© 2023 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Rock Island Independents

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you are one of those who has made pilgrimages to the legendary ball parks around the United States—Wrigley, Yankee Stadium, Soldier's Field, Comisky—add another one to your list: Douglas Park, in the west end of Rock Island.

In 1922, Douglas Park became the home field of the Rock Island Independents. The Rock Island team was a charter member of the American Professional Football Association, which, in 1924, became the National Football League. That was the same year the Rock Island Independents challenged the Chicago Bears, coached by George Halas, for the league championship.

The Independents' coach, Jimmy Conzelman, had been offered $2,500 to come to Rock Island. For this price, he also doubled as the team's quarterback.

After a slow start in 1922, the Independents won their last six games. As the popularity of football grew, so did the crowds. As many as six thousand people came to watch the team play some of the better opponents, such as the Green Bay Packers from Wisconsin.

By 1924, they were ready for a championship, and they intended to win it with their secret weapon, the legendary Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was already considered by many to be the greatest athlete of all time. In 1912 he had won both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the Olympic games. Even earlier, he had led a patched-together team from the Indian school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to victories over Lafayette, Harvard, and other great college teams.

Never mind that Jim Thorpe was forty years old when he came to Rock Island. The Bears’ and the Independents’ 1924 records were identical. The regular season games between the two rivals had both been ties: zero to zero, and three-three. A playoff was needed. Inspired by Jim Thorpe, the Rock Island Independents beat the Bears 7 to 3.

Then, professional football quickly got too rich for Rock Island. In 1925, the Independents traded a player to Chicago for a hundred dollars. Within a year, the Bears were offering an unbelievable $25,000 to the "Galloping Ghost," Red Grange.

Who knew where all that would end? Not at Douglas Park—for the Rock Island Independents, it was over in 1928.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.