Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 5/16/12
So, here's what happens when you set the "Wayback Machine" for a visit with Christopher Columbus to compare pasta recipes, you get set down in the middle of Columbus, Ohio at the turn of the 20th Century. Since I was there anyway I decided to make the best of it. The second league president in NFL history was getting ready to make his mark on professional football. On the way home I made a quick stop to get the heroic, but tragic story of the running back who capably filled Jim Brown's shoes at Syracuse.

Deaths the week:
May 20, 1939 – Joe Carr; NFL President, 1921-1939
Joe Carr was born in Columbus, Ohio on October 22, 1880. He was part of the group that organized and launched the American National Football Conference in 1920 and became president of the new league in 1921. Unlike most league members and observers, he believed that, with better organization and planning, the new league could overtake the college game and even rival baseball in popularity as a spectator sport.

At the time of his death from his second heart attack in 1939, he had the NFL set firmly on the path to becoming the 24/7, 365-day a year sports headliner that it is today.
Carr left school at a young age to work in a machine shop to help support his struggling family. When he was 20 he was hired as a journeyman machinist at the Panhandle Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1900 he became the assistant sports editor of the Ohio State Journal, a major Columbus newspaper in those years.

The year after he began working for the newspaper he began attempts at forming and running a semi-pro baseball team and after that, a football team. In 1907, he brought together players from the Pennsylvania Railroad team and formed the Columbus Panhandles. As a sure-fire attraction to get fans to the games Carr recruited the Nesser Brothers to play.

For any readers who are hockey fans, the Nesser Brothers were the early 1900’s equivalent to the Sutter family, who played in the NHL in 70’s and 80’s then moved into coaching and front office positions after their playing days were over. Knute Rockne had played against the brothers and said of them, “Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train.”

Six of the brothers played for Columbus in 1907 while spending weekdays working for the Pennsylvania Railroad and 10 members of the family played professional football throughout the game’s early years.

Carr also took advantage of his players being employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad by scheduling a majority of their games on the road. The players used their passes to ride the trains for free while Carr saved money on home stadium rental costs.

When the ANFL was formed in 1920 Jim Thorpe was named as the first league president in an attempt to take advantage of his famous name and draw attention to the new league. While Thorpe was an exceptional athlete he didn’t have the administrative or leadership skills that were needed for growth.

At the league’s 1921 meeting, the other owners voted for Carr to take over as league president. He began by moving the league headquarters from Canton to Columbus then began efforts to establish consistency and stability in the way the league operated. He set a deadline for a season to be completed with a minimum number of games played to qualify for the league championship. Non-league games could no longer be used to pad a team’s win column.

To stabilize team rosters he ruled that a player under contract to a team the previous season couldn’t be approached and signed unless he had been declared a free agent. Then he established a standard player contract based on the one used in baseball to prevent players from jumping from team to team, which was common, at times happening during the same season.

He took two major steps during the 20’s in an attempt to improve the NFL’s relationship with college football. At the end of the 1921 season, the Green Bay Packers admitted to using college players under assumed names in games that season. Carr saw that as a breach of public trust and removed the team from the league. A few months later Curly Lambeau, leading a group of investors that he put together, re-established the franchise.

In 1925, Red Grange, “The Galloping Ghost” turned pro when he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears immediately after his final college football game. A few days later another All-American back, Ernie Nevers, did the same thing. Colleges all over the country were up-in-arms over the thought of more players leaving school early for the pros (we all know they were really worried about players leaving before they could be fully exploited by the college. Almost 90-years and nothing has changed).

Under no circumstance was Carr going to fine or levy any sanctions against George Halas and the Bears for signing one of college football’s greats to play professional football. The 19 game exhibition tour that followed Grange’s signing brought more attention to the National Football League in two months than they had attracted in five full seasons of play.

The two games they played against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds drew 138,000 fans and assured the success of the Giants’ franchise while providing overall proof that fans would support the pro game. Carr managed to satisfy both college and pro sides when he ruled that college players would be prohibited from signing with a professional team until their class had graduated.

The biggest step that Carr made to assure the NFL’s survival and put it on a path to growth was to slowly move the league out of the small towns where pro football was born and establish them, or new teams, in big cities, preferably cities where Major League Baseball teams were already playing.

