Saturday, November 5, 2016

Chicago- The Home of Professional Indoor Football

Joe Ziemba's Authoritative Book
The hardest part about being a football fan is the months between the Super Bowl and the start of the Canadian Season in mid Summer.  For approximately the last 30 years, football addicts have been able to satisfy their hunger for the game by watching indoor football in the form of the Arena Football League. Sadly, in all likelihood the AFL will cease playing after this coming season, and many of the other minor leagues receive no television coverage. Though with the advent of streaming games over the Internet watching minor league football is easier than ever before.  

Indoor professional football has a rich history in Chicago.  In 1932, the first indoor NFL game was played between the Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans (who eventually relocated to Detroit and became the Lions).  In 1986, the Arena League was born and played it's first game in Rockford, Illinois, with the Chicago Politicians taking on the Rockford Metros in the the league's initial "test" game.  Since that time afterward the Chicago area has had numerous indoor teams including the Bruisers, Rush, Blitz, Slaughter, Knights, Pythons, Vipers, and even a team called the "Chicago Cardinals" in 2010. The Chicago Eagles are but the latest indoor football team to call Chicago home.

The 21st Century Chicago Cardinals took the indoor field in 2010 after relocating from Milwaukee where they were known as the Bonecrushers.
Julie Harshbarger of the 2010 Chicago Cardinals of the Continental Indoor Football League

The 2010 Chicago Cardinals season was the third season for the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL) franchise, but the team's first as the Chicago Cardinals, after relocating from Milwaukee where they were known as the Milwaukee Bonecrushers. In 2011, the team was known as the Knights. The 2010 CIFL Cardinals were able to finish the season with an 0-10 record, and failed to qualify for the playoffs. The new Cardinals replaced the Chicago Slaughter in the CIFL, after the Slaughter left that league for the Indoor Football League, due to a dispute with CIFL management.The Cardinals were formerly known as the Milwaukee Bonecrushers, also of the CIFL, and relocated to the Odium Expo Center, in Villa Park, Illinois, in 2010. The CIFL Cardinals used their name with permission from the NFL Cardinals.

The CIFL Cardinals only season was, in the tradition of the NFL's oldest franchise, one of utter disappointment. After starting 0-2, they signed Julie Harshbarger, who was the 2nd female Kicker in the CIFL history. (The other being Katie Hnida of the Fort Wayne FireHawks). Harshbarger came to the CIFL Cardinals after a successful soccer career at Benedictine University and Rockford College, where she was named to several all-conference teams. Though Harshbarger was not the first woman to score a point in an indoor football game, she was the first woman ever to score a field goal in an indoor football game. After a 20-58 loss on May 22, and seeing their record drop to 0-8, the CIFL Cardinals let several of their best players leave the team for the nearby, and contending, Wisconsin Wolfpack, who were located in Madison. 

However, the brief 21st Century incarnation of the CIFL Cardinals is not the only time that a team named The Cardinals played indoors.  According to the author Joe Ziembaat his website, on January 6, 1918, the first professional "indoor" game was "played in a ramshackle arena called the Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago. At the time, the then "Racine" Cardinals were part of the Chicago Football League and the circuit proposed a five team championship playoff with all games to be played indoors at the Pavilion. In first round action on January 6, 1918, the Cards tied the neighboring Tornadoes 3-3.
The Dexter Park Pavilion was located at the Union Stock Yards on Chicago's South Side

The deadlock prompted a rematch on January 20th, and this time the Tornadoes prevailed 21-7. The nearby Hammond (IN) Times, however, liked the idea of indoor football and perhaps provided a glimpse into the future: "Chicago is the first city to attempt "Cigar Box" football. There will be a seat for everyone with the thermometer at a comfortable temperature. Adieu frost-bitten feet, noses and ears. Just imagine sitting in a comfortable chair, with an unobstructed view of a gridiron..."

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