The National Football League was not called the NFL when Muncie, Indiana had a professional football team.
In 1920, what would become the NFL was the tiny upstart American Professional Football Association (AFPA), entering its first season. The Pro Football Hall of Fame said the league, led by American sports hero Jim Thorpe, was concentrated in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and New York. Only two teams that joined the NFL in its inaugural season would see its centennial celebrations in 2019; the Chicago Cardinals, who moved their nest to Arizona, and the Decatur Staleys, ancestors of the Chicago Bears, the NFL website said.
The newborn league had teams in major cities, such as Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit. The AFPA also joined teams from small towns in the Midwest, such as Rock Island, Illinois with a population of about 35,000 and Hammond, Indiana with a population of about 36,000, according to the 1920 U.S. Census.
One of many early NFL small-town teams came from the town that would become known as “Middletown”. In 1920, Muncie, Indiana, with a modest population of 36,000, became the home of a future NFL charter franchise.
The history of Muncie’s professional football team began in 1905, when the Cognerville Athletic Club was conceived south of Muncie. Cognerville was a neighborhood that existed west of Madison Street and south of Memorial Drive, said Chris Flook, Ball State’s senior media speaker and newsletter editor for the Delaware County Historical Society, via his blog. The area soon had two football teams, the aforementioned Athletic Club and the Flyers.
“People are too caught up in the fact that they were the founding fathers of the NFL versus the idea that there were teams all over town,” Flook said.
He thinks “the best story” is that neighborhoods, churches, etc. had intra-city leagues, with “an active sports culture in Muncie in the 20th century”. For some reason, he said, the Cognerville team ended up being “the best team.”
In 1916, the two Cognerville teams merged and became the unified Cognerville Flyers, a team that would win the Muncie town championship in 1919. The following year, when the APFA formed, Earl Ball, the owner of the Flyers, attended the meeting in Canton. , Ohio that started the league, the Pro Football Hall of Fame said. This meant the Congerville Flyers were one of the top ten teams in the inaugural AFPA season.
After their admission to the league, the Flyers dropped the Cognerville identifier and became the Muncie Flyers.
Professional football did not have the same prestige and status as it does today. From the inception of football in 1869 until the 1950s, professional football was overshadowed by college football. Consequently, the regional league formation flew under the radar.
How would the Flyers fare in their new league? That question would be answered on Oct. 3, 1920, when the Flyers played the second game in APFA history as they faced the Rock Island Independents at Douglas Park in Rock Island, Flook said via his blog.
Muncie’s inaugural game in the new league was the opposite of success.
The Independents pummeled the Flyers 45-0, a result so bad that the Decatur Staleys called off their game against the Flyers the following week, Roy Sye said in an edition of the football magazine “Coffin Corner”, covering the 1920 season of the Flyers. This was the only APFA contest the Flyers would play in 1920, as the rest of the games they would play that year were against local independent teams in Gas City and Muncie, in November and December.
The Flyers will return to play in the APFA in 1921, as the number of teams in the league grew from 14 in their inaugural season to 21 in their next season, Flook said via his blog. Play began for the Flyers on October 2, as they won against an American Legion team from Elwood by a score of 74-0. The Pro Football Archives said their first APFA contest of the year will take place next weekend, when they take on the Evansville Crimson Giants at Bosse Field in Evansville.
The Flyers’ performance that day was better than their mayhem against Rock Island the previous year, but it still wasn’t enough as they lost to Evansville 14-0, the Pro Football Archives said. After a home loss to the Cincinnati Celts the following weekend by a score of 14-0, the Flyers played no more games against APFA teams and withdrew from the league at the end of the season.
After leaving the APFA, the Flyers continued as a traveling independent team until 1925, when the Flyers moved to Jonesboro along the Mississinewa River, according to Flook via his blog. After one season at Jonesboro, the Flyers officially went out of business.
The Flyers’ stay in what would become the National Football League was fleeting; their three championship games played to make them the third shortest team in NFL history.