He began with the largest city in the United States. In New York he was introduced to a successful bookie named Tim Mara and in 1925, convinced him to purchase a franchise for $500. In 1927 Carr reduced the numbers of teams in the league from 22 to 12 and by 1937 the NFL was down to 10 franchises, but they were on stable footing. Only one of those was located where there wasn’t a baseball team established (Green Bay). He had guided the NFL through its growing pains and had the league on the road to success. In 1963 Joe Carr was one of the charter inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

May 14, 1992 - Lyle Alzado, NFL defense linesman (Raiders), died of cancer at the age of 43.

May 18, 1963 - Ernie Davis; Running Back died of Leukemia at the age of 23.
Ernie Davis was an influential player without ever having played a down in the NFL. He was an All-American In football and basketball at Elmira Free Academy and after graduation, had 30 colleges recruiting him to play football but Syracuse had the inside track. The school was only 90-miles from home and a running back that was moving on to the Cleveland Browns named Jim Brown presented a convincing argument to Davis on why he should attend there.

As a sophomore in 1959 he led Syracuse to a 10-0 record with a seven-yards per carry average and 10 touchdowns. They finished the season with a 23-14 victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl victory that clinched the National Championship. Davis was named the game’s Most Valuable Player but when he was told by Cotton Bowl officials that he would have to leave that evening’s “whites only” awards banquet after being awarded the trophy, the entire team backed him and refused to attend. (Click here for the Keith Jackson narrated highlights package.)

By the time his career at Syracuse was finished after the 1961 season he had broken Brown’s school records with 2,386 career rushing yards and 220 total points. He beat out Ohio State fullback Bob Ferguson by 53 points to become the first Afro-American winner of the Heisman Trophy. He followed that up by becoming the first Afro-American to be selected first-overall, by the Redskins in the 1962 NFL Draft.
  It was a reluctant first-overall pick. Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall had yet to sign an Afro-American player, even though the color ban had been broken years before. Marshall was ordered to integrate or the 30-year lease he held on D.C. Stadium would be revoked since it was a stadium funded by public money.

After being drafted, Davis refused to play for the Redskins and demanded a trade saying, “I won’t play for that S.O.B.” The Redskins traded him to the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to the largest rookie contract at the time and dreamed of pairing him with Jim Brown in their backfield.
That July, while with the College All-Stars as they trained to face the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers in that year’s first pre-season game, he woke-up with swelling in the left side of his neck. He was sent to the hospital for tests which revealed that he had acute myelogenous leukemia. In August, he appeared in uniform with the team as they came out of the tunnel for a preseason game against the Steelers and received a standing ovation. It was the only time Davis would wear a uniform as a professional football player.

He went into remission for a time and practiced with the Browns, though not in any contact drills and with head coach Paul Brown refusing to let him on the field in uniform. The following spring the cancer took hold again and he died in his sleep on May 18th. After his death the Cleveland Browns retired the number 45 that he wore for his one field appearance and in 1979 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Notable birthdays this week:
May 15, 1969–Emmitt Smith; Running Back (Cowboys/Cardinals) 1990–2004; 4-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                                       8-time Pro Bowler; All-time leader in career rushing yards;
                                                       Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010
May 15, 1970–Desmond Howard; Kick & Punt Returner (Redskins/Jaguars/Raiders/Packers/Lions)
                                                              1992–2002;1-time Pro Bowler; Super Bowl XXI MVP
May 15, 1975–Ray Lewis; Linebacker (Ravens) 1996–2011; 7-time First-Team All-Pro; 13-time Pro Bowler
May 16, 1948–Jim Langer; Center (Dolphins/Vikings) 1970–1981; 4-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler;
                                                   Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987
May 16, 1966–Thurman Thomas; Running Back (Bills/Dolphins) 1988–2000; 2-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                                               5-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007
May 17, 1912–Ace Parker; Tailback/Punter (Brooklyn Dodgers/Boston/New York Yankees) 1937–1946;
                                                   2-time First-Team All-Pro; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972
May 19, 1949–Archie Manning; Quarterback (Saints/Oilers/Vikings) 1971–1984; 2-time Pro Bowler
                                                          Currently ranks third on the all-time Manning quarterbacks list for Super Bowl
                                                          appearances behind Eli (two) and Peyton (one)
May 20, 1942–Leroy Kelly; Running Back (Browns) 1964–1973; 3-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler;
                                                  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994

