “Much of what Joe argued was from 1926 and it seems to me that he argued that things were much clearer in 1926 than they were in 1925, and that seems to prove David’s point, that this was an ad hoc decision by the (then-commissioner) Mr. Carr and the league in 1925.”

The event’s judges — Jones; Rod Eyer, Melville, N.Y., a graphic artist and correspondent for Newsday, Long Island, N.Y., who wrote an article about the Maroons in 2000; and Ernest Accorsi, New York City, general manager of the New York Giants from 1998 to 2006 — scored Fleming and Horrigan’s responses on a scale of 0 to 10.

Eyer, tied up in traffic in his commute, arrived late, just before Question 3.

The debate result alone will not determine whether the Pottsville Maroons will be given the 1925 title, Fleming said. That decision lies in the hands of the 32 NFL owners. The last time the NFL owners put the Maroons on their agenda, Oct. 30, 2003, they struck down a motion to reconsider the Maroons’ case by a vote of 30-2.

At night’s end, Fleming and Horrigan shook hands and embraced.

“I thought he was great. Just the fact that he would show up and be gracious and understand what he was up against, I think he deserves as much credit as anybody. If he didn’t agree to it, this wouldn’t have happened. And it shows that he’s dedicated to the true history of the NFL and not just selective history,” Fleming said.

“I’ve known Joe for years and I admire how he came here as such a good sport, when he knew the odds were kind of stacked against him. Still his heart was in the right place. He had a great spirit about him,” Accorsi said.

The judges were impressed with Fleming’s approach to the history.

“I think David has the more compelling argument. I am trying to be as objective as I can, but I am a native Pennsylvanian,” said Accorsi, a Hershey native.

“I thought Horrigan makes a very powerful argument, but at the end of the day, I thought David Fleming’s arguments were more persuasive. I think that as a good advocate, his facts were more persuasive. But I think Joe is a tremendous sport to come in here to do this,” Jones said.

Ian Lipton, a member of the Lasting Legacy board of directors, said the event’s 224 tickets were distributed by the end of March as fans gobbled up a chance to witness the first head-to-head debate over the 83-year-old controversy by outside experts.

The event began with a one-minute video message from Gov. Ed Rendell, who boldly stated: “The Maroons were screwed. They won it fair and square. They lost it on a technicality.”

On Dec. 6, 1925, the Maroons defeated the Chicago Cardinals at Chicago, 21-7. Then on Dec. 12, 1925, the Maroons defeated a non-NFL team, the Notre Dame All-Stars, 9-7, in an exhibition game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

The Philadelphia-based Frankford Yellow Jackets claimed the Maroons invaded their territory. The league fined the Maroons $500 and suspended them from all rights and privileges and declared their franchise forfeited in the league, the book states.

While the Cardinals refused to accept the 1925 NFL championship, Fleming said, it was never officially awarded to any team.

During the debate, each question was projected on a jumbo screen behind the candidates.

Question 11 was: “The NFL never formally awarded the 1925 championship to the Chicago Cardinals. In fact, Chris O’Brien, 1925 owner of the Cardinals, wouldn’t accept the title. Why is awarding the Cardinals the 1925 Championship more appropriate than having co-titles or even a vacant title?”

Fleming said: “Joe keeps giving examples of how great the NFL (was) at compromise. If the NFL wants to be seen as this fair organization, then they need to compromise on things that are difficult, things that might not actually make them look so great. This begs for compromise. It is the perfect example of a situation that calls for, at the very least, co-championship, no question about it.”

“There was compromise,” Horrigan insisted, defending the league’s decision to suspend the Maroons in 1925, then reinstate them in 1926.

“Making them a co-champion rewards a team that was forfeited for violating a rule. They did not complete the season. To even be considered even as a co-champion in a compromising fashion, they would have to be able to say they completed the season,” Horrigan said.

The last question was: “Is it possible the NFL will never change the decision concerning the 1925 championship because doing so would be an admission that they acted improperly during their infancy?”

“I don’t think that that would be the case. I don’t know that I would support the concept that they did something improper in their infancy. Certainly there were things that happened in their infancy that we would not allow to happen today,” Horrigan said, admitting the league suffered “growing pains.”

