The Buffalo Indians were a professional American football team that competed in the third American Football League in 1940 and in 1941. The team played its home games in Civic Stadium in Buffalo, New York. Owned by the Buffalo American Legion, the Indians were managed by Earl "Red" Seick, who was also player-coach for the team for the first five games in 1940 (he was replaced by Orlando Nesmith for the rest of the season). While most of the AFL membership focused on raiding the rosters of the local members of the National Football League teams, the Indians (which did not have a local NFL competitor) concentrated on signing local talent, castoffs from the NFL, and men who played in the defunct second American Football League.
|Based in||Buffalo, New York, United States|
|League||American Football league III|
|Team history||Buffalo Indians (1940) |
Buffalo Tigers (1941)
|Team colors||Green, White (1940) |
Black, Gold (1941)
|Head coaches||Earl Seick (1940) |
Orlando Nesmith (1940-41)
Paul Engebretsen (1941)
|Owner(s)||Buffalo American Legion|
|Home field(s)||Civic Stadium|
Featuring the running talents of halfback Carl Littlefield, the Indians struggled to a 2-8 record in 1940 (having been shut out four times and forfeited one game; they also won one game by forfeit) and finished in fifth place. The club was reorganized in early 1941, with a new name (Buffalo Tigers) and a new coach (Tiny Engebretsen). The changes yielded the same results once league play resumed that fall, Buffalo finishing with a 2-6 record and fourth place in the five team loop before the AFL suspended operations after the Pearl Harbor attack and the U.S. entry into World War II.
By the time the war has ended, both the league and the Buffalo Tigers officially ceased to exist, but Buffalo's foray into major league football was not forgotten as the All-America Football Conference formed in 1946... with a new team, the Buffalo Bisons, being the new tenants in the newly renamed War Memorial Stadium.
The history of the Buffalo Indians begins in early 1940, with an agreement among businessmen in Buffalo, New York City, and Boston to start a new major league football league to compete with the established National Football League. At roughly the same time, a minor league calling itself the American Football League announced plans for expansion with the goal of becoming a major league itself. When the businessmen convinced the owners of the Columbus Bullies, Cincinnati Bengals and the newly minted expansion team, the Milwaukee Chiefs to join their league, the minor AFL imploded as the formation the new six-team "major league," the third "major" American Football League, was announced July 14, 1940.
The Indians were originally owned by the Buffalo American Legion, which "Red" Seick acting in the triple role of player, coach, and business manager. The team drew its players from two sources, area college stars and men who once played in the NFL and the second AFL.
Within two weeks of the league's organizational meeting (held in Buffalo's Hotel Lafayette, August 4–5, 1940), Seick proceeded to sign up local college talent and players who had been out of pro football for one or two years. The team's first quarterback was Steve Banas, former Pittsburgh Steeler and Detroit Lion. New starting tackle Ed Karp was another former Steeler who helped Byron White's rushing game decades before he became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. A third former Steeler, Carl Littlefield, became the Indians' starting halfback.
Despite the presence of local and veteran talent, the Indians suffered from a lack of offense. Banas was shifted from quarterback to fullback in the fourth game and was replaced behind center by former St. Bonaventure star Steve Hrycyszyn. About the same time, former New York Yankee Orlando "Ole" Nesmith was signed to be a backup halfback; a week later, Nesmith replaced Seick as player-coach of the Indians (which, at that time, had a 1-4 record). Buffalo then proceeded to lose four more games (one by forfeit) before winning its last scheduled game (against the Cincinnati Bengals) by forfeit.
While the Bengals had two games cancelled (against the Milwaukee Chiefs and against the New York Yankees) in 1940, the Buffalo Indians were involved in two forfeits, the last two forfeited games in the history of major professional football.
On November 17, 1940, the last scheduled home game in Buffalo was called after a storm dumped four inches of snow on the field, which was covered by a tarpaulin. The snow had partially melted overnight, and then froze on top of the cover... and also froze the tarp to the ground itself. Early-arriving fans assisted the grounds crew in a futile attempt to clear the field of snow and remove the tarp while other fans struggled to find usable seats in the stands. When the time for kickoff approached, it became apparent that the field would not be in playable condition for the game; so the officiating crew declared a forfeit in favor of the visiting New York Yankees.
Two weeks later, the Tigers were scheduled to play their last game of the season, but the scheduled opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, were so diminished by a rash of injuries that they couldn't field a team in time for the game. A forfeit was declared, this time in favor of the Tigers, the last forfeit to be declared in major professional football in the United States.
The span of time between the last game of the 1940 season and the first game of 1941 brought sizable changes to the Buffalo AFL team. A reorganization resulted in a new owner (coal magnate Fiore Cesare), a new coach (Paul Engebretsen), and a new team name (the Buffalo Tigers). Most of the 1940 Indians players did not return to Buffalo in 1941 to play as Tigers, but stars Steve Hrycyszyn, Steve Banas, and Carl Littlefield were back in the hope of improving on the 2-8 record the team had in 1940.
Engebretsen signed former Milwaukee Chief end Sherm Barnes and back Andy Karpus, who had started for four teams in two American Football Leagues. Joe Ratica, formerly of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bears, became the Tigers' new starting center.
