Pacific Coast Professional Football League
|Pacific Coast Professional Football League|
|Reason Fameos||top level football league on US west coast prior to 1946|
|No. of teams||varied from 4 (1941, 1942, 1948) to 9 (1946)|
|Last champions||Hawaiian Warriors|
The Pacific Coast Professional Football League (PCPFL), also known as the Pacific Coast Football League (PCFL) and Pacific Coast League (PCL) was a professional American football league based in California. It operated from 1940 through 1948. One of the few minor American professional sports leagues that competed in the years of World War II, the PCPFL was regarded as a minor league of the highest level, particularly from 1940 to 1945, at a time in which the major National Football League did not extend further west than Chicago and Green Bay. It was also the first professional football league to have a team based in Hawaii (the Hawaiian Warriors).
Formed from the wreckage of a failed California Pro Football League, the PCPFL showcased the Los Angeles Bulldogs and the Hollywood Bears. The league became the “home” of African American football stars (including Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and, briefly, Jackie Robinson) as the NFL had developed and enforced a color barrier in 1934 and extended until 1946.
After reaching a peak in 1945, the importance and popularity of the PCPFL declined rapidly in the post-World War years as the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the All-America Football Conference’s Los Angeles Dons established a major league presence with games in the Coliseum. The resulting competition was devastating to the PCPFL: teams averaging over 10,000 spectators per game in 1944 and 1945 were having difficulty drawing 1000 fans in 1946.
In December 1948, the PCPFL folded. The Los Angeles Bulldogs, the only league member to have participated in every season of the league’s existence, was in such financial straits that they didn’t play the last two scheduled games in 1948, and the Hollywood Bears had become a traveling team in 1948.
Origin of league
History of professional football in California before 1937
Prior to 1936, the history of professional football in California was not a hopeful one. While there were two “major league Los Angeles teams” in 1926 (the Buccaneers of the NFL and the Los Angeles Wildcats of the first American Football League), both were actually traveling teams (the Buccaneers were based in Chicago, the Wildcats in Moline, Illinois) that lasted only one season, but several NFL and AFL teams would also play exhibition contests in the West, sometimes with other NFL or AFL teams, but also against some of the local semi-pro teams in the region, in the following year or two. A league that formed in 1926 or 1927 in the wake of two barnstorming tours by Red Grange (the latter of which also featured the Buccaneers and Wildcats) was called the Pacific Coast League, but it lasted only one season.
In 1934, four teams from the Los Angeles area and two from San Francisco formed another Pacific Coast League; when the two San Francisco teams withdrew from the league after the 1934 season, the four L.A. teams continued to compete in 1935 as the American Legion League (some called it the American Legion Football League, or ALFL). It folded after one season under the new name.
The 1930s proved to be a boon for professional football leagues in the United States (the NFL grew in popularity even in light of competition of the second AFL in 1936 and 1937), but it was a “golden age” for minor league football. The year 1936 also marked the first year of the Dixie League of the American South (the DL lasted until the fall of 1947), the American Association (which changed its name to the American Football League in 1946 and lasted until 1950) … and a team that formed for the expressed purpose of joining the National Football League, but was passed over in favor of the Cleveland Rams: the Los Angeles Bulldogs.
The Los Angeles Bulldogs and the formation of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League
Owned by the local chapter of the American Legion, managed by Harry Myers, and coached by Gus Henderson, the fledgling Bulldogs played all the games in its inaugural season in Gilmore Stadium, playing local teams like the Salinas Packers and the Hollywood Stars, but also the Philadelphia Eagles (won, 10-7), Pittsburgh Pirates (won, 21-7), Chicago Cardinals (won, 13-10), Brooklyn Dodgers (tied, 13-13), Chicago Bears (lost, 7-0), and Green Bay Packers (lost, 49-0). In their six games against the NFL, the Bulldogs compiled a 3-2-1 record while having a 6-3-1 season overall.
