MERGER OF TWO PRO LEAGUES TO CAUSE BIG DIP IN SALARIES
DECEMBER 10 (New York) - The prices of passing T quarterbacks and sure fingered ends has taken a sharp dip in the professional football market. Fat bonus clauses and $100,000 long term contracts were the chief casualty of the surprise merger of the two big pro circuits - the NFL and the All-America conference. While the two leagues were engaged in their multi-million dollar "red ink" war, glittering college athletes were able to name their own price - and often get it. The NFL's Chicago Cardinals and AAC's New York Yankees wrangled a few years ago over Georgia's Charlie Trippi, with the Cards getting him for a reported $100,000 for four years. The NFL's Chicago Bears nailed Johnny Lujack of Notre Dame for $18,000 a year and the New York Giants of the same circuit landed Charlie Conerly of Mississippi after the Mississippian turned down, according to Branch Rickey, a $100,000 offer from the Brooklyn football Dodgers of the AAC. This is the type of high finance that gifted young men enjoyed in the four years of the pro feuding and that they may never enjoy again. Leon Hart, giant Notre Dame end who was rated the outstanding college player of the past season, indicated this week that he would demand plenty of the folding stuff - "say, $25,000 as a starter" - to line up with the mercenaries. Under the new setup, he may be lucky to get $10,000. The NFL's Detroit Lions and AAC's Colts picked the Irish all-American in their respective drafts, which now have been cancelled by the molding of the two leagues into one happy family of 13. Hart's name - along with that of other drafted collegians and surplus pro talent - will go into one big pool from which members will pluck again in January. The pro holdovers include played from the three AAC teams liquidated in the merger - Los Angeles, Chicago and Buffalo. Such standouts as Buffalo's Chet Mutryn and Ollie Cline and the Los Angeles Dons' Glenn Dobbs and George Taliaferro will go into the pot. There will be no more competitive bidding. Teams will get their players by assignment and sign them, if possible. The absence of bonuses may discourage many college stars from turning pro. Hart himself said he would go into other work unless the pro bid was "mighty attractive." Salaries now range from about $5,000 to $18,000 a year, with very few in the high bracket. Because the market is now flooded with talent and there is no competition, the higher paid performers may expect a cut after current contracts expire. Some may get it now regardless, since several pro contracts carry provisions for a salary reduction in the event of football peace.
BELL LEARNED HIS FOOTBALL WHILE PENN'S QUARTERBACK
DECEMBER 10 (Philadelphia) - Bert Bell, commissioner of the new professional football league, is a ruddy faced former football player and coach who talks loud, but works quietly and efficiently. Since his days at Haverford school, Bell has done little but eat, sleep and work football. It has been his life for most 40 years. Now at 55, he has agreed to a 10 year contract at an undisclosed salary - possibly more than $50,000 annually - to run the National-American football league. The NAFL was formed in the merger of the NFL and the All-America conference. It was a great thrill to the graying commissoner. All during the life of the AAC he refused to recognize its existence. To all reports of peace moves to end the costly pro football war, Bell simply had "no comment". That was his standard answer. In fact "no comment" became so much a part of Bell's conversation with reporters that many suggested he make a phonograph record of the two words to save his voice. But, though Bell ignored "the other league's existence", close friends knew that he looked forward to the day of peace in pro grid ranks. He refused to take a single step backward, however, in upholding the NFL as "the professional league". On and off the record, Bell expounded long and loud on the merits of his league. At the mere suggestion, he would quote attendance and financial figures on clubs in both leagues, most of it off the record. He loved nothing better than to tell about his lean days as owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and later the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was quarterback at the University of Pennsylvania after starring in football, basketball and baseball at Haverford. Bert did not have the physical attributes for a star football player, but he made up for it by a great competitive spirit and leadership ability. As quarterback at Penn in 1916-17 and 1919, Bell helped develop the hidden ball attack. After serving with the 20th general field hospital in World War I, he returned to Penn to captain the 1919 team. Following graduation Bell joined the Pennsylvania coaching staff, then headed by the late John Heisman. He served as backfield coach under Heisman and Lou Young until 1928. In 1930 and 1931 he was backfield coach at Temple university. The Frankford Yellowjackets franchise in the NFL became Bell's in 1933. The name of the team was changed to the Eagles. He retained control of the Eagles until 1940, when he sold his interest, but remained in the league as co-owner of the Pittsburgh club with Art Rooney. In 1946 he was named NFL commissioner and the following year was given a five year contract. The latter was torn up last year and he inked a 10 year pact.
