According to my latest research, the now-defunct Cleveland Bulldogs were the NFL’s first team to set up a preseason training camp in a far-away location. In 1927, the Bulldogs readied for their upcoming season in Excelsior Springs, Missouri; a spot that was nearly 700 miles away from the team’s home in Cleveland.
Why did the Bulldogs train all the way in Missouri that season? I’m not really sure to be honest and I couldn’t find the answer in the newspaper archives.
I can lay down a couple of theories though.
- The Bulldogs’ head coach, Leroy Andrews, was familiar with the area as he was the NFL’s Kansas City Blues/Cowboys’ head coach from 1924-1926.
- The Bulldogs were breaking in rookie Benny Friedman, a football star from the University of Michigan and a Cleveland native whose fame rivaled that of Red Grange’s. So perhaps the Bulldogs wanted an out-of-the-way place to prepare for the season without the gawking eyes of the fans and media… Although I doubt those were really the issues at stake. The Bulldogs only drew 3,000 fans for their first home game against the New York Giants – that season’s league champion.
- Simplest theory. Excelsior Springs – a place known for its miraculous healing mineral waters – was a great place to start what coach Andrews hoped would be a miraculous season for the Bulldogs.
These of course are just theories for why the team might have set up a training camp so far away. We’ll probably never find out the true reasoning, as the camp took place over 85 years ago.
Most people visit the resort town of Excelsior Springs for rest and relaxation. It was the opposite for the Bulldogs in 1927. In addition to their two daily practice sessions, the Bulldogs also had nightly meetings in which they went over the playbook.
They also scrimmaged with a local college; the name of that opponent couldn’t be found. But Friedman completed four of five passes and scored one of the Bulldogs’ six touchdowns against the mysterious Missouri opponent.
The Bulldogs were in Excelsior Springs from at least September 10th to September 21st. During their two-week camp the team stayed at the Hotel Royal in a building that still exists today.
The 1927 season was the Bulldogs’ swan song. A winning record of 8-4-1 wasn’t enough to keep the franchise alive. After the season the Bulldogs were transferred to Detroit and became the Wolverines. The New York Giants would absorb the Wolverines after the 1928 season, in a move that brought Friedman and his Hall of Fame talents to the Giants.
Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs were the only team to defeat the Giants during their championship run in 1927; a 6-0 victory for the Clevelanders in the Polo Grounds during the third week of the Giants’ season.
The appeal of a far-away training camp has faded in recent years. The Dallas Cowboys are the only team setting up a camp far from home this season (in Oxnard, California). But the Bulldogs set a trend that at least one NFL team is still following.
Undefined. (1927, September 11). Norton Behm to Play With Pros. Cleveland Plain Dealer, pp. 24. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from GenealogyBank.com.
Undefined. (1927, September 20). Friedman’s Grid Team To Leave Camp Thursday. Cleveland Plain Dealer, pp. 20. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from GenealogyBank.com.
Undefined. (1927, September 23). Plenty of Seats For Packer Games With New Section. Appleton Post Crescent, pp. 14. Retrieved July 23, 2013 from NewspaperARCHIVE.