Myers was confident of receiving an NFL franchise in the 1937 league owners meeting, but after seeing presentations from Houston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, the owners offered the franchise to Cleveland, then a member of the second American Football League. The Bulldogs were invited to replace the Rams in the fledgling league, and proceeded with the first perfect season in major league professional football: eight wins in AFL games (and the only AFL team with a winning record in the 1937 season), 18 wins including exhibition games, no losses, no ties. Not even the Miami Dolphins, who lost an exhibition game immediately prior to their "perfect" 1972 season, can make the claim. The Bulldogs’ complete dominance of the league exacerbated the financial difficulties of the AFL to the point that the league was forced to fold after the end of the 1937 season.
Another attempt at a league in California in 1936 barely got off the ground. One of the teams, the Hollywood Stars, was sold to Paul Schissler, who coached the Chicago Cardinals (1933–34) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1935–36) of the NFL. Schissler planned yet another league, this one to showcase the Bulldogs and his Stars. Myers declined the invitation to join the new California and opted for a season in which the Bulldogs were an independent team (as was the case for another “survivor” of the second AFL, the Cincinnati Bengals). After a 7-2-2 record in 1938, the Bulldogs joined the Bengals in becoming members of yet another American Football League (which later changed its name to the American Professional Football Association) for the 1939 season. The Bulldogs won the 1939 league title (and had a new owner, Jerry Corcoran), and before the end of league play, had already given notice that they would be leaving at the end of the season to become a charter member of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League (the AFL/APFA would subsequently end after yet another AFL signed three APFA member clubs and split the older league).
Charter members of the 1940 edition of the PCPFL include the Bulldogs, the Hollywood Bears (which Paul Schissler had renamed in honor of his alma mater, UCLA), the Phoenix Panthers, the Oakland Giants, and the San Diego Bombers
History and season standings
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||7||2||1||.778||212||142|
|San Diego Bombers||0||4||0||.000||26||92|
The Bears’ and Bulldogs’ losses were to each other (two each). Kenny Washington and Woody Strode starred for the Bears after being denied entrance into the NFL due to their race. The Bears also had the leading scorer of the league, former New York Giant Kink Richards. Phoenix and Oakland dropped out at the end of the 1940 season; the San Francisco Bay Packers joined for 1941.
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||4||4||0||.500||156||119|
|San Diego Bombers||1||5||0||.167||78||147|
|San Francisco Bay Packers||1||5||0||.167||23||107|
The season was cut short after the attack on Pearl Harbor (the military was fearing another West Coast attack). Kenny Washington led the Bears to a perfect season, having beaten Los Angeles three times to clinch the title. Washington's UCLA teammate Jackie Robinson played briefly for the Bulldogs before moving to Honolulu. Steve Bagarus of San Diego had a 100-yard interception return against the Bears. Kink Richards repeated as the league’s high scorer.
|San Diego Bombers||4||1||0||.800||71||28|
|San Francisco Bay Packers||2||1||0||.667||32||28|
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||2||2||0||.500||35||62|
Unlike the American Football League of 1940 and the American Association, both of which suspended operations after 1941, the PCPFL decided to continue play during World War II. Military service, nonetheless, wreaked havoc with the teams’ rosters. Bears owner/coach Paul Schlisser left for the war as Kenny Washington was injured most of the abbreviated season. The Bulldogs roster was depleted by the war effort. Members of the PCPFL also played games with two military teams, the March Field Flyers and the Santa Ana Flyers in response to increasing public interest. San Diego’s Steve Bagarus became a star with his versatility as his team won the league title and held its own against the March Field Flyers. The Santa Ana Flyers were 5-0 against the league and claimed the “extended PCL championship.”
Growing in influence, the PCPFL underwent several changes before the 1943 season. Temporarily gone were the Hollywood Bears as owner Paul Schlisser was still overseas; the Oakland Giants returned after a two-year absence; the Alameda Mustangs, Richmond Boilermakers, and the Los Angeles Mustangs joined the league.
Controversy ensued when Los Angeles Mustangs owner Bill Freelove raided the roster of Jerry Corcoran’s crosstown Bulldogs. When all was said and done, virtually all the members of the 1942 Bulldogs became members of the 1943 Mustangs. While the controversy was raging, Hollywood got a “leave of absence” from the league until the return of Schlisser from World War II. The former Bears (including former player-coach Kink Richards) became Bulldogs for the 1943 season. Ramifications from Freelove’s actions ensued over the next few years.
|San Diego Bombers||7||1||0||.875||214||177|
|Los Angeles Mustangs||4||4||0||.500||167||124|
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||3||4||0||.429||119||125|
|San Francisco Bay Packers||1||4||0||.200||30||123|
Richmond leaves the PCPFL at the end of the season.