AAC LIFE SHORT, BUT TURBULENT
DECEMBER 10 (Chicago Tribune) - Professional football developed into a cross-country, truly national sport with the arrival of the All-American conference, which yesterday merged with the pioneer National league, The conference gave Los Angeles and San Francisco their
first entry into big time, organized leagues. The All-America
made Baltimore a new center for the game and established
football firmly in Cleveland and Buffalo, where National league
franchises had failed or encountered tough sledding. It stirred
the National league's weaker teams to increased action. It
forced the old league to seek new horizons when it transferred
the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles after the Rams had won
the 1945 league title...EQUALIZED NFL SCHEDULE:
The National league, hitherto playing schedules dictated by a
few strong men among its members, in which the weak teams
got only the leavings, quickly adopted an equitable schedule.
Before the conference's organization, for instance, the Chicago
Cardinals played only two or three home games a season. No
sports organization ever had such an advance buildup as the
All-America. It was 27 months from announcement of its
organization until the first games were played in September
1946. The venture was belittled at first by the National league.
Elmer Layden, then commissioner of the NFL, dismissed the
upstart league with the curt statement, "Tell them to get a
football first." This was his response to the conference's
request for a working agreement....WARD ORGANIZED AAC:
The All-America conference was organized by Arch Ward,
sports editor of the Tribune. In explaining his interest in the
project, Ward wrote in his column on September 4, 1944:
"First of all, let it be known that this department doesn't have
a cent invested in any club in the new pro league. We aspire
to no league office. Only a few years ago we turned down a
10 year contract to serve as president of the NFL. The sports
editor of every metropolitan newspaper in the land knows that
a new major league will be an inevitable postwar development.
Two or three such efforts are already underway. All lack
promotion fundamentals. Assuming that they actually advance
to a stage where schedules are begun, it is unlikely they will
survive a season. (None of the proposed new leagues referred
to reached the operational stages.) We feel obligated to the
owners of teams in the NFL. We have dealt with them for
many year in All-Star football and will continue to do so. They
have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifting their
sport to a plane where it has been accepted enthusiastically
by the public. They are entitled to fair competition. Wildcat
promoters could cause them embarrassment by raiding their
talent ranks, even though such unsportsmanlike actions
eventually wrecked their leagues"...PROTECTION FOR
COLLEGIANS: "It is time, too, that someone stepped in to
protect the interest of college football and college players. Now that there is a second major circuit, the player will have bargaining rights for the first time. The All-America will help spread interest in a great game. It will make the NFL a better unit because of the competition. It will give recreation to thousands in centers which now have no Sunday football. It will be a wholesome addition to the postwar sporting scene." In competition for talent, the All-America matched the National league, dollar for dollar. Brightest of the graduating college stars gained long term contracts at fabulous figures. Among them was Charley Trippi of Georgia, now finishing the third year of a four year pact with the Cardinals at $25,000 annually. Many of the highly paid players proved bust. The Miami Seahawks were first to go under. Their franchise was transferred to Baltimore after the 1946 season. The Chicago club, first known as the Rockets, never could make headway against the Bears and Cardinals. After three rocky years, and under separate ownership, the Rockets took a new identity this year, but did only slightly better on the field and at the gate as the Hornets...RICKEY'S TEAM MERGED: After the 1948 season, the Brooklyn football Dodgers, one of Branch Rickey's few ill-advised enterprises, merged with the New York Yankees, owned by Dan Topping. This reduced the All-America to seven clubs. The Cleveland Browns enjoyed spectacular financial success the first three year, but gates slumped this year. Another strong unit in the conference was San Francisco. Financial pressure made inroads in the National league. Alexis Thompson sold his Philadelphia Eagles last year after they had won the National league championship. Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, declared he would not operate another season unless the league made a settlement. The Green Bay Packers, charter member of the National league, needed help this season to finish under their own power. The increased interest in professional football immediately was manifested at the turnstiles. In 1945, its last monopoly year, the National league reported its attendance at 1,270,041, an all-time high...ATTENDANCE QUICKLY SOARED: In 1946, the All-America's impact was reflected in its report of 1,376,998 fans compared to the National league's total of 1,732,135. This was a total count of 3,109,133 for the year. The combined figures reached 3,630,409 in 1947, when the National league played to 1,801,929 and the conference figures were 1,828,480. Last year's two league attendance was 3,143,865, divided between the All-America's 1,618,626 and the National's 1,525,239. The All-America has not reported its 1949 attendance, but its three year total is 4,824,104. The National league has not completed its schedule.
