In National Football League (NFL) news on this day in 1929, the league added a team based in the Stapleton neighborhood in the New York City borough of Staten Island.
Nicknamed the Stapletons and also known as the Stapes, the franchise lasted four seasons in the NFL with a legacy that features Ken Strong, a former All-America player at the city’s New York University, and the only Stapes player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The NFL college draft was not yet in existence when the New York Giants — the city’s first NFL team — tried to land Strong with a $200-per-game contract. The Stapes successfully counter-offered with a $5,000 annual salary and a rent-free apartment. Their first NFL game was played on October 6, 1929, at the Stapes’ home Thompson’s Athletic Stadium in Stapleton. The hosts defeated the Dayton Triangles, 12-0.
A year later, in an exhibition game versus the Giants in front of about 15,000 spectators at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, Strong kicked a field goal in the first quarter and scored on a 98-yard touchdown run in the third in a 14-7 victory over the Giants.
In 1931, the year the Stapletons formally became the Stapes, the club defeated the Giants, 9-6, in NFL Thanksgiving Day action on the Thompson’s field. With some 10,000 spectators in and around the seating sections, Strong scored on a touchdown run and then kicked the extra point.
After Staten Island departed the league before the start of the 1933 season, Strong went on to a stellar playing career with the Giants.
The Stapletons had started as the city’s first professional football team, five years before the NFL’s 1920 launch, behind co-owner and player-manager Dan Blaine. A native of the Stapleton neighborhood, Blaine was a successful restauranteur while he ran the franchise during its NFL stretch.
One of Blaine’s restaurants was next to Thompson’s Athletic Stadium. The Stapes home had been bankrolled by Edward S. Thompson, the owner of Stapelton’s Thompson Lumber Company.
Thompson lived to see only the first three Stapes seasons. In September 1932, while in the stands at Yankee Stadium watching baseball’s New York Yankees win the opening game of the World Series, he died of a heart attack at age 67.
With about 8,000 seats, Thompson’s facility was small by NFL standards. Stapes games were routinely started when the large clock of the nearby Rubsam & Horrmann brewery sounded 2 o’clock, until the seven-story brewery building was destroyed in a 1930 fire. The brewery also provided halftime entertainment.
Spectators often saw rough action at the venue. In 1932, following the Stapes’ 12-0 NFL shutout of the Chicago Cardinals, New York’s Daily News reported, “The fans were given an added treat when both teams insisted on calling time outs to settle grudge fights. Catcalls from the bleachers resulted in one Chicago player threatening to climb into the stands, but special police intervened and the game went on.”
Impacted by the Great Depression and the location and limited size of the stadium, the Stapes were out of the NFL after four seasons, but stayed active. Years later, Strong recalled one play at the stadium where he had made his NFL debut. After he had been tackled near the sideline and wedged at the bottom of pile of players, Strong was kneed in the ribs by a defender.
“Strong jumped up to punch the guy,” the Daily News noted in 1969, “but was saved the effort when an old lady — ‘she was always one of my biggest rooters,’ Strong remembered — knocked his assailant stone cold with the handle end of the umbrella.”
Defunct New York City NFL Teams
Before the New York Giants and New York Jets moved from New York City to New Jersey, these now-defunct NFL teams (listed with their NFL seasons, home stadiums and win-loss-tie records) were fully or partially based in the city:
- Brooklyn Giants (1921), Ebbets Field (Brooklyn), 0-2-0
- Brooklyn Lions/Horsemen (1926), Ebbets Field, 3-8-0
- New York Yankees (1927-1928), Yankee Stadium (The Bronx), 11-16-2
- Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes (1929-1932), Thompson’s Athletic Stadium, 14-22-9
- Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers (1930-1944), Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium, 60-100-9
- Yanks (1945), Yankee Stadium (and Boston’s Fenway Park), 3-6-1
- New York Bulldogs/Yanks (1949), Polo Grounds (Manhattan), 1-10-1
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