The 1944 Fort Warren Broncos of Cheyenne, Wyoming, own one of the rarest and least known feats in football history. They are the only gridiron squad that can claim victories over both a NFL and an established major college football team in the same season – albeit barely with 1-point back-to-back victories over the NFL’s Brooklyn Tigers 21-20, and college football’s Colorado Buffaloes 7-6.
Fort Warren’s home exhibition game against the Brooklyn Tigers has its own special significance separate from the Broncos’ amazing back-to-back victories over the NFL and college football.
1). It’s the only game involving a NFL team that has ever been played in the state of Wyoming – the United States’ least populated state. Fort Warren (now known as Warren Air Force Base) is located a few miles northwest of downtown Cheyenne.
2). Fort Warren was the last independent football team (w/o an all-star roster) to defeat a NFL team.
The game itself, played on Sept. 10th in Fort Warren’s U-shaped stadium, lacked excitement through its first three-quarters of play. Brooklyn had a 14-0 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Fort Warren scored 21-unanswered points to take a 21-14 lead late in the game.
The Broncos’ touchdowns were scored by (in order): Cliff Long (20-yard run), Roy Gomillion (5-yard run), and Ken Jastrow (1-yard run).
With four minutes left to play, Brooklyn answered back when Pug Manders took a lateral and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. However, one of the Tigers’ top players, Frank “Bruiser” Kinard, missed the game-tying extra point, and Fort Warren was able to walk away with a surprising 21-20 victory.
The Associated Press reported that Kinard’s extra point attempt sailed over the uprights. Under college rules his kick would’ve been good, but at the time the NFL’s rules were more strict and required that all kicks go directly over the crossbar to be called good. As the AP put it, “the Tigers had their own rules to blame” for their loss.
This was one of many close games that the Brooklyn Tigers would lose in 1944. The Tigers went a winless 0-10 during the regular season, but seven of their losses were by a touchdown or less. They even lost two preseason games (vs. the Washington Redskins at Ogden, UT; at the Green Bay Packers) by 14-7 scores.
The 1944 season was the Tigers’ last as their own team. In 1945, the Tigers merged with the Boston Yanks. A year later the Brooklyn Tigers – known as the Dodgers from 1930 to 1943 – were essentially dropped from the NFL, after their owner switched leagues and founded the New York Yankees in the All-America Football Conference.
A few weeks later (Sept. 23), Fort Warren would benefit again from a failed conversion attempt, when they pulled off a 7-6 victory on the road against college football’s Colorado Buffaloes.
With only five minutes elapsed, the Broncos’ Ken Whitney faked a punt and ran 67 yards down the field for a touchdown. He also booted what turned out to be the difference-making extra point.
Colorado’s lone score also came in the first quarter. Dick Morrow threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dick Lisco, but the Buffaloes couldn’t covert on the two-point conversion pass.
From then on it was a defensive battle with neither team being able to add any points to the scoreboard.
Colorado wasn’t a pushover. In 1944, they had a record of 6-2. The Buffaloes’ only losses were against service teams: Fort Warren and in-state Second Air Force. Fort Warren’s 7-6 victory avenged a 38-0 loss to Colorado the previous season. The teams met again in 1945, and Fort Warren won 6-0.
With a 2-0 start to their season, Fort Warren was looking like one of the strongest service teams in the country.
As it turned out the ’44 Fort Warren Broncos were a good team, but they couldn’t compete against the nation’s top military teams. The Broncos were outscored a combined 78-7 when they played Iowa Pre-Flight, Second Air Force, and Great Lakes Navy.
None the less, the Broncos finished the year with a winning record of 5-4-1. Fort Warren easily defeated Colorado College and Idaho State (both major teams at the time) by scores of 33-3 and 66-0 respectively. The Broncos split a season series with Lincoln Field (L 14-5, W 19-6), and in their season finale they tied the San Francisco Clippers (21-21), a professional squad from one of the many leagues that has been called the American Football League.
To put it simply, the ’44 Fort Warren Broncos weren’t an extraordinary team, but they did pull off an extraordinary feat. There will probably never be another team that can claim victories over a NFL and a top college football team in the same season.
Associated Press. (1944, September 11). Fort Warren Broncos Beat Brooklyn Tigers by 21 to 20. Helena Independent Record, pp. 8. Retrieved August 25, 2013, from NewspaperARCHIVE.
Undefined. (1944, September 11). Ft. Warren Broncs Upset Brooklyn by One Point Sunday. Greeley Tribune, pp. 5. Retrieved August 25, 2013, from NewspaperARCHIVE.
Associated Press. (1944, September 24). Fort Warren Wins From Colorado, 7-6. Billings Gazette, pp. 7. Retrieved August 25th, 2013, from NewspaperARCHIVE.