Midwest Football League (1935–1940)
|Sport||American Professional Football|
|Known for||precursor to 3rd competitor of National Football League|
|CEO||George J. Heitzler, president|
|No. of teams||unknown (1935), 7 (1936), 6 (1937–1938), 8 (1939)|
|Last champions||Columbus Bullies|
The Midwest Football League (MFL) was a minor professional American football league that existed from 1935 to 1940. Originally comprising teams from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, the league eventually expanded its reach to include teams from Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California to become a national league with major league aspirations by 1939. In 1938, the league became the American Professional Football League after the collapse of the second major league of the same name, but changed its name once again the following year to American Professional Football Association (APFA). Some sources refer to it as the American Professional Football League.
Originally without major league aspirations, the APFA changed its ambition along with its name in 1939 when it admitted the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Bulldogs, two teams that survived the 1937 AFL collapse and spent the 1938 season as independent teams. Another independent Ohio team, the Columbus Bullies, also joined the loop for 1939.
After the end of the 1939 season, the league was preparing to continue as a major league (with Milwaukee replacing Los Angeles in the lineup) when eastern businessmen lured Cincinnati, Columbus, and Milwaukee to join teams based in Boston, Buffalo, and New York to form a new American Football League. The resulting split doomed the APFA as two members folded and two others were turned away from membership in the new league).
Midwest Football League (1935–1937)
The Midwest Football League was formed in 1935 with George J. Heitzler as president and James C. Hogan as secretary-treasurer. Like the National Football League in its first year, it was a loose assemblage of teams from the American Midwest, with teams representing Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis, Louisville, Columbus, Ohio, and Springfield, Illinois. The league did not maintain standings for its first year and declared the Cincinnati Models, Indianapolis Indians and Louisville Tanks tri-champions.
In its second year the MFL was transformed from an informal collection of teams to an official minor league of professional American football. A second team from Cincinnati, the Treslers (named after sponsor Tresler Oil), and 1935 tri-champion Indians were replaced by another team from Indianapolis, the Leons. After a regular season in which the Cincinnati Models finished with an undefeated, untied record, the Louisville Tanks defeated them in the league championship game, 2-0 Two weeks later, the Models defeated the Tanks in a rematch, 19-7, but the MWL considered the contest to be an exhibition game with no effect on the status of the league championship.
Final league standings – 1936
Championship: Louisville Tanks 2, Cincinnati Models 0
Beaten by the Models both on and off the field, the Cincinnati Treslers – with quarterback Pete Rose, Sr. (father of baseball's Pete Rose) – left the MFL. That was not the only change involving a Cincinnati professional football team: Models head coach Hal Pennington was enticed by Queen City Athletics, Inc., to form a new team, this time to compete in a major pro football league: the Cincinnati Bengals of the second American Football League.
The Treslers were not the only MFL team to leave the league in 1937. The Springfield Bicos and Columbus Bobos also left, while the Ashland Armcos (named after a local steel manufacturing business) joined. With new player-coach John Wiethe, the Cincinnati Models returned to its winning ways, including a 95-7 demolition of the Indianapolis Indians, which failed to win a game for the second consecutive year. Only a loss to Ashland kept the Models from another unbeaten regular season.
The 1937 league championship game was a rematch of the two teams who battled for the title in 1936, with the same result: the Louisville Tanks shut out the Models to win its third title in the Tanks' third season of competition.
Final league standings – 1937
|St. Louis Gunners||1||4||1||.200||50||60|
Championship: Louisville Tanks 13, Cincinnati Models 0
After the conclusion of the 1937 season, change was inevitable for the MFL as the second AFL imploded. Indianapolis left after two years without a win, Ashland departed after one winning season. The MFL quickly adopted the name of the recently deceased league and expanded its reach by adding teams in East Chicago, Indiana and Nashville, Tennessee. The Cincinnati Bengals (formerly of the second AFL) were asked to join the newly minted American Football League… and opted to remain an independent team instead.
On the other hand, Bengals head coach Hal Pennington did return to the Cincinnati Models, just in time to see the team's name change to the Cincinnati Blades.
