Joseph Carr
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Joseph "Joe" F. Carr (October 22, 1880 – May 20, 1939) was the president of the National Football League from 1921 until his death in 1939. Carr was born in Columbus, Ohio. As a mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Columbus, he directed the Columbus Panhandles football team in 1907 until 1922. The "Panhandles" were one of the largest draws in early professional football, starring the Nesser Brothers, and were nearly unbeatable at home in Indianola Park. He helped to reorganize the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1921, and moved the offices from Canton to Columbus, Ohio. This league would be renamed the National Football League in 1922, and Carr served as its president from 1921 until his death in 1939. He was elected to the Helms Hall of Fame in 1950 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, and is the only non-player in both halls. Carr also served as president of the American Basketball League (ABL) from 1925 to 1928, and was also president of the Columbus Senators (baseball) team from 1926 to 1931. He is buried at St. Joseph Cemetery south of Columbus.

The NFL's original Most Valuable Player award was named for Carr in 1938.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Carr was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 22, 1880 or he was born on October 23, 1879 and was baptized Joseph Francis Karr on November 2, 1879.[1] He was the son of Irish immigrants Michael and Margaret Carr.[2] Joe had six siblings Bridget (born 1867), John Aloysius (born 1869), James (born 1872), Mary Therese (born 1874), Michael Lawrence (1877),[3] and Edward (born 1883).[4]

Joseph played a variety of sports while he was growing up in southeast Columbus. Joe's formal education consisted of five years at St. Dominic’s Elementary School. At the age of 13 he went to work at a local machine shop to help support his family, who was struggling. By the age of 20, he was hired as a journeyman machinist at the Panhandle Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1900, Carr became the assistant sports editor of the Ohio State Journal, one of the three major newspapers in Columbus at the time. He was especially well known for his boxing stories. He held the position for six years.

Sports career[edit | edit source]

In 1901 Carr organized and promoted a baseball team. He had always admired Charles Comiskey, who had just started the Chicago White Sox of the American League. By using employees from the railroad, Carr fielded a team named the Panhandle White Sox,[5] but Joe called them the Famous Panhandle White Sox. The team gained national attention as one of the country's best semi-pro teams. In 1904, Carr attempted to reorganize the Columbus Panhandles football team which was also organized through the railroad in 1901. However the team just played two games. However Carr tried again in 1907 and the Columbus Panhandles were finally reborn and existed as a franchise until 1922.

Carr had two ways of keeping the team afloat for 16 seasons. The first idea came while he was organizing his football team. Carr knew that he needed an attraction to get people to come to the games. This led him to recruit what is considered the most unusual family ever to play professional sports, the Nesser family. Over the years, ten family members played professional football, seven brothers Al, Frank, Fred, John, Phil, Ray and Ted. The final three members were Ted’s son Charlie, a nephew, Ted Hopkins, and a brother-in-law John Schneider. Over the next two decades the Nesser family became the backbone of the Panhandle franchise.

Carr would take out ads by describing his Panhandles as the toughest professional team in football, led by the famous Nesser brothers. This was done to attract interest from local fans so they would want to come out and cheer for their hometown heroes. This resulted in the Panhandles becoming a big draw for home teams, and team owners went out of their way to schedule them.

Another way to keep the Panhandles afloat, was for the team to use a railroad company benefit. Since all his players were employees of the railroad, Carr scheduled mostly road games. His athletes would simply use their passes to ride the train for free. Carr saved the team money on travel expenses and stadium rental by playing mostly road games. While the Panhandles' overall record is only mediocre, Carr's promotional skills made them one of the best known early teams in the country.

The NFL[edit | edit source]

In 1920 the Panhandles joined the newly formed American Professional Football Association (APFA). Carr was involved in its formation of the league from the beginning. However there is no record of him attending any of the league's founding meetings. The title of league president first went to the legendary Jim Thorpe who could use and his name recognition to promote the new league. With help from the Panhandles, the APFA fielded 14 franchises that first year and crowned the Akron Pros as its first champion with an 8–0–3 record. At the April 1921 meeting, Carr then replaced Thorpe as the league president.[6] In 1922, he helped changed the name of the league to the National Football League.

NFL President[edit | edit source]

Schedule[edit | edit source]

Carr moved the Association's headquarters to Columbus, drafted a league constitution and by-laws, gave teams territorial rights, developed membership criteria for the franchises, and issued standings for the first time, so that the APFA would have a clear champion. The Association's membership increased to 22 teams. Carr first set a deadline for the season to be completed and a minimum number of league games to be played in order to win the league championship. This led to standardized schedules and prevented teams from scheduling non-league teams to pad their win columns.

The NFL's concern over the threat of gamblers affecting the outcome of a game dated to at least 1933. During his tenure, Carr let managers and owners know that anyone involved in a betting scam would be permanently banned from the NFL.[7]

Contracts[edit | edit source]

After taking office as President of the NFL, Carr began cleaning up the problems surrounding professional football. By 1925, he introduced a standard player’s contract, fashioned after the ones being used in pro baseball, so players couldn’t jump from one team to another. Carr also declared that players under contract from the previous season could not be approached by another team unless first declared a free agent, thus introducing the reserve clause to professional football.

Amateur issues[edit | edit source]

In the early days of professional football, the game was shunned by many in the college area. Fearing that the pro game tainted the college game, many college administrators forbade players to have anything to do with the pros. Carr would try to attack this problem and bring a peace between the pros and amateur ranks.

