The original World Series
I recently had the pleasure of giving former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani a quick tour of the Hall of Fame. The former presidential candidate was in town for a speaking engagement and told his handlers that he really wanted to visit. So we were only too glad to accommodate. Not too surprising I quickly found out that the Mayor knows his football and proudly professed that although he is a Jets fan, he is a “bigger” fan of the Giants, stemming from a loyalty going back before the Jets existed. The Mayor’s football knowledge, however, wasn’t just Jets and Giants, he impressed me with his all around appreciation for the history of the game. We even talked Brooklyn (football) Dodgers. But one story he was unfamiliar with and undoubtedly will now add to his repertoire of football conversation was the story of pro football’s first indoor game. Giuliani, like most visitors to the Hall of Fame, was unaware that the first pro football game played indoors occurred in 1902 and was played in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The Game was played on December 28, 1902 as the first of a series of games between what was promoted as the best pro teams of the day. The teams that actually participated, however, were a combination of second-tier teams and teams that combined their rosters specifically for the tournament. The tournament promoter, Tom O’Rourke set up a schedule that would allow the favored hometown Knickerbockers to play neighboring Orange (NJ) Athletic club in the final championship game scheduled for New Year's Day. He figured such a scenario would provide more fans and a better payday. Wanting to eliminate the weaker teams early, he scheduled the Syracuse Athletic Club and a team billed simply as “New York” to open the series. O’Rourke assumed the “New York” team, who touted a roster of good players from several different pro teams would eliminate Syracuse and advance to the nest round. He also figured the stronger and favored Knickerbockers team would eliminate its early competition and advance until all that was left standing were the Knickerbockers and Orange. Well, things went wrong right from the start. What O’Rourke didn’t know was that Syracuse had loaded up its roster with players from other teams including the powerful Watertown Red and Blacks. The Syracuse Athletic club not only defeated the bolstered New York Athletic Club, but clobbered both the Knickerbockers and the Orange Athletic club and claimed the 1902 indoor World Championship.
One more note…the game was billed as the 1902 World Series of Professional Football. Baseball didn’t use the term “World Series” until 1903. Technically, the first World Series was a football game.
So, if some time in the future you hear Rudy Giuliani mention pro football's first indoor game and New York City’s role, you’ll know where he first heard the story.
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