Friday, April 15, 2016

Who's Who in Major League Football Magazines

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Who's Who in Major League Football, 1935 Edition

On Tuesday Pro Football Journal posted an article on NFL courtesy passes handed out by the NFL office during the league’s first two decades. Former NFL President Joe F. Carr was behind the policy of sending free games passes to sportswriters and special guests across the country. About the same time, Carr looked into other ways of promoting the league. He always wanted to put the NFL- its players and coaches- in the public’s eye. In 1935 he came up with another way to accomplish that.

On May 18th NFL Owners met at the Fort Pitt Hotel in Pittsburgh to discuss league matters. Sometime during this meeting President Carr brought up a new promotional item that was being developed through his office in Columbus, Ohio. That fall Carr helped in the release of a NFL publication titled “Who’s Who in Major League Football.”

1935 Edition

The publication was authorized and distribution by the National Football League and all nine NFL teams would cooperate with President Carr in getting this unique publication finished.

Carr made an agreement with B.E. Callahan Publishers in Chicago, Illinois to produce the magazine. They published the Major League Baseball’s version, Who’s Who in the Major League, so it was a logical choice. The baseball version was very popular with fans and Carr wanted to produce a football version to get his league, its teams and players, more publicity. The yearly publication would list every player on every team in the big leagues and include photos and bios. Carr was excited about seeing his league and players getting the same attention.

Edited by Harold “Speed” Johnson- former sports writer for the Chicago American- who was editor-in-chief of the Who’s Who in the Major Leagues series. To help him with some of the writing he hired Wilfrid Smith, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, who also played six seasons in the NFL with Muncie Flyers, Hammond Pros, Louisville and the Chicago Cardinals. After his playing career ended Smith joined the Tribune in 1926.
Harold "Speed" Johnson, editor, and Wilfrid Smith,
Johnson was in charge of compiling all the photos and putting together the biographical material on all of the players and coaches. Johnson received total cooperation from Carr and the teams in gaining this information. Smith would write several one-page articles on: “The Rules of the Game,” “Place of Major League Football in American Sports,” and “This Game of Football.” 

The magazine was 96 pages in length. On the cover was a color drawing of a football player carrying the pigskin wearing a leather helmet. The background was yellow with red bold lettering with the title- “Who’s Who in Major League Football.” The cost of the publication was 25 cents.

One of the added features inside the publication was one of Carr’s more genius ideas. A special coupon was attached to the magazine’s title page when you opened the cover. It was a free ticket to any NFL game “For Ladies Only.” The coupon read:

    “This coupon may be exchanged at any box office of any club in the National Football league for a ticket entitling a lady to a grandstand seat at any one of the official games listed on the back of this coupon during the 1935 seasonPROVIDED the holder of this coupon is accompanied by a gentleman escort who purchases a ticket to the same game.


Joe F. Carr
President National Football League”
1935 NFL Coupon for "Ladies Only"

The colorful words “PROVIDED the holder of this coupon is accompanied by a gentleman escort” is advertising gold. Carr was always looking for ways to get fans out to the game. When Carr was the manager of the Columbus Panhandles and his squad featured the great Nesser Brothers- all six of them- as his main gate attraction he made the same offer to ladies with a small twist. Back in 1909 for a game against the Pittsburgh Lyceum at Indianola Park in Columbus, the Ohio State Journal (Nov. 4th) wrote about Carr’s big promotional plan:

    “A splendid opportunity will be given the ladies to see this big game, as the manager [Carr] had decided to admit them free. Excellent arrangements are being made to care for an immense crowd and all will have an excellent chance to see the game. Plenty of seats, both grand stand and sideline bleachers, are assured. Added to this will be excellent street car service to handle the crowd to and from the grounds.”

This time the female fan did not need a “gentleman escort” to attend the game. In essence the NFL coupon deal in 1935 was a buy one, get one free ticket, which was a good idea to attract fans. Each NFL team provided Carr two home game to honor the promotion.

The 1935 edition of Who’s Who in Major League Football was completed on the eve of the 1935 College All-Star game on the night of August 29th and sold at newsstands across the country- especially in NFL cities. The first four pages consisted of one page bios and photos of President Carr and his right hand man Vice-President Carl Storck.
Inside player bios and photos, 1935 Chicago Bears
The bulk of the magazine was the biographies and photos of each NFL team. The bios on each players would consist of the player’s background, schools attended and if they graduated, height-weight, color of eyes-hair, married or single, any children, nicknames, key statistics, and like a phone book, would list the player’s actual home address. Giants end Red Badgro lived at 318 Shinn St. Kent, Wash. While Lions guard Ox Emerson lived at 921 Ashland Street, Houston, Texas. In the 1935 edition there are 23 future Hall of Famers featured (players, coaches, and owners). Some of the more colorful quotes within the bios are:

Giants fullback Max Krause- “Krause is one of those slambang footballers who ‘bears down’ every instant of the game.”

