- The Badgers: Milwaukee’s NFL Entry of 1922–1926 by Michael D. Benter
Michael Benter has crafted a crown jewel for those of us interested in the formative years of American professional football. His history of the Milwaukee Badgers provides important insights into many of the heretofore unanswered questions about the hit and miss development of the league, the seemingly erratic scheduling and cancellation of games, the movement of players from one franchise to another, the effort to emulate professional baseball’s big cities strategy for marketing the league, and the shaky financing of so many franchises.
A freelance writer and resident of Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, Benter dug deep into the sporting life of Milwaukee in the 1920s to help the reader understand why the Milwaukee Badgers failed to develop a fan base. Unlike the Green Bay Packers, the Badgers were not locally owned and did not have the unqualified support of local newspapers. Perhaps more importantly, there were a plethora of well-established ethnic neighborhood, high school, amateur, industrial, college, and semi-professional football teams that either held their fan base or siphoned off fan support the Badgers might otherwise have garnered.
A lack of hometown fan support forced upwards to half of the National Football League teams in the first decade of the league to play a majority of their games on the road to survive. The Milwaukee Badgers were in this position, typically getting less than 40 percent of the gate. With few other sources of revenue, and given the loose arrangements for scheduling games—particularly at profitable venues, poorly financed teams rarely stayed in business more than a year or two. Nor can it be argued that the “big city” strategy of Joe Carr, George Halas, and Tim Mara was successful until World War II, as teams in Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and St. Louis failed as quickly as the Milwaukee Badgers.
Benter traces the efforts of Ambrose McGuirk, the Badger franchise owner, to keep the team afloat. He also profiles the Badger players (providing insight into their motivations, career paths, and life’s work), hints at the complex politics of the nascent league, and offers interesting anecdotes about unusual incidents that took place during the football season. [End Page 154]