Originally posted on GRIDLINE message board 11JUL2003

Farewell Joseph "Duke" Marhefka - by Gridster

Joseph ďDukeĒ Marhefka passed away June 30th (2003) at the age of 101. He was the last surviving member of the 1924 Pottsville Maroons, who were embroiled in one of the most controversial events in the history of the NFL.

Back then there wasn't any playoff system, and the schedules were not firmly set in stone. Football was in its barnstorming era. The Canton Bulldogs were the dominant team of the early 20ís, but in 1924 the Pottsville Maroons and the Chicago Cardinals ruled. At the end of the season, the Maroons took their 9-2 record into Chicago for a head-to-head contest against the 9-1-1 Cardinals. Pottsville won the game convincingly, 21-7, and it was assumed that the NFL would award them the championship based on their record, 10-2 as compared to the Cards 9-2-1, and the head-to-head victory.

The only problem was that there were a couple of weeks until the official announcement, and Cards owner Chris OíBrien took the opportunity to schedule two more games the next week against opponents who had already disbanded for the season. The Cards easily defeated the disorganized Milwaukee and Hammond teams to improve their record to 11-2-1, good enough to claim the title.

Not to be outdone, Pottsville scheduled an exhibition game to persuade the league office to name them the champions. What kind of exhibition game would be so impressive as to sway the NFL? Bring on the 1924 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, coached by none other than Knute Rockne and featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse! But wait. Since the game was scheduled to be played at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the Frankford Yellow Jackets protested to the league, claiming that the game violated their territorial rights. The league president, Joe Carr, agreed and canceled the game. End of story? Not by a longshot.

The Maroons claimed that they had verbal approval from the league office, so they played the game anyway! In what had to be the most monumental football game ever played the Pottsville Maroons defeated the Fighting Irish 9-7 and laid claim to being the best football team in the land.

The entire mess left Carr in a bind and he was forced to suspend the Pottsville team, freezing their record at 10-2, and the owners decided to award the title to the Chicago Cardinals. Quite a story isnít it? But itís still not over. 

In an uncharacteristic fit of humility, Cardinals owner Oíbrien REFUSED to accept the title. The end result of the whole ordeal was that the owners never officially awarded a title in 1925, but the league record books list the Cardinals as champions.

Just a little bit of history to go along with the passing of a great gladiator, Pottsville running back Duke Marhefka. Itís my understanding that the NFL has had this case under review for a while, and I think most people who are familiar with the story would agree that Pottsville deserves the title. The wheels of NFL justice may be slower even than those of the courts, but I think one day the record will be set straight. Itís just a shame that Olí Duke never lived to see it.