Through much of its first three decades of existence, the NFL saw 49 teams go under, never to be heard from again. Nary a fan has heard of teams such as the Brooklyn Tigers, the Columbus Panhandles, or the Rock Island Independents. Interestingly, just one team, the Boston Yanks, represents the epicenter of New England. This is their story.
It was in the middle of World War II and Ted Collins had an idea. After spending the past few years managing famed singer Kate Smith, he was getting bored with his work life. He yearned for zest. Like many men with a big plan in mind, he sought the biggest stage.
He had always admired the fledgling NFL and saw potential in a league that was losing teams left and right. At first, he wanted to manage a team that played in the towering Yankee Stadium, but in those days, not even the city's beloved Giants played there, instead playing across the river in the Polo Grounds.
Seeing no other viable option in the Big Apple, Collins moved on to Boston, Massachusetts. However, he still had Yankee Stadium swimming around in his mind and named the new team "the Yanks". Ironically, his new team would be playing in Boston's Fenway Park, home of the Yankee's hated rivals. It was for that very reason that he could never win over the hometown crowd.
Clad in green and yellow for the owner's love for the University of Notre Dame -not Boston's rich Irish tradition- the team held training camp at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts under the guidance of coach Herb Kopf.
Like many coaches of his era, Kopf had been a player in college and the pros, having played for Washington and Jefferson University and the Hartford Blues. As an end for W&J in 1922, he earned the distinction of being the first freshman to play in the Rose Bowl.
Under his guidance, the Yanks finished 2-8 that first year of 1944 with both of their wins being against the similarly ill-fated Brooklyn Tigers. The newly-established Yanks showed just how far they were from contention while losing to the eventual league runner-up Giants by scores of 22-10 and 31-0.
Due to a combination of poor attendance and lack of funds, the Tigers were forced to merge with the Yanks in 1945, forming a weird mashup of names while keeping Herb Kopf as coach. With the added talent, they were even better than the previous year, opening 1945 with a win over the Steelers and, after a bye, beating the Redskins. While the Redskins would go on to lose the NFL Championship Game to the Cleveland Rams, that early October day belonged to the Yanks as they humbled their formidable foe 28-20.
Brimming with confidence, the Yanks followed that up by tying the Giants in Yankee Stadium, the very spot that their owner lusted over just a year earlier. Given the fact that the Giants resided in the media capital of the world, this was no small feat. The Yanks were making headway in establishing themselves as real contenders. But the game of football can be fickle. While a team may do well one week, it can just as easily fall flat on its face the next. That's exactly what happened when the Yanks were humbled by the Packers 38-14. From there, their season fell apart, only winning once more against the Steelers while posting a 3-6-1 record.
In 1946, the Tigers folded, giving way for the Yanks to fully consume themselves in all things Boston. After training camp at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts, the Yanks failed to win a game until late November when they beat the newly-minted Los Angeles Rams. Boston would end the year with a dismal 2-8-1 record.
The following year, the Yanks got a new coach. Clipper Smith had been a standout guard at Notre Dame from 1917 through 1920, experiencing the transition when Knute Rockne took over the reins. He learned a lot during his time in South Bend and embarked on a long, winding coaching career, making stops in Columbia (Oregon), Gonzaga, Santa Clara, Villanova, Cherry Point Marines and San Francisco. In addition to coaching football, he also coached basketball and baseball at several of his stops, maintaining a well-rounded knowledge of athletics. The Yanks' management hoped that his knowledge could bring the franchise to prominence in the still-infant NFL.
What followed was their best season yet. Beaten down for years by the powerhouse teams of the league, Boston set out to prove their worth, taking pride in beating the Giants in New York and the Rams in Los Angeles and even beating the Eagles by a touchdown. The win against Philadelphia was particularly sweet as the Eagles would go on to lose that year's championship only to win the next two, becoming one of the premier franchises in the old NFL before it merged with the AAFC in 1950.
Despite their moral boosting victories, the Yanks still finished 1947 with a 4-7-1 record and were bleeding money. They knew that unless they won more games and really started to draw a significant crowd, then 1948 would most likely be their last.
They failed to do both and going into their last game, they had managed to win just two games. Going up against the eventual champion Eagles for their regular season finale at Fenway Park, the Yanks knew that this would probably be their last game ever and wanted to leave the game on a high note. Despite having been outscored by almost 200 points in 1948, they gave their all against Philadelphia. Although the Eagles struck first, the Yanks rallied, scoring 24 unanswered points to take a commanding 24-7 lead.
The Eagles struck again with Tommy Thompson throwing his second touchdown pass of the game to narrow the deficit to ten. But Boston refused to kneel before one of the great teams of that era. First Joe Golding picked off Thompson's pass (his second of the afternoon) returning it 89 yards for a score. Then, after a long, exhaustive drive, Rudy Romboli plunged into the endzone to give the Yanks a commanding 37-14 lead before 9,600 stunned fans. With that, the Yanks withered into oblivion, never to be heard from again.