Connecticut’s Year in the NFL
Hartford Blues. Furlong H. Flynn, back row, fourth from the right, played for the Hartford Blues. Courtesy of John Flynn
Did you know that Connecticut once had an NFL team? NFL stands for National Football League.
The Father of American Football
In the 1860s, college students played a mix of soccer and rugby. Walter Camp played it at Yale University in New Haven. It was a rough game. Camp made up some of the rules that became football. He is often called the “father of American football.”
Games for adults were played between clubs. According to the NFL’s website, former Yale University player William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was the first professional player. In 1892 he was paid $500 to play one game.
In 1920 the National Football League was born. Teams that joined the league agreed to play by the same rules. Connecticut had four pro football teams. The Hartford Blues was the only one that played in the NFL.
The Blues began in 1924 in Waterbury as the Waterbury Blues. George Mulligan owned the team. As the owner he hired the players. He rented the stadium. Not enough people bought tickets to the games. He decided to see if the team would have more success in Hartford.
The Hartford Blues played in a beautiful new stadium in East Hartford. The stadium was built for bicycle racing! The race track circled the football field. The stadium could seat 8,000 people.
Mulligan wanted his team to win so he hired the legendary Harry Stuhldreher. Harry had been a star player at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Mulligan paid him $7,500 for the season plus a $500 bonus. That was a lot of money in the 1920s!
The Hartford Blues won their first game. They beat the Rochester Jeffersons, 8 – 6. During the game, Stuhldreher, took a hit to his head. He got a mild concussion.
Harry Stuhldreher (right) and the University of Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen,” 1924
Mulligan reunited Stuhldreher and three former teammates for a game. They were famous. They were known as “The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.” (The nickname comes from a Bible verse. In the Bible, the four horsemen are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine.) Even with the Four Horsemen, the Blues lost. At the end of the season Stuldreher left to play for another team.
The Blues got their chance to play in the National Football League in 1926. The league was looking to add teams.
The Blues’ opener was against the New York Giants. More than 6,500 people came to see the game. Tickets cost $1.15 for regular seats. The best seats cost $2.30. Boys paid 50 cents. The Blues lost 21 – 0.
The Blues won three games and lost seven. Sometimes fewer than 1,000 people came. They ended the season in 13th place out of 22 teams. But just like in Waterbury, not enough people bought tickets and the team lost money.
The next year, the NFL decided to get rid of the weaker teams. They kept the top 12 teams. They cut the Hartford Blues.
The Blues played one more year as an independent team called the Hartford Giants and then Mulligan threw in the towel.
Many thanks to Tim DeMarco, curriculum coordinator for East Hartford Public Schools, for this story.
Andy Piascik, “When the NFL Played in Connecticut: The Hartford Blues,” Connecticuthistory.org
“The Father of American Football is Born Today,” Connecticuthistory.org
NFL Website, http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/history/pdfs/History/2013/353-372-Chronology.pdf