The Alameda Mustangs moved to San Jose and became the San Jose Mustangs; the Hollywood Wolves entered the league for 1944; and the membership of the Los Angeles Mustangs was revoked by the team owners to protest owner Bill Freelove’s raiding of Jerry Corcoran’s Los Angeles Bulldogs roster. Freelove responded by forming a new league, the American Football League (with Jerry Giesler as president). In 1944, an unprecedented five Los Angeles area teams were competing in either of the rival leagues.
1944 PCPFL Standings
|San Diego Bombers||9||0||0||1.000||335||54|
|San Francisco Bay Packers||4||3||0||.571||107||122|
|San Jose Mustangs||2||4||0||.333||69||109|
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||2||5||0||.286||105||168|
Both leagues had undefeated champions (the PCPFL Bombers had won their third consecutive title).
On December 21, 1944, PCPFL league president J. Rufus Klawans announced a merger between the two leagues. Immediately afterward, the AFL champion Hollywood Rangers and PCPFL champion San Diego Bombers scheduled two games, one at each team’s home, to decide the “unified” Pacific Coast championship. Hollywood swept San Diego, winning 42-7 and 21-10, for the bragging rights.
The merger resulted in a “new 1945 PCL” looking remarkably similar to the previous year’s edition. The Seattle and Portland AFL teams did not participate in the new league; the AFL champion Hollywood Rangers refused to merge with the Hollywood Bears, which returned after a two-season absence (the Rangers became an independent team in 1945 instead… and then folded after six games). Bill Freelove’s Los Angeles Mustangs were refused admittance into the merged league and met the same fate as the Rangers when they tried to play as an independent team in 1945. When the dust of the merger settled, the new PCPFL team lineup was the same as it was in 1944, except with the AFL San Francisco Clippers replacing the Packers and the returning Hollywood Bears replacing the short-lived Wolves of the same locale.
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||5||5||1||.500||163||143|
|San Diego Bombers||4||4||0||.500||159||126|
|San Francisco Clippers||1||7||0||.125||47||195|
|San Jose Mustangs||0||5||0||.000||58||162|
With the end of World War II, more changes were afoot in the newly merged PCPFL. Kenny Washington and Paul Schlisser returned to the Bears, who ended San Diego’s string of league championships. Tailback Dean McAdams, hero of the Rangers’ championship campaign of 1944, was scoring touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 1945. San Diego had Bosh Pritchard, who would later be rushing for the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Bulldogs had a new quarterback who would later make a name for himself in San Francisco: Frankie Albert. The NFL’s color line was still about a year from being erased; Oakland’s Mel Reid, banned by the NFL because of his race, was the PCPFL’s most valuable player in 1945.
Seismic changes in the world of professional football were the trend in 1946. The Hollywood Bears and the Los Angeles Bulldogs once had Los Angeles to themselves in 1945, but in 1946, they faced competition from the NFL (with the Los Angeles Rams) and the All-America Football Conference (with the Los Angeles Dons). While two occupants of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were drawing dozens of thousands to their home games in 1946, the Bulldogs (in Gilmore Stadium) and the Bears (in Gilmore Field) were having difficulty getting paying people to their much smaller stadia. Another major change came with the rebreaking of the NFL's 12-year-old "color barrier:" when the Rams signed two of the PCPFL's top stars, Woody Strode and Kenny Washington (both of the Hollywood Bears), it began a slow erosion of the PCPFL's most important talent base: the black players in American professional football that, up to that point, the NFL had refused to allow into their league.
In the meantime, the PCPFL expanded to a record nine teams and had divisional play for the only time in its history (the two division champions would play a single game for the league title). New teams include the Tacoma Indians, Sacramento Nuggets, and the Hawaiian Warriors. The San Jose Mustangs were sold and relocated to Utah, becoming the Salt Lake Seagulls. The Hawaiians played all their games at home, and generally in two-game sets to minimize travel expenses for the mainland opponents. With their own officiating crew, the Warriors had a perceived advantage as they consistently played in front of crowds of upward of 15,000 people.
