Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Shamrocks, The Builders, The Travelers and The Clippers

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the time I went out for recess at Elizabeth School and, Shazam!, in that vacant lot right next to the school playground the Detroit Lions were playing football!

I thought perhaps it was another hallucination like the time I thought I saw a Nazi fighter plane land in my backyard.

But no. It was real.

Clippers vs Lions 1946 photo by W.H. Sumner

Frankly I was surprised that so many of you  actually remembered that Charlotte once had a professional football team many years before the Carolina Panthers were ever dreamed of. A fellow named Bob Gill wrote a history of  minor league football in the 30's and 40's, which were the "golden years" for those leagues. He says the "Dixie League," which the Charlotte Clippers were part of, was one of the most successful, but least remembered of them all.

Here are the facts according to Bob Gill's THE COFFIN CORNER: Vol 10 Annual (1988)

The Clippers joined in 1941, the league's most successful season:

 1941 Standings W L T Pct PF PA

 Norfolk Shamrocks 7-1-2 
 Charlotte Clippers 7-3-0
 Newport News Builders 6-3-1 
 Portsmouth Cubs 3-7-0 
 Roanoke Travelers 1-9-0 

 In 1942 the league suspended operations for the duration of World War II.

 But in early 1946, the Charlotte Clippers, led by backs Casey Jones and Butch Butler and end Rocci Spadaccini, battled the renamed Richmond Rebels neck-and-neck until Richmond lost its 
final two games to give Charlotte the title.

 It was a great season

 1946 Standings W L T 

 Charlotte Clippers 9-1-0 
 Richmond Rebels 7-3-0 
 Norfolk Shamrocks 5-5-0 
 Portsmouth Pirates 4-6-0 
 Greensboro Patriots 4-6-0
 Newport News Builders 1-9-0

 For 1947 the league had a new president, Tom Hanes, and two new teams. The 
Greensboro franchise was shifted to Winston-Salem, and Roanoke was readmitted, 
replacing Newport News, the weak sister of 1946. But both new teams dropped out 
before the start of the season, leaving only four clubs in operation. Still, with the prospect 
of expansion in 1948 to Knoxville, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Birmingham, the league was 
determined to continue. 

 Charlotte and Richmond were expected to battle for the title again, and in the season 
opener Oct. 5 the Clippers got the best of the Rebels, 21-13, to take the league lead 
along with Norfolk, which edged Portsmouth 7-3. 

 Three days later there was no league at all.

 Here's how it happened: 

 First, Portsmouth owner Charles Aberson announced Oct. 7 that his health wouldn't 
allow him to operate his team. He transferred the franchise to a Charlottesville group for 
the rest of the season, with the stipulation that it would revert to Portsmouth in 1948.

 A day later Richmond stunned the league with the announcement that it had bought 
the failing Long Island franchise in the AFL (the re-formed American Association) and 
was jumping ship. 

 President Hanes protested to NFL commissioner Bert Bell, who agreed that he hadn't 
approved the shift, but added something to the effect that it wasn't really any of his 
business. It was clear that he wasn't going to be much help.

 That left the Dixie League with little choice but to close up shop -- and though there 
was talk of reorganizing for 1948, it never panned out. Players from the Norfolk and 
Portsmouth teams combined to play out the season as independents, and in fact did well, 
but it was no use. 

Charlotte kept going through 1949, fielding good teams each year and 
hoping for a berth in the AFL, but never getting one. 

Hats off to Bob Gill for a great job!

A sidenote: Gill noted that in 1937 Norfolk led by "Mush"Delotto, A.B. Conner and Charlie Gadd defeated Richmond for the championship. If Delotto had returned a year earlier when Maurice "Mush" Dubofsky was playing for the Baltimore Blue Birds, the league would have set a record by having the most players named "Mush."  -Ed