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A history of the football New York Yankees

In the late 1940s, the Yankees shared a stadium, team name, and owner with a football franchise.

Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl - Miami v Rutgers Photo by James Patrick Cooper/ISI Photos/Getty Images

These days, Yankee Stadium plays host to one, or maybe even a couple, football games per year. Every year during college football bowl season, the Pinstripe Bowl is held in the Bronx during the baseball offseason. There’s also occasionally some other college games held there, like this past season when Syracuse and Pitt played there.

The original Yankee Stadium was home to a lot more football back in the day. The New York Giants played there for a while before moving to the old Giants Stadium when that opened in the Meadowlands. The Bronx was famously host to the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts, which got the nickname “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

However, the Giants weren’t the only football team that ever called Yankee Stadium home. On this Super Bowl Sunday, let’s look back at another that not only shared a home, but a name and an owner with our baseball New York Yankees.

Over the years, there were a variety of “New York Yankees” football teams that attempted to get off the ground. Most of them came about via attempts to form leagues called the “American Football League” — which aren’t the same as the AFL, which did eventually merge with the NFL in the 1960s — as rivals to the National Football League. They typically didn’t last more than a couple seasons, with only one, a team that went from 1926-28 and briefly got into the NFL, lasting more than two seasons.

In the 1940s, the baseball Yankees were well and truly rolling. The eras of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and others had turned the team into the preeminent franchise in baseball, with several World Series titles to their name. All of that made them an attractive proposition for the trio of Larry MacPhail, Del Webb, and Dan Topping to purchase in 1945.

Under the guidance of mainly Webb and Topping — MacPhail was bought out of the trio in 1947 after a drunken outburst during World Series celebrations, the Yankees continued their dominance, winning 10 World Series titles during their ownership.

Of the trio, Topping had some sports ownership experience prior to taking over the Yankees. Back in 1934, he had purchased a stake, and later full ownership, in the Brooklyn Dodgers football team. (They really weren’t creative with team names back in the day.) The team had some amount of success under Topping, and even played in the NFL’s first-ever televised game in 1939. It was through that tenure in Brooklyn that he became acquainted with MacPhail — who worked for the baseball Dodgers — leading to the later purchase of the baseball Yankees.

After adding the baseball Yankees to his sporting portfolio, Topping wanted to move the football Dodgers into Yankee Stadium. However, the territorial rights for that era belonged to the Tim Mara owned New York (football) Giants who played just across the Harlem River at the Polo Grounds. The Giants vetoed the idea, leading to Topping making a drastic move.

For 1946, a new challenger football league to the NFL had been planned and announced: the All-American Football Conference. The new league offered Topping the chance to own the New York franchise for the new league. He took up that opportunity, and moved the football Dodgers into Yankee Stadium, renaming them the New York Yankees.

Featuring a roster that included future Pro Football Hall of Famer Ace Parker and others, the football Yankees went 10-3-1 in the AAFC’s inaugural year in 1946. They had a brand name for a coach too in Hall of Famer Ray Flaherty, who had played on the Giants’ 1934 NFL championship team before winning it all as Washington’s coach in ‘42. His ‘46 Yanks won AAFC’s East Division and a spot in the championship game, which they lost 14-9 to the Cleveland Browns.

The following year, Flaherty’s crew went 11-2-1, again winning the East Division. However once again, they were defeated by Cleveland in the championship game, this time by a score of 14-3.

In 1948, the football Yankees fell to 6-8, dropping to third in their division. In 1949, the AAFC lost a team as the Brooklyn Dodgers — again, not the most creative names they’re working with here — were merged into the Yankees. The team bounced back and finished 8-4, but lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the opening round of the playoffs.

Shortly before the championship game of the AAFC’s 1949 season, the league reached a peace agreement with the NFL. That led to a merger between the leagues with three AAFC teams gaining entrance. The Browns, 49ers, and Baltimore Colts — all of whom still exist today — were the teams chosen. With the New York market filled, the Yankees were not and Topping accepted a buyout from the NFL. That marked the end* of any high-level football teams being named the New York Yankees.

*One lasting AAFC Yankees legacy turned out to be a versatile player out of Texas who joined them in that last season of 1949. It was Cowboys icon Tom Landry’s first of 40 in the pros as a player, coordinator, or coach.

Who knows? Maybe if they had beaten the Browns in one of those championship games, today we’d be having to specify which sport if you say “New York Yankees.”

Resources

SABR, Armour, Mark and Levitt, Daniel R.

NFL.com

Pro Football Reference

Pro Football Reference

Pro Football Reference

Pro Football Reference

Seattle Times