Bears end Bill Hewitt- “The rooters neve have any difficulties in following the demon ball hawk up and down the chalkline for he goes into battle minus a helmet.”

Lions halfback Buddy Parker- “He is employed by one of the Detroit motor car companies during the off-season.”

Giants guard Dutch Gibson- “Numerous feats of strength have been attributed to ‘Dutch’ Gibson, veteran guard of the champion New York Giants, one of his pet accomplishments being the tearing of a deck of playing cards into quarters.”
Inside player photos, 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers
Each team’s one page history was written by a beat writer from that specific city:

New York Giants: Rud Rennie, New York Herald-Tribune
Chicago Bears: Jim Gallagher, Chicago American
Detroit Lions: Leo McDonnell, Detroit Times
Pittsburgh Pirates: Harry Keck, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph
Boston Redskins: John Drohan, Boston Traveler
Green Bay Packers: John Walter, Green Bay Press-Gazette
Brooklyn Dodgers: Frank Reil, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Chicago Cardinals: Howard Roberts, Chicago Daily News
Philadelphia Eagles: Ross Kaufman, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

In the back of the magazine were: photos and short bios on each NFL game official; terms explaining simple football rules; a one-page preview of the 1935 College All-Star game; and an index. The back cover featured an advertisement for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer & Ale.

Who’s Who in Major League Football was successful that the NFL brought it back the following year.

1936 Edition

1936 Edition of Who's Who in Major League Football
The 1936 edition was pretty similar to 1935. It was released by the same publisher, B.E. Callahan, and was 64 pages. It too cost 25 cents. The cover featured a drawing of a football player in full punting motion and wearing a number five jersey. For the second year Speed Johnson edited the magazine, this time going solo.

The publication also featured Joe Carr’s coupon for one free game for “Ladies Only” and the 13 games that the coupon could be redeemed. Just like 1935, the magazine was filled with tons of photos and short bios throughout. Inside the front cover was a team photo of the Detroit Lions who won the NFL title in 1935.
Inside player bios and photos, 1936 New York Giants
Besides the player photos and bios, the ’36 edition had short articles on the Chicago College All-Star game; 1935 NFL Standings and results; team stats; important rules used “exclusively in professional football”; an All-Pro Team; a one page tribute to Red Grange; and two full pages of all the NFL Officials.

But my favorite page is on page 25. It features a photo of the NFL’s 1935 leading rusher Doug Russell of the Chicago Cardinals and a chart of the top ten rushers and scorers in the league. The best thing is that Russell won the title with 499 rushing yards (12 game season). Since 1932 when the NFL began officially keeping statistics Russell’s 499 is the second lowest in NFL history for a league leader- only Pug Manders of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 rushed for fewer yards with 486 in 12 games.
Inside NFL Rushing Leader, Cardinals halfback Doug Russell
For some reason the NFL stopped putting out the magazine after the 1936 edition. Three years later after Carr had passed away from a heart attack (May of 1939), his replacement Carl Storck brought back Who’s Who of Major League Football.

1939 Edition

1939 Edition of Who's Who in Major League Football
In 1939 B. E. Callahan published a third issue of Who’s Who. This one was a scaled down version of the previous two, and to be honest, such a huge letdown. Only 24 pages in length the 1939 edition contained half as less information and photos as the previous two issues. This issue costs a mere 10 cents.

Featured on the cover was Giants star halfback Tuffy Leemans. Inside featured very short bios and very few photos. The publication was written by Howard Roberts of the Chicago Daily News. In the middle spread was a list of NFL officials and league stats. On the back page was a team photo of the 1938 Giants who had won the NFL championship that season.
Inside player bios and photos, 1939 Detroit Lions
After two spectacular editions of Who’s Who of Major League Football, the 1939 edition was a big disappointment. Fans must’ve not liked it either since it was the last one done by the National Football League.


  1. Nooow I figured out this Joe Carr coupon I just acquired. PFJ comes through again!

  2. Is there a way to see the complete magazines?