The rest of this week’s birthdays:
May 14th
1923–John Kissell; Defensive Tackle (Bills/Browns) 1948–1956
1935–Billy Ray Barnes; Halfback (Eagles/Redskins/Vikings) 1957–1966; 3-time Pro Bowler
1959–Mike Quick; Wide Receiver (Eagles) 1982–1990; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 5-time Pro Bowler
1965–Dave Widell;Center (Cowboys/Broncos/Jaguars/Falcons) 1988–1998
1967–Tony Siragusa; Defensive Tackle (Colts/Ravens) 1990–2001
1983–Frank Gore; Running Back (49ers) 2005–2011; 3-time Pro Bowler
1985–Carl Nicks; Guard (Saints) 2008–2011; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1985–David Hawthorne; Linebacker (Seahawks) 2008–2011
1985–Robert Francois; Linebacker (Packers) 2010–2011
1986–Lawrence Timmons; Linebacker (Steelers) 2007–2011
1986–Clay Matthews; Linebacker (Packers) 2009–2011; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 3-time Pro Bowler

May 15th
1918–John Siegal; End (Bears) 1939–1943; 3-time Pro Bowler
1924–Tony Adamle; Linebacker (Browns) 1947–1954; 2-time Pro Bowler
1935–Don Shinnick; Linebacker (Colts) 1957–1969
1937–Dainard Paulson; Safety (Jets) 1961–1966; 2-time Pro Bowler
1939–Walt Suggs; Tackle (Oilers) 1962–1971; 2-time Pro Bowler
1951–Wally Chambers; Defensive Tackle (Bears/Buccaneers) 1973–1979; 1-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                             3-time Pro Bowler
1960–Joey Browner; Safety (Vikings/Buccaneers) 1983–1992; 3-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler
1968–Leroy Hoard; Running Back (Browns/Panthers/Vikings/Ravens) 1990–1999; 1-time Pro Bowler
1970–Rod Smith; Wide Receiver (Broncos) 1995–2006; 3-time Pro Bowler
1976–Ryan Leaf; Quarterback (Chargers/Cowboys) 1998–2001
1978–Juqua Parker; Defensive End (Titans/Eagles) 2001–2011
1979–Robert Royal; Tight End (Redskins/Bills/Browns) 2003–2010
1984–Kregg Lumpkin; Running Back (Packers/Buccaneers) 2008–2011
1986–Barry Richardson; Tackle (Chiefs) 2008–2011
1986–Andy Levitre; Guard (Bills) 2009–2011
1986–Josh Johnson; Quarterback (Buccaneers) 2009–2011

May 16th
1943–Donny Anderson; Running Back (Packers/Cardinals) 1966–1974; 1-time Pro Bowler
1956–Keith Butler; Linebacker (Seahawks) 1978–1987
1972–Keith Burns; Linebacker (Broncos/Bears/Buccaneers) 1994–2006
1981–Dwan Edwards; Defensive End (Ravens/Bills) 2004–2011
1985–Derrick Martin; Defensive Back (Ravens/Packers/Giants) 2006–2011
1986–Garrett Hartley; Placekicker (Saints) 2008–2011
1987–Spencer Adkins; Linebacker (Falcons)  2009–2011

May 17th
1934–Earl Morrall; Quarterback (49ers/Steelers/Lions/Giants/Colts/Dolphins) 1956–1976;
                                   2-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1948–Pat Toomay; Defensive End (Cowboys/Bills/Buccaneers/Raiders) 1970–1979
1962–Scott Case; Defensive Back (Falcons) 1984–1995; 1-time Pro Bowler
1968–Tim Grunhard; Center (Chiefs) 1990– 2000; 1-time Pro Bowler
1970–Derrick Deese; Tackle (49ers/Buccaneers) 1994–2004
1978–Jason Baker; Punter (49ers/49ers/Chiefs/Colts/Broncos/Panthers) 2001–2011
1982–Matt Cassel; Quarterback (Patriots/Chiefs) 2005–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1985–Matt Ryan; Quarterback (Falcons) 2008–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1986–Keenan Lewis; Defensive Back (Steelers) 2009–201
                                                                                