The efforts to improve the offense from its four-shutout performance in 1940 appeared to be in vain as the 1941 season began when the Tigers were shut out by the Cincinnati Bengals (a team that lost twice to Buffalo the previous season) by a score of 29-0, and then to the newly renamed New York Americans 26-7 three days later, but the rematch with the Bengals ended in a 16-0 victory for the Tigers. It was the first on-field victory for the Buffalo franchise in over a year.
While Tiny Engebretsen's upgrades in the team's offense were taking hold (the Tigers scored touchdowns in each remaining game except one), they were still losing with regularity, matching the two wins they had in 1940. A 14-0 whitewash by the Milwaukee Chiefs ended the Tigers' 2-6 season.
One game with Johnny "Blood" McNallyEdit
The third American Football League featured teams with fluid rosters, and the Buffalo Indians and Tigers were no exception. For the October 8, 1941, game against the New York Americans, three members of the Kenosha Cardinals appeared in Buffalo Tigers uniforms: two members of the Cardinals roster (Johnny Dolan, former Pittsburgh Steeler and Chicago Cardinal Ernie Wheeler) and the Kenosha coach, eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Johnny "Blood" McNally. (McNally, to date, is the only player to have played in this particular incarnation of the AFL to be inducted into the Hall.
The Kenosha Cardinals had an unexpected two weeks off after the cancellation of two games between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Chiefs when McNally took notice of his old teammate Tiny Engebretsen's Buffalo Tigers were outmanned by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first game of the AFL season by the score of 29-0. McNally, Dolan, and Wheeler traveled from Kenosha to Buffalo for the Tigers' second game.
Against the Americans, McNally rushed five times in the game (longest run: eight yards), but the Tigers lost again, 26-7. While NcNally returned to Kenosha, Wheeler and Dolan stayed with the Tigers for a rematch with Cincinnati on October 19, 1941, a 16-0 victory for Buffalo. Dolan and Wheeler returned to Kenosha after the game, but a month later, Wheeler returned to Buffalo, this time with Kenosha teammate Clem Naughton in tow, for the Tigers' last two games of the 1941 season (both losses against the Milwaukee Chiefs).
Although the AFL lost the Boston Bears franchise prior to the beginning of the 1941 season, its owners were optimistic about the league's long-term future. Although the league's average attendance was less than that of the more-established NFL, the AFL seemed to be on as firm a financial footing as the older league. By the end of the 1941 season, the new Detroit franchise was preparing for a 1942 debut in the AFL. The league was the first major football league to complete a double round robin schedule, in which each team played each other twice.
All the plans for 1942 came to a sudden stop upon the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II on December 7, 1941. With the induction of college and professional players into the U.S. military, it became increasingly apparent to the AFL owners that the global conflict would put the continued success of the league into question.
On September 2, 1942, AFL president William B. Cox announced the suspension of league activities until the end of the war. Neither the third AFL nor the Buffalo Tigers returned; 1946 saw the beginning of a new professional football team in Buffalo (the Bisons, later renamed the Bills) in a new major league (the All-America Football Conference).
|Buffalo Indians||1940||2||8||0||5th (AFL)||Earl "Red" Seick, Orlando Nesmith|
|Buffalo Tigers||1941||2||6||0||4th (AFL)||Paul "Tiny" Engebretsen|
- Indians Occupy Faded Spot in Buffalo's Football Scrapbook Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine – Joe Marren, Professional Football Research Association (1997)
- When the Indians Roamed Buffalo's Gridiron Archived November 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine – Connie McGillicuddy, Professional Football Research Association (2000)
- History of Professional Football in Western New York Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine - www.billsbackers.com
- David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (Greenwood Press 1987) ISBN 0-313-25771-X, p. 142
- George Gipe, The Great American Sports Book (Doubleday 1978) ISBN 0-385-13091-0
- Kenosha Cardinals:Life on the Fringe (1983) Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- A Conversation With Hank Luebcke Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine - Richard Topp, Pro Football Researchers Association (1991)
- Kenosha Cardinals: Life on the Fringe Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine- Bob Carroll, Professional Football Researchers Association (1983)
- Vagabond Halfback - Denis J. Gullickson, ISBN 1-931599-73-4
- Kenosha Cardinals: Life on the Fringe Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine- Bob Carroll, Professional Football Researches Association (1983)
- University of Denver Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 1996
- Art Gottlieb profile – jewsinsports.org
- Maurice McGrath playing at center - Oswego Palladium-Times, September 17, 1940
- This and That in the World of Sports - Oswego Palladium-Times, August 16, 1940
- BGSU Football History
- New Buffalo Back – Oswego Palladium-Times, September 28, 1940
- History of Pro Football in Western New York Archived September 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- University of Montana Media Guide Archived November 28, 1999, at the Wayback Machine - page 97
- A Conversation With Hank Luebcke Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine - Richard Toppe, Professional Football Researchers Association (1991)
- Played one game with the Tigers (along with Dolan and Wheeler)- Vagabond Halfback - Denis J. Gullickson, ISBN 1-931599-73-4
- Spartans by pro team - Michigan State University
- The Oklahoma Football Encyclopedia
- Nothing Minor About It: The American Association/AFL of 1936-50 Archived March 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine - Bob Gill, Professional Football Researchers Association (1990)
- Hoya Heritage