Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Players of the Decade—1915-1925

By John Turney

As part of the celebration for NFL100 (The NFL's 100th Anniversary celebration), we at Pro Football Journal will be choosing players of each decade, including each mid-decade (to make sure players who began their careers in the middle of a decade have a chance to be recognized).

Since pro football began before the formation of the NFL we are beginning in 1915-1925. Yes, we know that is eleven years but the principle is maybe someone was great from 1917-1926 and someone else was great from 1914-1923 that they get included the same as if a player was great from 1962-71. In other words, we are not fussy about a year or two here or there.

So, for the pre-World War II selections, we consulted with Chris Willis of NFL Films who is the author of many books from that era, including the upcoming biography on Red Grange

So, here are our selections along with the runners up:

1915-25 Player of the Decade
Jim Thorpe
The top athlete of his generation he joined the Canton Bulldogs in 1915, helping them win three professional championships. He then played for six teams in the National Football League.  From 1920 to 1921, Thorpe was the first president of the American Professional Football Association (APFA), which became the NFL in 1922.

The Hall of Fame's website says, "He could run with speed as well as bruising power. He could pass and catch passes with the best, punt long distances and kick field goals either by dropkick or placekick."

1915-25 Defensive Player of the Decade
Cub Buck
Buck split his time in pro football (five years each) with the Canton Bulldogs and the Green Bay Packers.

1915-25 Player of the Decade Runner-Up
Pete Calac
Calac played from 1916-20 with the Canton Bulldogs who were three-time Ohio League Champion (1916, 1917, 1919). He then played in the NFL from 1921-26.

1915-25 co-Defensive Player of the Decade Runners-Up
Al Nesser and Jim Thorpe
 Nesser is someone that should be considered for the Hall of Fame if it is decided to have a 'makeup class' of left out players.
Thorpe was a great tackler on defense as and some say he was as good at defense as he was on offense.

Next up—the 1920s


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. John, I'm really glad you went back to consider pre-NFL. For Defensive Player of the Decade, I would have gone with Bob Nash without hesitation. Massillon wanted him in their line-up to have a chance at stopping Thorpe and at least one Akron researcher felt the team was never the same once he left after helping them win in '20. I like Buck and Al Nesser as runner-up choices. As much as I like Calac, I don't think he did enough to warrant top 2 recognition. I'd go with Norb Sacksteder in the offensive runner-up spot. He was unquestionably a pre-NFL star and doesn't get enough credit for his contribution to the '22 Bulldog championship team. My next choice would be Al Mahrt who together with Gus Dorais was one of the two first great passers, but Mahrt gets the edge on resume. Finally, there could have been no argument with Paddy Driscoll, but I see you recognized him for the 20s.