- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Everybody old enough to remember Pat O'Brien as Knute Rockne knows that the Irish of Notre Dame went out from half time to "win one for the Gipper," i.e., famed Halfback George Gipp, as played by one Ronald Reagan. But would you believe that the Gipper went out to win one for the Irish of Rock-ford's west side? As a pro?
Well, he did, and the date was November 23, 1919. It marked the end of a sports era in this city at the top of Illinois—and the beginning of a local legend. At the time Gipp was a halfback for Notre Dame with another season of college eligibility remaining ahead of him. But that didn't stop him from playing pro ball under the name Baker and picking up a check for $100 (which he wagered into $200).
Seven other Fighting Irish, including the entire Notre Dame backfield and Center Slip Madigan, provided Gipper's supporting cast. They, too, were amply rewarded.
All eight played for a team known sometimes as the Grands, sometimes as the Badgers, that represented Rockford's west side. The Amateur Athletic Club (AAC) represented the city's east side, and the game played that day in 1919 was the second that year in an annual series for Rockford's championship.
The rivalry between the two sides was intense. For years the Irish of the west side had nurtured a smoldering hatred of the Swedes on the east side. In years past they had met in the center of the bridge spanning Rock River and fought out their rivalry with fists and clubs. Now the battles were transferred to the gridiron, but they were no less furious. From the time the "city series" began in 1908, it was not uncommon for the winner of a championship to parade down enemy streets after the game, carrying a mock coffin in solemn procession. At times the parades themselves would result in further battling and flurries of bare-knuckled encounters on street corners.
It wasn't uncommon in the early 1900s for college football players to pick up extra money by hiring out under assumed names on Sundays, and in 1921 when some players from Notre Dame were spotted in a "Sunday game" in southern Illinois they were banned from any further college athletic competition.
Fortunately, the Gipper and his teammates were not caught. And after their great victory over the Swedes, three of them—Gipp, Quarterback Joe Brandy and End Dave Hayes—returned to spark Notre Dame to a second successive undefeated season in 1920. But that is getting ahead of the story.
By 1919 Rockford's intracity football feud had reached a stage of climax. In the year's first game on November 16 the Badgers (i.e., the Irish) won 6-0. Coach George Kitteringham scored their winning touchdown before more than 3,500 persons who stood along the sidelines.
Two days later The Rockford Morning Star carried a story that suggested some lack of ethics on the part of the losing Swedes in preparation for the series' second game: "The good ship 'Mandy Lee' was never so completely loaded up as the AAC football team in preparation for the second game," said the sports page item. "Stars from Camp Grant have been added to the AAC roster, including Lieutenant Red Barcalow and Lieutenant Wagenknight."
Camp Grant was a large U.S. Army installation located south of Rockford. Barcalow was an ex-Purdue fullback and a fine drop-kicker. Wagenknight was advertised as a smooth, shifty quarterback.