OLD SCHOOL: A look at unbeaten teams in NFL history

Street Talk OLD SCHOOL: A look at unbeaten teams in NFL history

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The perfect Patriots roll into town on Monday to face the Ravens. The early spread has them a 20.5 point favorite, which is completely absurd and will change as we get closer to the game.
 
With everything taken into consideration the Patriots probably will leave Baltimore the way they came in, unbeaten. There will be continuous talk of an undefeated season all over the air waves as they get closer to week 16. After Baltimore the Patriots have the Steelers, Jets, and Dolphins all at home then finish with the Giants in East Rutherford. They could run the table, and claim to be the greatest team of all time if they win the championship, but only if they win everything.  One loss in the playoffs and no one but NFL buffs will remember them.
 
There have been six NFL teams to go unbeaten in a regular season and one team from the All America Conference which played from 1946 to 1949. Of those seven teams, three of them had ties, so just 4 were unbeaten and untied. Two of the unbeaten and untied teams lost in the post season, so there are just two teams to have gone unbeaten and untied and to go on and win their league championship.
 
The Patriots are attempting to join a small but elite club.
 
This will be the first of a three part article, we will briefly highlight each NFL team that has gone through the regular season without a loss, as we mentioned some had ties and some did not play a post season. Part one will highlight the teams that were unbeaten from the 1920’s, part two the 30’s, and 40’s. Part three will focus on the team you will be hearing more about every week, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.  We will dissect them in depth and discuss how great they really were or were not and compare them to the 2007 Patriots.
 
Part I
 
Canton Bulldogs, NFL Champions 1922, 1923
 
1922 10-0-2   
1923 11-0-1
 
1922
 
The NFL was only in its third year in 1922 but the league produced its first dynasty – the Canton Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs were unbeaten but had played to ties in 1922 and 1923, champions during both of those seasons.
 
After finishing fourth in 1921 with a 5-2-3 record, Bulldog owner Ralph Hay offered the Chicago Staleys (later Bears) star player, end Guy Chamberlin more money than George Halas did and Chamberlin became player coach for the Bulldogs in 1922.
 
With Chamberlin at end and future Hall of Famer  Pete “Fats” Henry at tackle and kicker along  with another future Hall of Famer Link Lyman at tackle, all playing both offense and defense the Bulldogs dominated. They outscored their competition 184-15 in twelve games, registering nine shut outs. They were held to 2 scoreless ties, 0-0 by the Dayton Triangles and 0-0 by the Toledo Maroons.
 
The Bears finished second at 9-3 and lost to the Bulldogs 7-6 at Cubs Park (later known as Wrigley Field) when the Bears quarterback Joey Sternaman missed a drop kick extra point that could have tied the game. Chamberlin led the league with 7 touchdowns but their line play was by far the best the young NFL had seen. There was no post season (that would not begin to 1932), the Bulldogs were awarded the championship based on having the best regular season record at 10-0-2.
   
1923
 
The Bulldogs repeated as champions with great line play but were better on offense as tailback Lou Smyth led the league in touchdowns with 7 and Henry kicked nine field goals. In twelve games they scored 246 points and gave up 19. Their perfect season was ruined by a 3-3 tie with the Buffalo All Americans. Henry tied it on the last play of the game with a drop kick field goal. The Bulldogs beat the second place Bears again in Chicago 6-0, on 2 Henry field goals. The Bulldogs were named champions again, having the best regular season record 11-0-1. Chamberlin, Henry and Lyman are all Hall of Famers and are still considered to this day to be the key members of one of if not the greatest defensive/offensive lines in NFL history.
 
The Bulldogs would move to Cleveland for 1924 because they had a bigger stadium than Canton’s small Lakeside Park where the Bulldogs played home games. They won the championship again, with the Bears finishing second, but did lose one game that year to the Frankford Yellow Jackets (who later became the Philadelphia Eagles), 12-7.  The Yellow Jackets finished third that season.
 
Even back in 1924 although Canton supported their team they moved to Cleveland for a better stadium deal.
 
Some things have never changed.
 
Green Bay Packers, 1929 NFL Champions
 
12-0-1
 
Head coach Curly Lambeau saved the Packers from the abyss by putting up his own money to buy the franchise back from the league in 1922. The Packers were tossed out of the NFL for using undergraduate college players the year before. He then convinced the city business leaders to buy the team from him, which they did then they sold shares of stock of the team to the citizens of Green Bay to raise money to sign players.
 
The Packers to this day are still the only publicly owned team and every fan of the Packers owe Lambeau their thanks for not only saving the team but building it into a powerhouse football team. (Lambeau was and most of his early players were employees of the Indian Meat Packing Company, creating the origin of the name Packers.)
 
The Packers were good in 1928 but became better when Lambeau signed three future Hall of Famers to join the team for 1929, tackle Cal Hubbard, guard Mike Michalske, and half back Johnny Blood. They joined holdover stars tailback Verne Lewellyn, who was the league’s best punter, blocking back Red Dunn, all pro receiver Lavie Dilweg and fullback Bo Molenda.  Lewellyn, Blood, and Molenda each rushed for over 400 yards in 1929, which in today’s game would parallel rushing for 1,000 yards.
 
They rolled through their schedule and beat the Bears three times. They won twelve games and scored 198 points and allowed just 22. They did tie one game against those pesky Frankford Yellow Jackets 0-0 Thanksgiving day, but won the championship.
 
The Giants finished second at 13-1-1 and were led by Hall of  Famer Benny Freidman who threw an unheard of 20 touchdown passes that year and were champions themselves just 2 years before. The Packers and Giants met at the Polo Grounds in New York on November 24 before 25,000 fans to determine 1929’s best team. The Packers won 20-6 with Blood setting up the first touchdown with a fumble recovery, then scored their last touchdown on a short run. Lewellyn’s 60 yard punts kept Freidman in bad field position all day as Hubbard and Michalske pressured him the entire game. The Packers would win their first championship that year with a 12-0-1 record then defended it successfully in 1930 and 1931 to become the second NFL team to win three consecutive championships (Bulldogs 1922-1924).
 
This began the legacy of great teams from Green Bay which continues today.
 
Part II next week, the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears and the 1948 Cleveland Browns.

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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt's passion for the game began in the 60's watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi's Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980's where he's captured more titles than John Wooden's UCLA Bruins   Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son. More from Kurt Backert

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