American Professional Football League (1938)
The Louisville Tanks won championships in the three years of the existence of the Midwest Football League. Prior to joining the AFL, the St. Louis Gunners were an independent team that actually played three games in the NFL in 1934 as a replacement for the ill-fated Cincinnati Reds. After the demise of the AFL, the Gunners returned to an independent status. The Cincinnati Blades disbanded October 13, 1938 (after playing three games, all Blades victories); the scheduled games were not cancelled, and as a result, they were officially recorded as forfeit losses for the Blades. League requests for the Cincinnati Bengals (a team that was founded by Blades head coach Hal Pennington) to replace the Blades for the remaining games were rebuffed.
|St. Louis Gunners||4||3||1||.571||31||73|
Playoffs: Louisville defeated Chicago 13-0; St. Louis defeated Nashville 19-13
Championship: Louisville defeated St. Louis 3-0 to win fourth consecutive championship of MFL/AFL
Following the three Midwest Football League champions from 1935 to 1937, the Tanks became the first professional football team to win four consecutive league championships. Only the Cleveland Browns (AAFC 1945–1949, NFL 1950) have managed to match this feat so far.
American Professional Football Association (1939)
The league changed its name once again in 1939 as it bares itself of any pretense of being a regional league. After one year of being the American Football League, the league became the American Professional Football Association, ironically the original name of the professional football league that became the National Football League. The name of the league was not the only change for the season: the Dayton Rosies became the Dayton Bombers; the Nashville Rebels left the league after only one year of competition; and Wisconsin's Kenosha Cardinals and three familiar teams joined the loop for the upcoming season.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Bulldogs were members of the second AFL in 1937, with Los Angeles winning the championship with an undefeated, untied record. The Bengals and the Columbus Bullies became charter members of the successor to this league, the "third AFL" in 1940, with the Bullies winning the championship in both years of its existence. The Bulldogs became a charter franchise of the Pacific Coast League in 1940.
The Cincinnati Bengals were wooed by the league on at least three occasions before they finally agreed to join for the 1939 season. The Bengals were offered an opportunity to join the former Midwest Football League in 1938 (as a natural rival for the Cincinnati Models/Blades, and when the Blades stopped playing, the AFL asked the Bengals if they could take over the Blades' remaining games in the 1938 Blades' AFL schedule. Citing scheduling conflicts, the Bengals refused the invitation.
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||7||1||0||.875||223||35|
|St. Louis Gunners||5||6||0||.455||141||164|
There was no championship game in 1939. In a meeting of the owners of the APFA on January 7, 1940, the Columbus Bullies were announced as league champions with a 9-2 record, despite the standings shown above. It was the only time that the Louisville Tanks failed to win the league title.
Demise of the league
As the 1939 season wound down, the league anticipated change as Los Angeles left the loop to help form the football version of the Pacific Coast League. With the subsequent awarding of a new franchise to Milwaukee, the league announced plans to compete with the National Football League as the Green Bay Packers protested the intrusion into their territory.
In July 1940, the league's ambitious plans for the upcoming season were derailed. A group of businessmen based on the American East Coast started to form their own American Football League, adding franchises in Boston, New York, and Buffalo to APFA members Cincinnati, Columbus, and Milwaukee. The action split the two-year-old league and mortally wounded it. After Louisville and Dayton both decided not to field teams for the 1940 season, only three teams (Chicago, Kenosha, and St. Louis) remained. The APFA subsequently called it a day.
Kenosha and St. Louis applied to the new AFL for membership and were eventually rejected. They (and the Chicago Indians) rejoined the ranks of independent professional football teams in 1940, ironically often playing the teams that left the APFA in the first place. For two games in 1941, Kenosha loaned three players to the AFL's Buffalo Tigers.
- George Gipe, The Great American Sports Book (Doubleday 1978) ISBN 0-385-13091-0
- "Kenosha Cardinals: Life on the Fringe (1983)". arenafootball.tribe.net. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
- All Those A.F.L.'s: N.F.L. Competitors 1935-41 Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine – Bob Braunwort, Professional Football Researchers Association (1989)
- Back Before Bengalmania: Cincinnati's First Brush With the Big Time – Bob Gill, Professional Football Researchers Association (1989)
- some sources, such as Back Before Bengalmania: Cincinnati's First Brush With the Big Time report that the league had a Shaughnessy playoff in which the first place Models played the fourth place Springfield Bicos while the second place Tanks played the third place Dayton Rosies, with the Models and Tanks advancing to the championship.
- David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (Greenwood Press 1987) ISBN 0-313-25771-X, p. 141
- The Bulldogs: L.A. Hits the Big Time - Bob Gill, Pro Football Research Association (1982)