Green Bay Packers[edit | edit source]

The first major challenge to Carr's authority came at the end of the 1921 season. The Green Bay Packers admitted that they had used college players under assumed names. Carr proclaimed the act not only a violation of association rules but a breach of the public's trust. The Packers were forced to resign from the league. However a few months later, a group headed by future Hall of Famer Curly Lambeau applied for and was granted the Green Bay franchise.

Grange rule[edit | edit source]

When Red Grange, a star player at the University of Illinois, turned pro by joining the Chicago Bears, immediately after his final college football game, the league became the center of criticism from college officials everywhere. Ernie Nevers another All-American player did the same thing a few days later. To help ease tensions and promote the professional game in the college circles, Carr established a rule prohibiting college players to sign with professional teams until after their class had graduated. These decisions gave the NFL credibility and much needed support from the colleges and universities from across the country.

Milwaukee Badgers[edit | edit source]
For more details on this topic, see 1925 Chicago Cardinals-Milwaukee Badgers scandal.

In 1925 it was revealed that the Milwaukee Badgers used four high school boys in a hastily arranged game with the Chicago Cardinals. As a result, the Badgers were fined $500 and given 90 days to dispose of all assets and retire from the league. Though finding no evidence to suggest the Cardinals management was aware of the status of the four youths before the game, Carr nonetheless fined the club $1000 for participating in the game. Art Foltz, the Cardinals player who confessed to having made the “introductions", was banned from play in the NFL for life.

Pottsville Maroons[edit | edit source]
For more details on this topic, see 1925 NFL Championship controversy.

As in 1925, the Pottsville Maroons, a first year NFL team, played an exhibition game against a team of former University of Notre Dame stars including the famous "Four Horsemen". The game was played at Philadelphia's Shibe Park, which was within the protected territory of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, who were playing a league game just a few miles away at Legion Field. On three occasions prior to the game, Carr reportedly warned the Pottsville management not to play the game, "under all penalties that the league could inflict”. Ignoring Carr's warnings, the game went on as scheduled. However the Maroons stated that Carr knew of the game and had allowed it to take place. For this act, the Pottsville Maroons were fined $500 and had their franchise forfeited; as a result, the team was stripped of their NFL title, which was given to the Chicago Cardinals. However Carr's decision and handling of the situation is still being protested by many sports historians, as well as by the people of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and controversy still lingers about who actually won the 1925 NFL Championship, since the Maroons had earlier beaten Chicago and were actually awarded the league championship before they were suspended.

Franchise stability[edit | edit source]

Carr also knew that for the league to survive, franchises needed to have a sense of stability. In his early years as president, NFL franchises constantly were setting up and then folding. From 1920 through 1932 more than 40 NFL franchises went through the league. The only two charter members to stay with the league by 1932 were the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals. In those first years, 19 teams lasted one year and 11 teams lasted two years. Carr envisioned the day the NFL could compete with Major League Baseball as America’s favorite spectator sport. While nobody really took him seriously, he thought in time it could happen and devised a plan to make it happen.

Carr knew that the NFL’s success rested on franchise stability and second, those franchises had to be located in the biggest cities, just like those in major league baseball. This led Carr to move his league to the big city. He went out of his way to recruit financially capable owners to run those teams. Beginning with New York City, the largest city in the country, Carr convinced Tim Mara, a successful bookie, to start a club. The club became known as the New York Giants and it is still partly owned by Mara's family.

He continued to recruit stable owners and eventually placed teams in larger cities by moving the Dayton Triangles to become the Brooklyn Tigers in 1930, establishing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles in 1933, moving the Portsmouth Spartans to become the Detroit Lions, establishing the Cleveland Rams in 1937, and the Washington Redskins in 1937 after that franchise moved franchise from Boston. By 1937 the National Football League and Major League Baseball were almost identical, with 9 out of 10 NFL franchises in MLB cities. Only Green Bay, Wisconsin did not have a major league baseball team. By placing teams in big cities the NFL gained the stability it needed and established a game plan for a bright future.

Other sports[edit | edit source]

In 1925 Carr organized and served as the first president of the American Basketball League, although he had witnessed only two basketball games in his life. He, returned to baseball two years later as president of the Columbus Red Birds minor league club. 1933 saw Carr's most successful undertaking in professional baseball, when he was named director of the National Baseball Association's promotional department. Professional baseball in that year had only 12 minor leagues and many of them were in serious financial trouble. Given the order to “do something about it,” Carr took baseball's faltering minor league system and transformed it into a healthy 41-league operation by 1939.

Trophies[edit | edit source]

The Joe F. Carr Trophy was presented annually (from 1955–1978) to the NFL Player of the Year. Not to be confused with the Joe F. Carr Trophy which was the official National Football League MVP award from 1938–46. However, both trophies are named after Carr.

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Carr married Josephine Marie Sullivan on June 27, 1911 at St. Dominic's Church in Columbus, Ohio.[8] They had two children, Mary Agnes, (born October 13, 1913)[9] and Joseph Francis Jr. (born October 1, 1915).[10]

Death[edit | edit source]

Carr remained league President until his death from a second heart attack on May 20, 1939 in his hometown of Columbus.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Willis, 2010, p. 8.
  2. Willis, 2010, p. 5-6.
  3. Willis, 2010, p. 6.
  4. Willis, 2010, p. 9.
  5. Willis, 2010, p. 16.
  6. Willis, 2010, p. 133-134.
  7. Willis, 2010, p. 306-307.
  8. Willis, 2010, p. 49-50.
  9. Willis, 2010, p. 62.
  10. Willis, 2010, p. 73.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Roberts, Howard (1953). The Story of Pro Football. New York:Rand McNally and Company.
  • Willis, Chris (2010). The Man Who Built the National Football League:Joe F. Carr. Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-7669-9

Further reading[edit | edit source]

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