Monday, September 24, 2007

Hall Of Famer: Fritz Pollard, an All-America Single-Wing Halfback

Hall Of Famer: Fritz Pollard, an All-America Single-Wing Halfback

Fritz Pollard, an All-America Single-Wing halfback from Brown University was a pro football pioneer in more ways than one. The 5-9, 165-pound back, who led Brown to the Rose Bowl in 1915 as an All-American running back.

East Coast newspapers -- including the New York Times -- sang his praises week-to-week as his Bruins upset the likes of powerful Harvard and Yale. Had there been a Heisman Trophy in his day, Pollard would have been the frontrunner.

He turned pro in 1919, when he joined the Akron (OH) Pros following army service during World War I. In 1920, the Pros joined the newly founded American Professional Football Association, later renamed the National Football League.

That season, with Pollard leading the charge, the Pros went undefeated (8-0-3) to win the league’s first crown. The team did not lose in the first 19 games in which Pollard played (15-0-4), outscoring the opposition, 236 to 7.

Pollard As a member of the new league, Pollard immediately earned a place in pro football history as one of just two African Americans in the new league. In 1921 he earned another distinction becoming the first African American head coach in NFL history when the Pros named him co-coach of the team.

The team won its first seven games (all shutouts), before injuries to the team’s stars, including Pollard himself, caused the team to trail off, ending the season at 8-3-1. Pollard led that team in rushing, scoring and punt returns while also serving as the head coach.

Contemporary accounts indicate that Pollard, an exciting elusive runner, was the most feared running back in the fledgling league. During his pro football career the two-time All-America played and sometimes coached for four different NFL teams, the Pros/Indians (1920-21/1925-26), the Milwaukee Badgers (1922), the Hammond Pros (1923, 1925), and the Providence Steam Roller (1925). Fritz also spent time in 1923 and 1924 playing for the Gilberton Cadamounts, a strong independent pro team in the Pennsylvania “Coal League.”

In 1928, Pollard organized and coached the Chicago Black Hawks, an all-African American professional team based in the Windy City. Pollard’s Black Hawks played against white teams around Chicago, but enjoyed their greatest success by scheduling exhibition games against West Coast teams during the winter months.

From 1929 until 1932 when the Depression caused the team to fold, the Black Hawks had become one of the more popular teams on the West Coast.

Pollard was also a very successful business man in his post-football career. He founded the first black investment firm, F.D. Pollard and Co. and established the first weekly black tabloid (N.Y. Independent News). Pollard managed Suntan Movie Studio in Harlem and founded coal delivery companies in Chicago and New York. As a theatrical agent, Pollard booked black talent in white clubs in New York.

In 1978, syndicated columnist Jerry Izenberg wrote of Pollard, “It is a shame and a scandal that more young people do not even know his name. Those number add up to nothing in Canton, Ohio. He is not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is an incredible oversight -- almost as incredible as the chain of events which form Pollard’s own personal history.”

Pollard was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005, together with Dan Marino, Steve Young, and Benny Friedman. The man leaves a legacy behind in the form of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, dedicated to assisting minority, candidates in their pursuit of head coaching positions.

Pollard's grandson, Fritz Pollard III, has also formed a foundation to assist students in their pursuit of higher education.

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