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Relocated NFL Teams: The Decateur Staleys

The Decatur Staleys were an American football team that played in the American Professional Football Association (APFA), the league that later became NFL, during the 1920 season. They were one of the charter franchises of the APFA and later the NFL. The Staleys franchise became today’s Chicago bears. The 1920 season was not the Staleys first of existence. Rather, they were formed in 1919 during which season they were unaffiliated to any league. The Staleys began as a company team sponsored by the A.E Staley Starch Company in 1919. George Halas and Dutch Sternaman were tasked with running the team. At the conclusion of the 1919 season, the Staleys owners were among those who facilitated the formation of the APFA which was to begin operation during the 1920 season. Other owners included those of the Canton Bulldogs, the Cleveland Tigers, the Dayton Triangles and the Akron Pros, all of the Ohio League as well as owners of the Muncie Flyers, the Racine Cardinals, the Chicago Tigers, the Massillon Tigers, the Hammond Pros and the Rock Island Independents. Since Halas was in charge of the team during the 1920 season when they joined the APFA, he is credited with being the founder of the team even if technically, the team was founded by George Chamberlain. The team played their home games at the Staley park in Decatur.

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The Staleys were one of the better teams in the league, finishing second in 1920 and only a scoreless tie against the Akron Pros in the final game of the season prevented them from nipping the title from the Pros. The Staleys had demonstrated their prowess during their 1919 season as a freelancer when they were totally dominant. Other than a 3-0 loss to the Peoria Tractors on opening day, the Staleys won all their matches in dominant fashion, finishing the 1919 season with a 6-1 record. They shut out their opponents in four of their seven games and had a combined score line of 193-13 the icing of which came in an 89-0 steamrolling of the Staunton, Illinois at Staley Field. In 1920, they posted a 10-1-2 record though playing against better teams, they were unable to post the astronomical score lines they had the previous season. Had they played in today’s era their record would have been better than the Pros’ 8-0-3 because at the time, draws did not count when calculating the win percentage.

Why were the Decatur Staleys Relocated?

Although the level of support for the team in Decatur was high, Halas did not see the city as a long term home for the Staleys. Decatur, being a small team could not generate the kind of attendance figures that could be had in larger Metropolises like Chicago. The maximum attendance at Staley Park that season had been 3,000 which compares poorly with 12,000 fans who turned up to watch the closing game at Cub Park against the Akron Pros. Eyeing greater revenues, Halas moved the last three home contests to Cub Park in Chicago. At the end of the season, Staley handed over the team permanently to Halas and withdrew his company’s support. Halas had a permanent stay in Chicago on his mind but there were already two teams in the Windy city, the Chicago Bears and the Racine Cardinals who were already wrestling for the market. The two Chicago teams agreed that the team which lost their season closing meet-up would disband. The Tigers fell victim to their agreement and folded. Meanwhile, Halas jetted into the city with his Staleys and set camp far enough from the center of the Cardinals’ influence to not cause a conflict. Staley handed Halas $5,000 to retain the Staleys moniker for one more season so the team became the Chicago Staleys. In 1922 as the NFL was formed, the team was renamed the Chicago Bears as a tribute to the baseball club Chicago Cubs, with whom they shared the Wrigley Field in the early days.

Decatur Staleys Notable Players

Roy Adkins, G 1920

Hugh Blacklock, T 1920

Guy Chamberlin, E 1920

Jimmy Conzelman, HB 1920

Chuck Dressen, QB 1920

Paddy Driscoll, HB 1920

Sid Gepford, HB 1920

George Halas, E 1920

Lennie High, E 1920

Jerry Jones, G 1920

Bob Koehler, FB 1920

Jake Lanum, HB 1920

Walt May, G 1920

Pard Pearce, QB 1920

Ross Petty, G 1920

Henry Shank, HB 1920

Dutch Sternaman, HB 1920

George Trafton, C 1920

Walt Veach, HB 1920

Randy Young, E 1920

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