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Duluth Eskimos

Duluth Kelleys
Duluth Eskimos
Duluth Kelleys Duluth Eskimos logo

Founded 1923
Folded 1927
Based in Duluth, Minnesota, United States
League National Football League
Team History Duluth Kelleys (1923-1925)
Duluth Eskimos (1926-1927)
Orange Tornadoes (1929)
Newark Tornadoes (1930)
Team Colors Red, White (Duluth Kelleys)
Midnight Blue, White (Duluth Eskimos)
Head coaches Joey Sternaman (1923)
Dewey Scanlon (1924-1926)
Ernie Nevers (1927)
Owner(s) Ole Haugsrud
Named for Kelley-Duluth Hardware Store
Ernie Nevers
Home field(s) Athletic Park

Duluth, Minnesota, hosted a professional football team called the Kelleys (officially the Kelley Duluths after the Kelley-Duluth Hardware Store) from 1923 to 1925 and the Eskimos (officially Ernie Nevers' Eskimos after their star player) from 1926 to 1927 in the National Football League. After being a traveling team during most of their time as the Eskimos, they withdrew from the league after the 1927 season.

The Kelleys, residing in the northernmost city in the NFL at the time, had the disadvantage of not being able to play at home during late November and early December, due to the harsh winters in northern Minnesota. This meant that Duluth either played unusually short seasons (they played only 16 games in three years as the Kelleys—seven in 1923, six in 1924 and three in 1925) or had to play on the road (as the Eskimos did, which allowed them to have much longer schedules). Duluth's best season came in 1924, when the Kelleys went 5–1. Under modern NFL tiebreaking procedures, the Kelleys would have won a share of the NFL title with the league champion Cleveland Bulldogs. (Assuming the league would have implemented a tiebreaker, it would be assumed Cleveland would have been given the title anyway, seeing that the Bulldogs played more games.) The contemporary percentage used to rank teams in the era, wins divided by the sum of wins and losses, put the Kelleys in fourth place.

The Kelleys lost their name sponsorship in 1926, but signed star running back Ernie Nevers. The team renamed themselves Ernie Nevers's Eskimos in response to these developments. The 1926 NFL season saw an increased emphasis on traveling teams: the Los Angeles Buccaneers represented the West Coast, the Louisville Colonels represented the Southeast, and the Buffalo Rangers represented Texas and the Desert Southwest. The Eskimos joined in on the trend, becoming a traveling team (assumably representing the far northern states) and allowing themselves to play a far longer season than the Kelleys did. After one home game at the beginning of the 1926 season, the Eskimos never played in Duluth again. The team finished in the middle of the NFL standings in 1926, prompting the Eskimos to continue the traveling team setup. In 1927, the results were far more negative: winning only one game, owner Ole Haugsrud sold the team back to the league at the end of the season.

When Haugsrud did this, part of the deal gave him first rights for any future NFL team in Minnesota. He passed on buying a stake in the Minneapolis Red Jackets in 1929. However, when the NFL voted to expand in 1960 to the Twin Cities, Haugsrud was able to buy 10% of the Minnesota Vikings (90% of the team was owned by an ownership group that had originally planned to launch a separate team in the American Football League).

Due to various transactions, it can be argued that the Kelleys/Eskimos still exist today, at least indirectly. Edwin Simandl, a promoter in Orange, New Jersey; bought the defunct franchise for the 1929 season and used it to promote his decades-old Orange Tornadoes to the major leagues. The Tornadoes moved to Newark for the 1930 season before going back to the minors. When Simandl handed the franchise rights back to the league, it was understood that the first new expansion team of the 1931 season would receive the Tornadoes' old franchise. Because of the Great Depression, no teams were admitted to the league in 1931. In 1932, a Boston group received the next expansion franchise and was awarded the remains of the Tornadoes organization. This group used it to start the Boston Braves. In 1933, the team was renamed the Redskins, and in 1937 it moved to Washington, D.C. where it still plays today as the Washington Redskins. However, due to the two-year period of dormancy, the Redskins and the NFL consider the Boston/Washington franchise as a separate organization dating to 1932, and not as a continuation of the Kelleys/Eskimos line.

The film Leatherheads is partially based on the story of the Duluth Eskimos.[1]

Pro Football Hall of Famers


Year W L T Finish Coach
Kelleys 1923 4 3 0 7th Joey Sternaman
1924 5 1 0 4th Dewey Scanlon
1925 0 3 0 16th Dewey Scanlon
Eskimos 1926 6 5 3 8th Dewey Scanlon
1927 1 8 0 11th Ernie Nevers


External links

  • Urban Legend?: Washington Redskins are the former Duluth Eskimos?
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