LINDHEIMER'S HEALTH DEFERS RAM-DON PACT
DECEMBER 10 (Los Angeles) - Executives of the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America conference and of the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL today hailed the merger of the leagues which also brings together the clubs' officials although the Dons' players will not be combined with the Rams. President Daniel F. Reeves of the Rams described the action as the most progressive step ever taken in professional football. He added that the result should be a clear cut improvement in the quality of the professional sport...LINDHEIMER IS HOPEFUL: Benjamin Lindheimer of Chicago and Beverly Hills, the biggest stockholder of the Dons, who has been ill with a heart ailment, said through a club statement that he will leave to the decision of his physician whether he will continue his interest in football. He added that he hoped his health will permit his affiliation with the Rams. Reeves said that, because of Lindheimer's illness, no effort has been made to enter into negotiations with him but, "I am sure I can speak for my partners when I say we will welcome an association with Mr. Lindheimer. We feel he has contributed in great measure to professional football and we will feel honored should his health allow him to be associated with the Rams." In Baltimore Walter S. Driskill, general manager and coach of the Baltimore Colts, said,. "We're mighty happy things turned out the way they did." The break came at the halfway mark of a civic drive to raise $250,000 to arm the Colts financially for next season. The club is managed by 18 directors who out up $10,000 each. They announced a couple of weeks ago that the till was empty - although no creditors were banging at the door - and $250,000 was needed now for next season's operations. The money is being raised by selling 50,000 tickets at $5 each for an exhibition game early next fall. Colt backers thought the merger would furnish the oomph to put the sales over. Coach Lawrence (Buck) Shaw, San Francisco 49ers coach, said the merger will be a good thing for professional football. Shaw, in Cleveland for Sunday's championship game between the Cleveland Browns and 49ers, remarked that attendance in San Francisco had increased this year and said the merger would make the outlook for next season even brighter. Green Bay, the smallest town in big time football, was jubilant with its inclusion in the new league. "It shows that the small town is still an important cog," said Emil R. Fischer, Green Bay Packers president and head of the merged league's National division. The Packers, NFL charter members and six times champions, have been in serious financial troubles this year. A citizens' committee raised $50,000 through a Thanksgiving day intrasquad game, but the club still is figured to lose money for the second straight year. Professional football's war cost Ted Collins, owner of the New York Bulldogs, a self-estimated $1,000,000 and he said he was glad it was over. Collins said the merger happened so quickly he was still undetermined who could coach his club next year. Charles Ewart is the coach of the Bulldogs while Norman (Red) Strader is coach of the Yankees. Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, said the "merger will get the club owners out of the headlines and the players back in. The competition between the Giants and the Yankees should be a healthy one and we will be eager to open our 26th consecutive season in the Polo Grounds next fall. The merger gives professional football a shot in the arm just when the interest was starting to fall off," he added. Neither Mara nor Collins had any idea which Yankee players would go to the Giants, coached by Steve Owen. "This is a great step for the benefit of the fans and pro football," said James P. Clark, head of the 100 man syndicate which purchased the Philadelphia Eagles this year. "It should assure well balanced teams and great competition. Commissioner Bell is to be congratulated for his patience and intelligence in working out this solution." In Pittsburgh Art Rooney, president of the Steelers, said, "Now I wish they would climax the peace party by matching the two champions in a postseason game. Pro fans deserve the treat." He admittedly has taken some financial lickings with the Steelers who have been members of the National league since 1933...NO PAY SLASH PREDICTED: "The average pay check will likely stay about the same," Rooney declared. "After all, prices are higher in everything. Last year, we lost $40,000. This season it's a standoff." Officials of the Detroit Lions expressed satisfaction over the merger. Edwin J. Anderson, president, pointed out that the club long had been on record favoring a merger "if that was to be the answer to better presentation of professional football." "I cannot see sound businessmen willing to conduct carelessly any venture whether it be professional football or any other occupation," Anderson said. "And because we feel strongly that a merger or peace between all pro football is the answer, we naturally endorse it."