College football teams will be scrimmaging all over America this month, and I hope that Bama’s Nick Saban meant it when he said; One thing about championship teams is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity. Roll Tide Roll.
Professional football continues to elude the Los Angeles marketplace, although the Cities of Inglewood and Carson are forging ahead and are in one way or the other determined to erect new NFL Stadiums. It appears that we will have at least one team, and possibly two, by the 2016 season.
If that is the case, professional football will return to Los Angeles 90 years after the first game was played here. And to be specific, “here” was in Playa Del Rey, CA. And although I am still researching this, it might have been the first professional football game played anywhere Out West.
In 1926, Fritz Burns and actor Lew Cody created the Los Angeles Buccaneers from the ruins of the Washington Generals, one of the founding teams that would later comprise the National Football League. Burns had recently relocated from Minnesota, and was running the Dickinson and Gillespie real estate development at Palisades del Rey, later renamed, Playa Del Rey, California.
The Bucs were actually based in Chicago, but Burns brought the team to Playa Del Rey for two exhibition games, and his real estate headquarters served as the team’s front office. That building today is known as Tanner’s Coffee Shop.
The team was managed and player-coached by two University of California at Berkeley outstanding athletes, Brick Muller and Tut Imlay. At a time when no professional sports franchises of any kind existed west of the Mississippi, and a professional football game was big news in the Village. Angelenos flocked to Palisades del Rey from all over town to see the game.
The shrewd Fritz Burns had signs erected all up and down Speedway Boulevard (Culver Boulevard), advertising Palisades del Rey and Surfridge, and real estate agents plied the crowds with brochures and invitations to view the new home sites. Free lunches were served across the street. Burn’s had purchased a WWI biplane which took prospective buyers on aerial tours above the nearly deserted dunes, known then as Del Rey Heights.
College Football, and in our area USC Football, was so powerful in those days that the Buccaneers were essentially barred from playing at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Running a road team was very expensive, and exhausting for the players. By the end of the 1926 season, the team folded. They finished the season with a remarkable record of 6-3-1, sixth place out of 22 teams.
Fritz Burns went on to build what we know today as Playa Del Rey, and later many parts of Westchester.
It would be another 40 years before football returned to Los Angeles. In 1946 the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC started play in Los Angeles. In that same year, the Cleveland Rams became the first NFL franchise in town.
LOS ANGELES BUCCANEERS VS. NEW YORK YANKEES, PLAYA DEL REY, CA, 1926. The football field was built just east of what is now Matilla Village Center on Culver Boulevard. The end zone in the forefront would have been where Gordon’s Market is now located. Brick Muller (inset), was a two-time All American at Cal, and Olympic Silver Medalist at Antwerp-1920. Muller and six other graduates from San Diego High School played on Cal’s undefeated/untied 1920 “Wonder Team”. (Photo, Author).