Tuesday, April 19, 2016

1922 Cardinals vs Bears: Fist Fight and Sleeveless T-Shirts

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

The two games between the Cardinals and Bears in 1922 have to go down as one of the most hard-fought and strangest between the bitter rivals who battled nearly twice a year from 1920 to 1959, before the Cardinals left the Windy City for St. Louis.

Both the Cardinals and Bears were charter members of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920. The Bears were the Decatur Staleys that season and finished in second place in the standings at 10-1-2, while the Cardinals finished in fourth place at 6-2-2. The following season George Halas took the Staleys to Chicago and won the APFA Championship in 1921 with a 9-1-1 record, while the Cardinals played second fiddle in the city finishing with a disappointing 3-3-2 mark.
In 1922 the young league changed its name to the National Football League and Halas took sole control over the Staleys franchise and renamed them the Chicago Bears.
The 1922 Season
Heading into the 1922 season Cardinals owner Chris O’Brien made a bold move. He moved the Cardinals home games away from smallish Normal Park to Comiskey Park (on Chicago’s South Side) the home of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. With this move, O’Brien more than doubled his seating capacity to roughly 28,000. The Cardinals weren’t much closer to downtown Chicago and O’Brien wisely promoted the easy access to the stadium by trains that stopped at 35th Street- just a few blocks from the field. O’Brien also initiated a “two-for-one” ticket policy for boys under sixteen who wished to attend the game. 
Comiskey Park, circa early 1930s
Also around this time, the Chicago Tribune assigned sportswriter Hugh Fullerton to cover the Cardinals’ games on a regular basis, and this resulted in the first-in-depth coverage of their home games. The Tribune also added photographers reporting on the Cardinals and Bears games. The Windy City was now starting to notice the pro game.
After the disappointing season in ’21 when they went 3-3-2, and the Chicago Staleys won the APFA championship, the two teams seemed to be headed in different directions. But the Cardinals got off to a roaring start in 1922, as O’Brien added Chicago native Arnie Horween to his backfield to pair up with Paddy Driscoll. The 5-11, 206-pound back from Harvard gave the Cards a nice one-two punch.
In a season where the Cardinals played ten of their eleven games at Comiskey Park (only traveling to Canton, Ohio to face the Bulldogs), O’Brien’s squad played their best football. When some teams were mostly traveling teams, like the Columbus Panhandles, Dayton Triangles, and Oorang Indians (with the great Jim Thorpe), the Cards were truly a home team. Most managers were willing to travel to Chicago and take a chance on a bigger payday at Comiskey Park. In their ten home games the Cardinals averaged nearly 6,000 fans a game.

But it was the bigger games of the year that paid off for O’Brien. After starting the season with six straight victories the Cardinals were right in the middle of the league’s race for the championship. Next up was back-to-back games with the best team in the NFL- the Canton Bulldogs. On November 19th the Bulldogs played at Comiskey Park in front of 7,500 screaming fans. The game was a defensive battle from the beginning as the two teams went into the 4th quarter scoreless. Then the Bulldogs scored the only points with a touchdown pass late in the game. The following week in Canton the Cardinals suffered another set-back losing to the Bulldogs, this time 20-3.

With their record at 6-2 the Cardinals still had an outside chance to win the NFL title but a terrible 7-3 loss to the lowly Dayton Triangles kept them out. But there was a bright spot for Chris O’Brien. In between the loss to the Triangles the Cardinals played two games against their cross-town rivals, the newly named Chicago Bears.

The Bears, playing at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on the north side, also got off to a fast start winning their first four games. But then, just like the Cardinals, the Bears lost a tough one to the Canton Bulldogs, losing 7-6 in front of 10,000 fans at Cubs Park. Halas’s squad rebounded by winning four straight including a 20-10 victory over the tough Akron Pros on Sunday November 26th. Four days later they would face their Chicago rival. 
Thanksgiving Day Game

