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Relocated NFL Teams: The Cleveland Bulldogs

The Cleveland Bulldogs were a football team that played in the NFL from 1924 to 1927. The team began in 1923 as the Cleveland Indians (named after the city’s baseball team) when the city of Cleveland was awarded an NFL expansion franchise. They were owned by a Cleveland based businessman known as Sam Deutsch. Prior to the 1924 season, Deutsch bought the Canton Bulldogs and merged them with the Indians to form the Cleveland Bulldogs. The Canton Bulldogs had won the 1922 and 1923 NFL championships without losing a single game. However they were going through tough financial times, losing $13,000 the previous season so Deutsch bought them at a bargain price of $2,500. Seven of the best players among them player-coach Guy Chamberlain from the Canton team joined the new team ready for the next season. Chamberlain would serve the new franchise, also in player-coach capacity. The Bulldogs’ home games were played at the Dunn Field in Cleveland with the exception of the Thanksgiving game which was played in Canton.

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The Bulldogs were one of the better teams in the league and they won the league at the first time of asking, albeit controversially. When the official season end came, the Bulldogs had a 7-1-1 record against the Chicago Bears’ 6-1-4 in second. Ties were not factored in when calculating win percentage, so as things stood, the Bulldogs were champions. However, on December 7, 1924, the two teams faced each other in an exhibition match which the Bears won 23-0. The Bears claimed that they now deserved the title, citing the 1921 championship decision in which the league had used an exhibition game the Bears had won over the Buffalo All-Americans to award the Bears the title. Ironically, the clause that was to deny the Bears the title this time round was proposed by Bears owner Dutch Sternaman prior to the beginning of the season. The clause said that the season would begin on September 27 and end no later than November 30, so technically the Bears vs Bulldogs clash came outside the season. Citing this provision, the league voted the Bulldogs champions. It was also decided to extend the 1925 season to December 20.

In 1925, Deutsch sold back the rights to the Canton Bulldogs back to a group of businessmen from Canton for $3000. He also sold the Indians half of the club to Herb Brandt prior to the beginning of the 1925 season. The Cleveland franchise however retained the Bulldogs nickname but much of the team’s talent was gone and they struggled immensely. They lost five of their first seven games and being the defending champions, they were in high demand and played 14 games that season. They ended the season with a 5-8-1 record. By now, the team was going through severe financial difficulties and was forced to suspend operations for the 1926 season. In 1927, Deutsch reacquired the team and resurrected it, merging it with the Kansas City Cowboys which had just folded. Despite having one of the best quarterbacks of that era in Benny Friedmann, the Bulldogs struggled on the field, winning just one of their first five games. However, Friedmann gelled into the team and helped them recover to end the season with a respectable 8-4-1 record. Their final game of the season was a 20-0 win over the Duluth Eskimos, but as it turned out, that would be the last game the Bulldogs would play in Cleveland.

Why the Cleveland Bulldogs were Relocated

The Cleveland Bulldogs weren’t a bad team but they found it hard to draw fans to their games, largely due to the encircling economic crisis in the United States. Following the 1925 season, the team found itself flirting with bankruptcy and had to sit out the 1926 season. Owner Sam Deutsch injected cash to revive the team for the 1927 season. Despite the respectable finish to the 1927 season, the club was still losing money and Deutsch had to offload it to cut his losses. The Bulldogs were not the only team that had it that bad. At least twelve professional sports teams had folded prior to the 1927 season. After the season concluded, the team was purchased by Elliott Fisher who transplanted them to Detroit and renamed them the Detroit Wolverines.

Cleveland Bulldogs Notable Players

Guy Chamberlin E 1924

Rudy Comstock G 1924

Charlie Honaker HB 1924

Link Lyman T 1924

Hoge Workman TB 1924

Duke Osborn C 1924

Chalmers Ault T/G 1924-1925

Doc Elliott RB 1924-1925

Jay “Inky” Williams E 1925

LeRoy Andrews E/TB 1927

Benny Friedman QB 1927

Tiny Feather RB 1927

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