One Hundred Years Ago Professional Football Came to Philadelphia. We Never Looked Back.

It’s been 100 years since Pro Football began in Philadelphia. Its arrival was not a sudden explosion of athleticism dropped into the middle of North Philadelphia with a well healed plan for expansion. And it did not begin on the wings of an Eagle, but rather the sting of a Yellow Jacket.

The Frankford Yellow Jackets were spawn from the Frankford Athletic Association, founded in 1899 thanks to the generous nature of Frankford Hospital, the Boy Scouts, and the local American Legion Post 211.

Playing in 1899 Philadelphia at Wistar Field, the Frankford Athletic Association beat the Pioneer Athletic Association, Jefferson Medical College, the Philadelphia Athletic Club, and an unnamed team from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although the Athletic Association crumbled in 1909, some from the original team merged into the Loyola Athletic Club.

By the 1920s, word had spread across the US about the Yellow Jackets of the Frankford Athletic Association. Across town, the Union Quakers of Philadelphia were complete with University of Penn and Pro Stars like Bert Bell. In 1921, they would win the Philadelphia City Championship. The following year, all remaining Union Quakers players were absorbed into the Yellow Jackets who would go on to win the City Championship in 1922 and an NFL Championship in 1926.

Photo Courtesy of Wikapedia.org

In September of 1924 — Coach Punk Berryman had assembled his team in the Northwest part of the City and professional football began in Philadelphia. Frankford Village, first established by the Quakers in 1682 — would soon be known across the country as the Yellow Jackets went 11–2–1. In 1925, the Yellow Jackets were front and center again around the 1925 NFL Championship Controversy, where both Notre Dame and Pottsville teams were accused of infringement for playing the championship game in Philadelphia.

Photo of Wikapedia.org and the Frankford Historical Society.

And then in 1926 — the year the the entire world would know Guy Chamberlain’s Yellow Jackets and the Frankford section of the City when the 14–0–1 team complete with Hugh Stockton and Two-Bits Homan would capture the NFL Title. The fourteen win season would stand as an NFL record until it was broken by the 1984 San Francisco 49ers. The team would also post an 11–3–2 record which was good for second place in the East in 1928.

Despite the efforts of Legion Post 211 — the Frankford Yellow Jackets would suffer extreme hardship in 1930 as a result of the Great Depression. After a fire at Frankford Stadium, the team was forced to play at Municipal Stadium and the Baker Bowl, where the Philadelphia media tried unsuccessfully to label them as “Philadelphia’s Yellow Jackets.” As a cost saving measure — Frankford would finish 1931 completely on the road with a mark of 1–6–1. On October 26, 1931 — the Yellow Jackets played their last game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Bears — a 13–12 victory.

In 1933 — the rights to the defunct Yellow Jackets were purchased by a player from that Philadelphia City Championship Team of 1921 — Bert Bell and Lud Wray. The rest is history.

A century after the Frankford Yellow Jackets took the field for the first NFL season in 1924 — Philadelphia football has gained a national reputation. This fall — its Eagles will open their season not only as a Philadelphia obsession or an American obsession, but an international phenomenon as South American fans will see them against the Green Bay Packers for the home opener in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Shadows of the Frankford team are everywhere. Frankford Fire Engine 14 still carries the moniker of the Yellow Jackets to this day. Deep in the third quarter of the 2023 NFC Championship Game — up 21–7 — Jalen Hurts pushed from behind center and scored a touchdown from two yards out. The TV announcers paused for a moment to recognize the record that the Eagles has just broken scoring their 39th rushing touchdown of the season amid the excitement of advancing to the Super Bowl.

That record stood for nearly 100 years. It was previously held by the 1924 Frankford Yellow Jackets.

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