Joe Little Twig(Johnson) of the Rock Island Independents

From Webmaster's family files


The Tri-Cities(Now QCA)area had quite a few amateur neighborhood football teams, and competition between the cities was intense. In 1910, some of Rock Island 's best players formed a team known as the Independents, because it wasn't associated with any particular neighborhood or club. The team went undefeated and unscored upon in five games.

The Rock Island Independents didn't play in 1911, but many of the same players came back together in 1912, under the leadership of John Roche, and they won eight games without giving up a score.

Eventually, the Independents gave up some points. They even lost a game once in awhile.. But that was to be expected, because the Independents were now playing better teams.

Walter Flanigan, who had joined the Independents as a backup end in 1913, took over the team in 1915. He expanded Rock Island 's horizons even farther. He scheduled two 1917 games against the Minneapolis Marines, who were generally considered the champions of the northwest, but they were wiped out, 33-7,at Minneapolis .

Flanigan realized he had to bring in some players from outside the Rock Island area to build a top team. In 1919, he hired Rube Ursella of the Marines as player-coach, and Ursella brought several other Minneapolis players with him. They lost only one game that season, to the powerful Hammond Pros, led by George Halas(of Bears fame) Flanigan challenged the Canton Bulldogs to a "championship" game, offering a guarantee of $5,000 if they would come to Rock Island for the game. But Canton turned down the offer.

The following year, Flanigan joined the new American Professional Football Association, which would later became the NFL in 1922. The Independents had identical 4-2-1 records in each of the league's first three years, with five of the six losses coming against the Decatur/Chicago Staleys/Bears and George Halas..

Flanigan left the team to concentrate on his own businesses in 1923. Then another local businessman, Dale Johnson, took over as owner, with backup quarterback Vince McCarthy as manager. Rock Island went 2-3-3 that season, but came back with two more winning seasons in the years 1924 and 1925.

Then came a fateful decision when Red Grange and his manager, C. C. Pyle, were rounding up franchises for the American Football League, to begin play in 1926. McCarthy pulled Rock Island out of the NFL and joined the new league. The Independents were the only NFL team to make the jump, and it turned out to be a very bad idea. Many of the players left for bigger salaries with other teams, and the Independents stumbled to a terrible 2-6-1 record. The AFL folded and the Independents didn't rejoin the NFL. They played as a minor, semi-pro team in 1927, then went out of business.


Before unlimited substitutions were allowed, many players played on both sides of the ball.. Players below are listed only by their primary position.

John Armstrong, BB
Bill Ashbaugh, FB
Joe Bernstein, G
Wes Bradshaw, WB
Walt Buland, G
Frank DeClerk, C
Buck Gavin, FB
Joe Guyon, WB
Louis Kolls, C
Joe Kraker, G
Joe Little Twig, E
Vince McCarthy, WB
Bob Phelan, WB
Ned Scott, T
Duke Slater, T
Basil Stanley, G
George Thompson, G
Fred Thomsen, E
*Jim Thorpe, TB
Rube Ursella, WB
Mike Wilson, E


Simon Herrera has a wonderful site dedicated to the Rock Island Independents HERE

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