Chicago Daily Tribune game preview, Nov. 30, 1922
written by Hugh Fullerton
Credit:  Chicago Daily Tribune
It was now time to see who could make claim of the best pro football team in Chicago. On Thanksgiving Day O’Brien saw 14,000 fans at Comiskey to watch his Cardinals pull off a 6-0 victory behind field goals by Paddy Driscoll and Ralph Horween (Arnie’s brother). In a game promoted as the “post-graduate championship of Chicago” two of the biggest stars went blow-for-blow on the gridiron. Cardinals halfback Paddy Driscoll, after a rough tackle by two Bears players got off the pile and suddenly slugged Bears back Joey Sternaman. The Chicago Herald-Examiner wrote:

    “Chicago’s Cardinals carved the Chicago turkey yesterday, gobbled all the white meat, stuffing and left the Bears the neck, wing, gizzard and a bunch of black eyes. The struggle between the post-grad teams of north and south sidesended with the score of 6-0 in favor of the south siders, after a battle which included a half-riot, two fist-fights, and finished peacefully enough with the clanging pf patrol wagons bringing the reserves.”
Joey Sternaman. Colorization by PFJ
In Halas’s autobiography Halas on Halas, Papa Bear (who started at right end that game) describes the big fist-fight between star players Driscoll and Joey Sternaman:

    “What happened was this: Paddy Driscoll made a good run around end, reaching our 20. Joe Sternaman and I thought that must not be allowed to happen again. On the next play, Driscoll set off with the ball. Joey and I brought him down with all the force we could muster, which was considerable. Paddy was down but not out. He pulled himself to his feet, wobbled toward Joey and started pummeling him with both fists. That is when the thugs came out. So did reserve players. So did fans from both stands. The police came out, too, wielding sticks and blowing whistles and shouting. In time, in quite a time, order was restored.”
George Halas. Coloization by PFJ
The game official quickly ejected Driscoll. Halas, in a moment of sportsmanship asked the official to reconsider. Hugh Fullerton of the Tribune wrote:

    “The Bearsoffered to waive the rules and let Driscoll return to play. The officials declined, and during the argument another fight started suddenly with three of the Cardinals swinging at Halas, who was knocked flat with a burly Cardinal riding him.”

After the fist-a-cuffs and the dust settled the Cardinals were the one rejoicing the 6-0 victory. But both teams saw their championship hopes disappear for good as the Canton Bulldogs capped off an unbeaten season by going 10-0-2.

Despite not winning the league title, both Halas and O’Brien saw the rather large crowd at Comiskey and decided on a second game.

The Rematch

Decatur Daily Review game preview
December 10, 1922
Ten days later back at Comiskey Park (Cubs Park was unusable because of construction work) the rematch with the Bears saw 15,000 fans watch another great Cardinals performance by their star - Paddy Driscoll. During pre-game both teams came out in red jerseys. The jerseys looked too much alike, so the two teams agreed that one would change into something more distinctive. So Halas gathered up some white sleeveless t-shirts that could easily be pulled over the jerseys to differentiate the teams.
Paddy Driscol. Colorization by PFJ
On the rather frozen field Driscoll provided the winning margin by kicking three field goals in a 9-0 win, giving the Cardinals the season sweep. The next day the Chicago Tribune wrote 11 paragraphs to recap the game under the headlines of “Driscoll Kicks 3 Field Goals to Beat Bears, 9-0.” But on the back page of the newspapers the Tribune ran a full-page of "photos of the day" and within that page there were two photos of the Bears-Cardinals game played on December 10, 1922. The two photos show the Bears playing with sleeveless white t-shirts over their jerseys. The top photo showed Dutch Sternaman carrying the ball in front of his lead blocker. The bottom photo showed Cardinals end Eddie Anderson with the ball breaking a Bears tackle.
Two action photos from Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1922. Notice
Bears wearing white sleeveless t-shirts.
Credit:  Chicago Tribune
One game featured a brawl, while the other featured some of the weirdest uniforms of all-time. In the end the Cardinals’ two victories over the Bears gave Chris O’Brien and his Cardinals bragging rights in the Windy City.


  1. Did the Bears have spare t-shirts? You would think that a few would get ripped and shredded during the game.

    BTW, the top photo of Comiskey Park would date from the mid-1930's, not 1922, just by looking at the body styles of the cars in the parking lot.

  2. very enlightening and entertaining story Chris