The PCPFL, the Dixie League, and the American Association (which changed its name to the American Football League for the 1946 season) entered into a working arrangement with the NFL, agreeing to being, in essence, a farm league to the “big boys” and not allowing any participants in “any outlaw league” (specifically the AAFC) to be a member of any PCPFL team. The compact was formalized March 24, 1946, with the announcement of the formation of the Association of Professional Football Leagues.
|San Francisco Clippers||6||4||0||.600||206||130|
|Salt Lake Seagulls||2||5||1||.286||81||137|
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||9||2||1||.818||318||185|
|San Diego Bombers||1||7||0||.125||65||164|
The season ended in controversy as the Northern Division title was determined by a game in which the San Francisco Clippers apparently defeated the Los Angeles Bulldogs by a score of 24-19 and claimed the top spot in the division. When Clippers owner Frank Ciraolo entered his team’s locker room to participate in the victory celebration, he noticed that John Woudenberg, tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, was wearing a uniform that was assigned to the Clippers’ Courtney Thorell. After the “discrepancy” was reported to league officials, the game was declared a 1-0 forfeit to the Bulldogs. As a result, the Northern Division champions were the Tacoma Indians.
|Los Angeles Bulldogs||5||3||0||.625||165||126|
|San Francisco Clippers||4||4||0||.500||158||175|
|Salt Lake Seagulls||1||4||1||.200||48||130|
Back Buddy Abreu was the league’s leading rusher and scorer as his Hawaiian Warriors won a narrow “race” with the defending champion Bulldogs (led by quarterback Mel Reid) by beating the team from L.A. 7-6. Sacramento and Salt Lake dropped out of the league after canceling their home-and-home series that was scheduled to finish the PCPFL season.
But having only three active members was not the only issue threatening the continuation of the existence of the league. An investigation led by league president J. Rufus Klawans revealed that members of the Hawaiian Warriors were placing bets on games in which they were participating. Four (Abreu, Ray Scussell, Floyd “Scrap Iron” Rhea, and Jack Keenan) were permanently banned from the league; another ten team members were “suspended indefinitely.”
1948 and the demise of the PCPFL
As the PCPFL continues unraveling, the Hollywood Bears return to the fold after a second “leave of absence.” The revitalized Bears were under the watchful eye of former Bulldogs owner Jerry Corcoran as they re-entered the league as a traveling team. The Bulldogs, who used to sell out games at 18,000-seat Gilmore Stadium, had to move to Long Beach, California, after two years of failing to attract 1000 fans in their home games.
|Long Beach Bulldogs||3||1||0||.750||102||49|
|San Diego Clippers||0||4||1||.000||69||158|
The Warriors were the class of the league, averaging 30 points of offense per game despite losing over half of the 1947 squad. They had claimed at least tie for the league title with a 5-1 record, with the Bulldogs having two games left to play (one with the Bears, one with the Clippers) in Long Beach's Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The games were not played. The legendary Los Angeles Bulldogs (who were the Long Beach Bulldogs in 1948) had called it quits after drawing only 850 fans in the only PCPFL game in Long Beach; the league soon followed suit and folded.
- PCPFL: 1940-45 Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. – Bob Gill, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1982)
- The End of the PCPFL Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. – Bob Gill, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1983)
- The Bulldogs: L.A. Hits the Big Time Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. – Bob Gill, Pro Football Researchers Association (1984)
- Other Minor Leagues Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. – a look at football’s minor leagues before 1960, Bob Gill, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1989)..
- Other Minor Leagues Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. – a look at football’s minor leagues before 1960, Bob Gill, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1989)
- California Dreamin’: West Coast Pros in the 1930s – Bob Gill and Tod Maher, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1984)
- Tacoma Story Archived 2010-11-26 at the Wayback Machine. – Bart Ripp, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (2002)
- The Salt Lake Seagulls Archived 2010-10-07 at the Wayback Machine. – Mel Bashore, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1992)
- The Salt Lake Seagulls – Mel Bashore, The Coffin Corner, Pro Football Researchers Association (1992)