The 1903 World Series of Football at Madison Square Garden Featured Watertown Red & Black and Franklin Athletic Club In Championship
The Watertown Red & Black’s 1903 football season culminated in the undefeated team playing in the World Series of Football championship against undefeated Franklin Athletic Club out of Western Pennsylvania in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It would be the series’ 2nd and last football championship, the previous year’s champion won by the Syracuse Athletic Club, who declined to play in the series in 1903. The Watertown Red & Black was in just its second season under the moniker, having played as the Watertown Athletic Association, or variant of, since its inception in 1896.
The Red & Black steamrolled the competition through the 1903 season and is credited mainly to former Mayor J. B. Wise, who not only managed the team but fronted tens of thousands of dollars in sponsoring their excursion to New York City for the 6-team round-robin playoff for the World Series of Football championship which also included the prize money. Wise, an industrialist who owned a number of businesses and properties, including the J. B. Wise Block, reportedly lost over $8,000 in bets on the championship game.
The 1903 season saw several highlights, including the Red & Black defeating legendary Major League Baseball coach Connie Mack‘s Philadelphia Athletics at the fairgrounds in early October before a crowd of over 5,000. It was sweet revenge for the Watertown team, whose only loss the previous season came to the same Mack-coached Athletics. Connie Mack also managed the Philadelphia Athletics Major League Baseball team at the time, doing so for the team’s first 50 seasons through the 1950 season in which he was also the owner.
The Watertown Daily Times reported of the contest–
A crowd of over 5,000 people saw the Watertown football defeat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics at the fair ground Saturday afternoon, by a score of 12 to 0. All but two of the visiting team played together last season in the all-star aggregation which defeated Watertown last year, by a score of 11 to 5, and went on to decisively win the title of national professional champions, by winning the Pittsburg Professionals and Philadelphia Nationals.
In physical condition the Watertown men were of course far superior. As for weight, Philadelphia was far heavier. The local backfield was heavier than Philadelphia’s but not much for Davidson brought up the latter’s total considerably. As for the line, the local forwards, big as they were, were dwarfed by the herculean visitors. Sweet was the smallest man they had, and he was built on the lines of a horseback.
During the the first half the ball see-sawed for the whole time of play, largely in Watertown territory. The visitors, while short of wind, had loads of vigor and ripped things up for all they were worth. They encountered then most stubborn resistance, however, and though they worked the ball well into local territory at one time the local goal line was never seriously endangered.
As they drew nearer the goal the resistance increased and gains that last year were measured in yards were on Saturday measured by inches.
Another highlight of the season was the Red & Black’s complete domination of the Cortland Athletics just a few weeks prior on September 22. The lopsided affair was held Monday afternoon at the fairgrounds, which saw the home team win by the score of 142-6, though some records credit the score as 142-0. Nevertheless, it ranks as the second-highest-scoring affair in football history, bested only by a 148-0 win by the Massillon Tigers over a team from Marion, Ohio, one year later.
The Watertown Daily Times reported of the shellacking in September 22’s newspaper–
The Watertown Football Team dwarfed all local records and established a score which is among the largest ever run up on the gridirons of the country in a “game” with the Cortland Athletics at the fair ground yesterday afternoon. Two 20-minute halves were played. The score at the end of the first half was 66 to 0. Shortly after the beginning of the second half the visitors scored on a fluke. It was a blot which the locals started in from that moment to wipe out.The final score was 142 to 6.
The visitors were no match physically for the home players, and most of them were further handicapped by being afraid of the big beeves in red-and-black. The Cortland men were far too light to “stack up” against the burly bunch that represents Watertown this fall, and they were at an added disadvantage, too, from insufficient preparation. About all the real practice that Watertown got was in rapid running, which took off the superfluous flesh that the daily practice had not hitherto claimed. The home players for a little genuine article in practice Carthage tomorrow, and they will probably get it.
The first week of December, The Times printed a long column reviewing the season and detailing the Worlds Series of Football that lay ahead mid-month from the 13th to the 19th–
And, just by way of variety, Manager J. B. Wise, who goes into football as he did into municipal matters in the days of his successful mayoralty–has arranged for an anticlimax at Madison Square Garden, New York, for the week of Dec. 13-19. It is an indoor tournament to determine beyond cavil the vexed question of the championship. When it is done it is hoped that the Red & Black pennant will wave triumphantly at the forepeak.
The Madison Square Garden complex was the second such named, having been constructed in 1890, replacing the previous outdoor venue built in 1879 at Madison Square. The new Madison Square Garden seated 8,000 and lasted until 1924-25 when it was replaced by one built further uptown at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street (it was subsequently replaced with the current Madison Square Garden in 1968.) The site of the Madison Square Garden, where the World Series of Football was held in both 1902 and 1903, is now occupied by the New York Life building.
The size of the field inside Madison Square Garden was limited to 70 yards, and dirt was brought in and steamrolled to improve the playing conditions vs. the prior year. Nevertheless, it was a far cry from where the Red & Black played in its seven seasons: the fairgrounds, Glen Park at the amusement park, and on the Y.M.C.A. field off Winslow Street street, between Franklin Street before Winslow was extended.
The 1903 attendees included Oreos Athletic Club from Asbury Park, New Jersey; the Orange Athletic Club; and the Franklin Athletic Club from Pennsylvania. The Watertown Red and Black, which refused to enter into the tournament in 1902, put forth $2000 in prize money ($1,250 for first place, $750 for second).
The Watertown Red & Black played two formidable foes over the course of three games in the first and second rounds. First up was Ashbury, which the Red & Black shut out 5-0. In the second game of the first round, the Red & Black defeated the Orange Athletic Club from New Jersey, 11-0. The second round affair saw a rematch with Ashbury with near similar results, 6-0.
The victories put the Red & Black on a collision course with the undefeated Franklin Athletic Club which had many of the players from the Philadelphia Athletics from earlier in the season. The Times noted, “The pick of the Pittsburg Professionals and the Philadelphia Athletics of last year formed the Franklin team, a collection of gridiron giants indeed.”
In the end, the Franklin squad was too much for the Red & Black eleven, shutting them out 12-0. The Times wrote of how the Watertown team was outsized–
Faces familiar to Watertown were in the Pennsylvanian’s line-up. Stocky and clever sweat big Wallace, looming up with his 240 pounds like a mammoth, the burly McFarland. Dr. Roller with his brigand’s mustache, the shifty and smiling Steinberg, the “sassy” Hayden, all these and more who have clashed with Watertown, not once but often on the gridirons of Northern New York. In all, the local backfield was heavier, but the Pennsylvanians’ line outweighed Watertown’s.
It was bound to be what it materialized, a fierce fight with no favors. Watertown has nothing to be ashamed of in the outcome.
Unfortunately, not everybody took the loss in stride. Many had remained in the downtown area awaiting word of the outcome and checking the newspaper bulletin boards for the final result. Once word the home team had lost, many in Carthage took to a celebration.
Carthage today is thoroughly enjoying the news of the defeat of the Watertown football team. Not only do they refuse to sympathize with their defeated sister but insist on rubbing in the mortifying irritant. As soon as the news arrived on the river large placards were printed and distributed to convey the tidings of the joy they felt to any who should come within four rods of the same. They are nearly two feet square and in big full-face- type read.
Today, the Watertown Red & Black is the oldest semi-professional football team in the United States and has its own showcase in the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Along with holding the 2nd highest points in a football game, the Red & Black also has the most wins, losses, ties, and games played of any semi-professional football team in the nation. The team has won back-to-back Empire Football League championships the past two years under longtime coach George Ashcraft, the second championship capping their first undefeated season.