“To say that they’re closing the door on much of this because they would have to admit to wrongdoing, I don’t think they’d do that at all,” Horrigan said.

In turn, Fleming said, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL owners would always be open to hear this case.

“I hope, I don’t know if it’s a fact, but I hope that’s what the NFL’s all about. It is our national pastime. That’s what it’s been turned into. Franchises are now worth in excess of a billion dollars. At the very least, these men can do, is listen to the Maroons, whether it’s after 83 years or 183 years, it doesn’t matter. The NFL owes the Maroons that much,” Fleming said.

Among those in attendance was Patrick Rizzotti and Brett Forbes, the partners who run Fortress Features, Los Angeles, which is co-producing the “Breaker Boys” film project with Sentinel Entertainment, Los Angeles, and Solaris Entertainment, Venice, Calif.

They said the script for “Breaker Boys” is being reviewed by a few NFL owners, who Rizzotti and Forbes hope will verbally support the project.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Title Fight for the 1925 NFL Championship


In anticipation for The Great Maroons Debate tonight, David Fleming said Thursday he felt like “Rocky” before his boxing match with Apollo Creed in the classic 1976 film.

Joe Horrigan said he felt as if he were entering the lion’s den.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and exhibits, Canton, Ohio, will debate the legendary team’s “stolen 1925 championship” with Fleming, Davidson, N.C., author of “Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship,” on stage at the Sovereign Majestic Theater before a live audience of 224.

“But it’s exciting,” Horrigan said. “Look at the people that are involved. They’re enthusiastic to say the least, but they’re fun.”

The Great Maroons Debate, the most publicized head-to-head dispute about the 83-year-old controversy of whether the former Pottsville Maroons should have been awarded the 1925 NFL championship, will be held at 8 p.m. at the 209 N. Centre St. theater. All 224 free passes to the event have been given out.

Jim Coles, sports director for WNEP-TV 16, Moosic, will serve as moderator.

The 13 questions Coles will ask Fleming and Horrigan have been selected from submissions from the public given to WNEP-TV and The REPUBLICAN & Herald over the past month, said Ian Lipton, a member of Lasting Legacy of Pottsville, which organized the event.

As soon as Fleming and Horrigan arrived at Greystone Restaurant for an informal meet-and-greet with the public Thursday, Maroons supporters asked them for their views on hot button “Maroons” topics.

On Dec. 6, 1925, the Maroons defeated the Chicago Cardinals 21-7 at Chicago for the National League Championship. But the NFL stripped the Maroons of the title because on Dec. 12, 1925, the Maroons defeated a non-NFL team, the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, 9-7, in an exhibition game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, and the Philadelphia-based Frankford Yellow Jackets claimed the Maroons invaded their territory, according to “Breaker Boys.”

“As a player, who would not want to play against the greatest team, Notre Dame? If I’m a player on the Maroons, I wouldn’t care about a trophy. When you’re a player, you want to play against the best. Did the players and owner care about the championship when they knew that they may lose that if they played down in Philly?” said Lee Felsburg, Pottsville.

Kim Uranko, Pottsville, said to Horrigan, “You claimed (the Maroons) never finished the season. Who were they supposed to play after they played the Four Horsemen?”

“We have to save this for the debate,” said Lipton said.

“We can’t have a debate before the debate,” said Lipton’s son, Eric, a Lasting Legacy volunteer.

Before the meet-and-greet at Greystone on Thursday, Horrigan, Fleming and members of Lasting Legacy gathered at Maroons Sports Bar & Grill, 556 N. Centre St.

“I told him how much I appreciate the fact that he showed up. He has a very good sense of humor about the whole thing, and I think what this means for the cause and for the NFL to continue to listen, no matter how it goes, is it kind of sets an example for the rest of the league. What does it hurt to at least listen to their side of it?” Fleming said.

The “Breaker Boys” author also said he continued his research into the Maroons in preparation for this event.

“And the more work I’ve done in preparation for this, the more confident I’ve become. I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the panel of three judges Lasting Legacy recruited for the event was “great,” while Horrigan did not know who the judges were Thursday night.

“I’m not familiar with the format yet. They don’t get to carry guns, do they?” Horrigan asked.