May 18th                                                                                             
1933–Bob Dee; Defensive End (Redskins/Patriots) 1957–1967; 4-time Pro Bowler
1957–Jim Ryan; Linebacker (Broncos) 1979–1988
1958–Ray Donaldson; Center (Colts/Seahawks/Cowboys) 1980–1996; 6-time Pro Bowler
1964–Will Wolford; Tackle/Guard (Bills/Colts/Steelers) 1986–1998; 3-time Pro Bowler
1965–Rufus Porter; Linebacker (Seahawks/Saints/Buccaneers) 1988–1997; 2-time Pro Bowler
1971–Craig Hentrich; Punter (Packers/Titans) 1994–2009; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1973–Tory James; Cornerback (Broncos/Raiders/Bengals) 1996–2006; 1-time Pro Bowler
1975–Flozell Adams; Left Tackle (Cowboys/Steelers) 1998–2010
1977–Ken Amato; Center (Titans) 2003–2011
1983–Vince Young;Quarterback (Titans/Eagles) 2006–2011
1985–William Moore; Safety (Falcons) 2009–2011
1987–Mike Williams; Wide Receiver (Buccaneers) 2010–2011
1990–Robert Quinn; Defensive End (Rams) 2011–2011

May 19th
1913–Clem Stralka; Guard (Redskins) 1938–1946; 1-time Pro Bowler
1934–Jerry Reichow; Quarterback/Wide Receiver (Lions/Eagles/Vikings) 1956–1964; 1-time Pro Bowler
1936–Brady Keys; Cornerback (Steelers/Vikings/Cardinals) 1961–1968; 1-time Pro Bowler
1958–Craig Wolfley; Guard (Steelers/Vikings) 1980–1991
1962–Ron Solt; Guard (Colts/Eagles) 1984–1992; 1-time Pro Bowler
1967–John Friesz; Quarterback (Chargers/Redskins/Seahawks/Patriots) 1990–2000
1975–London Fletcher; Linebacker (Rams/Bills/Redskins) 1998–2011; 2-time Pro Bowler
1981–Travelle Wharton; Tackle/Guard (Panthers) 2004–2011
1981–Dave Tollefson; Defensive End (Giants) 2007–2011
1984–Marcedes Lewis; Tight End (Jaguars) 2006–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
1984–Kendrick Lewis; Safety (Chiefs) 2010–2011
1985–Roy Lewis; Defensive Back (Steelers/Seahawks) 2008–2011
1985–Tyrell Johnson; Safety (Vikings) 2008–2011
1986–Brandon Carr; Cornerback (Chiefs) 2008–2011
1987–Patrick Turner; Wide Receiver (Dolphins/Jets) 2009–2011
1987–Lemuel Jeanpierre; Guard (Seahawks) 2011–2011
1987–David Caldwell; Defensive Back (Colts) 2011–2011

May 20th
1914–Bill Young; Tackle (Redskins) 1937–1946; 1-time Pro Bowler
1943–Jim Whalen; Tight End (Patriots/Broncos 1965–1971; 1-time First-Team All-Pro
1951–Cullen Bryant; Running Back (Rams/Seahawks) 1973–1987
1952–Rick Upchurch; Kick/Punt Returner/Wide Receiver (Broncos) 1975–1983; 3-time First-Team All-Pro;
                                          4-time Pro Bowler
1953–Elois Grooms; Defensive End/Defensive Tackle (Saints/Cardinals/Eagles) 1975–1987
1955–Wendell Tyler; Running Back (Rams/49ers) 1977–1986; 1-time Pro Bowler
1960–Tim Krumrie; Nose Tackle (Bengals) 1983–1994; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
1968–Phil Hansen; Defensive End (Bills) 1991–2001
1980–Kassim Osgood; Wide Receiver (Chargers/Jaguars) 2003–2011; 3-time Pro Bowler
1983–Barrett Ruud; Linebacker (Buccaneers/Titans) 2005–2011
1985–Laurent Robinson; Wide Receiver (Falcons/Rams/Cowboys) 2007–2011

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