The Rock Island Independents – Finding the Davenport Football Connection

This week as football training camps are about to start we thought to look back to one early local Illinois team. We felt sure we would find a Davenport connection.

We found not only a Davenport connection, but a pretty amazing national football history connection as well.

By the early 1900s football was being played across the United States on various levels. Teams were forming for both high school and college level competition.

For those not in high school or college there was an amateur level. The players enjoyed the game and they found fans loved to watch them.

The early amateur teams were usually independently organized or sometimes part of a club. The Quad Cities had several amateur football teams by about 1910. They would arrange games between themselves and the rivalries soon grew.

One team, in particular, began to flourish. The Rock Island Independents started playing in 1907 as an independent club. In 1920, the Independents joined the newly created American Professional Football Association (APFA). This association would change its name to the National Football League (NFL) in 1922.

The Rock Island Independents played in the NFL through 1925. Their home field was historic Douglas Park in Rock Island. In 1926, the American Football League (AFL) was formed and the Independents joined that league. Not every Rock Island player was happy with the move and many left for other NFL teams. By the end of 1926 the AFL ended. The Rock Island Independents did not rejoin the NFL, but became a semi-professional team through 1927 before disbanding shortly after the season.

And now for our Davenport connection. We found one right away in the football players.

Several Davenport men played for the Independents both during its independent club days and the professional years. We have selected a few to mention below.

Elmer Layden was born and raised in Davenport and attended Davenport High School. He later attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned national attention as one of the “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” in 1924. Layden played very briefly for the Independents during 1926.

Dale Hubert “Herb” Sies went to Davenport High School before starting his professional football career in 1920. He joined the Rock Island Independents not only as a player, but also a coach, for the 1923 season.

George Thompson was a Davenport High School football player who later went on to play for the Independents in 1923, 1924, and 1925.

Ray “Waddy” Kuehl was born and raised in Davenport. Kuehl was also a football player at Davenport High School. He played for the Independents in 1920 and 1923.

We quickly learned through our research that the history of the Rock Island Independents is too extensive to cover in a short blog. As a result we thought we would share a few highlights of Waddy Kuehl’s first year on the team, which also happened to be the first season of the APFA.

The Rock Island Independents would play their first game (at Douglas Park) as a member of the APFA on September 26, 1920. They went on to defeat the St. Paul Ideals 48 to 0. The Ideals were not an APFA team. Waddy Kuehl would score touchdown points near the end of the game.

The next game on October 3, 1920. The Independents played the Muncie Flyers who were also an APFA team. The Independents won with a final score of 45 to 0. Kuehl once again scored a touchdown to help his team. This was the first game played by two official APFA teams at Douglas Park.

The third game of the season was on October 10, 1920 at Douglas Park. In this game Waddy Kuehl made history with the help of teammate Arnold “Pudge” Wyman. Wyman would throw a pass to Kuehl who caught it. This has been credited as the first noted touchdown pass in the APFA/NFL.

Ray Kuehl

Davenport Daily Times – October 11, 1920 Pg. 14

The season went on with a final record of 6-2-2 for the Rock Island Independents in the first APFA season.

We found one last interesting fact about the 1920 season in a post-season game. On January 9, 1921 the Rock Island Independents went to Chicago to play the Chicago Pullman Thorns. Waddy Kuehl was one of the players for the Independents at the game.

What makes this game so interesting was it was played inside at the Dexter Park Pavilion in front of over 3,000 people.

It makes us wonder if this was one of the earliest NFL football games to be played indoors.

If this post has you curious to see what football games were like in the early twentieth century you are in luck. We have learned that there will be a Throwback, or Vintage Game, played by the Rock Island Independents versus the Moline Universal Tractors on Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 at 1:30 – 4:00 p.m. at historic Douglas Park on 18th Avenue in Rock Island , IL. Food and refreshments will be sold.

And yes, vintage style uniforms will be worn and traditional 1920 football rules will be followed.

For more information please visit the Facebook page of Quad Cities Vintage Football at Quad Cities Vintage Football.

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