Horrigan and Fleming walked from Maroons Sports Bar to Greystone. As soon as Horrigan stepped onto the sidewalk outside 315 N. Centre St. just after 8 p.m., Herb Curvey, Tamaqua, shook his hand.

“He’s a good guy. He’s doing a good job with the Hall of Fame,” said Curvey met Horrigan by making numerous visits to the hall of fame in Canton, Ohio.

Predicting the outcome of tonight’s debate, Curvey said he’d like to see Fleming win the argument, but “This is a touchy subject, really, and Joe’s not going to give. He’s going to stick to his guns. He’s done it on ESPN. He keeps saying they never were true champions.”

This is Fleming’s fourth visit to the area since his book was released in Oct. 9.

Lee Felsburg, Pottsville, immediately rushed over and asked the author to sign a copy.

Just as Horrigan was getting inside the door to the crowded bar, Charles Maurer of Pottsville asked Horrigan to sign a copy of “Breaker Boys.” And Horrigan did.

“Thank you for keeping the game alive,” Horrigan wrote in pen.

“I was waiting to see what he wrote,” Fleming said with a laugh.

This morning, Fleming and Horrigan will tour D.G. Yuengling & Son Brewery before meeting representatives of the press for a question-and-answer session at City Hall from 3 to 5 p.m., Ian Lipton said.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Great Maroons Debate Friday, April 18th!!!

Lasting Legacy discusses debate details, Maroons effort

The Great Maroons Debate will feature questions submitted by the public, a moderator and a video message from Gov. Ed Rendell, said Eric Lipton of Lasting Legacy of Pottsville.

Lipton provided details about the event, and the hectic schedule the debaters, David Fleming of Davidson, N.C. and Joe Horrigan of Canton, Ohio, will experience, starting Thursday, when the two arrive in Pottsville.

Fleming and Horrigan will attend a meet-and-greet at Greystone Restaurant, 315 N. Centre St., from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday. Then on Friday afternoon, the two will attend a press conference. A time for this event has not yet been set, Lipton said.

The Great Maroons Debate will be held at 8 p.m. Friday at 209 N. Centre St. All 224 free passes to the event have been given out, Lipton said.Lasting Legacy asked Jim Coles, sports director for WNEP-TV 16, Moosic, to serve as moderator, and Lipton said Coles is donating his time.

The questions Coles will ask Fleming and Horrigan will be selected from suggestions submitted to WNEP-TV and The REPUBLICAN & Herald over the past month, Lipton said.

“Coles is selecting which ones he’s going to ask,” Lipton said.

The debaters will each be given time limits in which to answer each question.

“That’s going to be the moderator’s decision, based on the question. Some questions will require more elaborate answers and some will not,” Lipton said.

The debate is Lasting Legacy’s latest effort to bring the Maroons controversy to the public’s attention, while encouraging the NFL owners to give the legendary team its 1925 championship.

The last time the NFL owners put the Maroons on their agenda, Oct. 30, 2003, the owners struck down a motion to reopen the 1925 files to re-examine the NFL title with a vote of 30-2.

Interest in the team resurged locally in October, when ESPN Books released Fleming’s book, “Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship.”

In early December, Lasting Legacy of Pottsville mailed copies of David Fleming’s book about the legendary team to 19 of the 32 NFL owners, according to Pottsville Mayor John D.W. Reiley.

Lasting Legacy mailed 20 packages containing the book, letter signed by Reiley and Rendell, a copy of a six-page article about the Pottsville Maroons written by Fleming in 2003, “Lost In Time,” published in ESPN Magazine, a copy of “Breaker Boys” and a DVD copy of a ESPN video history of the Maroons. Two packages were sent to representatives of the San Francisco 49ers, based on Fleming’s recommendations.

On April 2, Fleming encouraged Lasting Legacy to “be patient.” He said he’s hoping the movie based on his book would be made and released in theaters first.

The book was optioned by Sentinel Entertainment, Los Angeles, in April 2006. And Sentinel and Fortress Features are co-producing with Solaris Entertainment, Venice, Calif. Gavin O’Connor, director of the 2004 Walt Disney film “Miracle,” is still attached to direct, according to Patrick Rizzotti, a partner of Fortress Features, Los Angeles.

“There’s no rush. I know it’s hard to say after 83 years, but it’s more important to do it at the right time,” Fleming said.