July 28, 1923: Duluth joins the National Football League

On this day in Duluth in 1923, Marshall C. Gerbert, manager of the sporting goods department of Duluth’s Kelly hardware, and three others ponied up $250 each for the $1,000 admission fee to enter a team in the National Football League. The Kelley-Duluth team would wear red and white jerseys supplied by the hardware store and were also known as the Duluth Kelleys. Gerbert took the reins as coach. His three investing partners were college standouts: Dan Williams centered at St. Cloud State, Joey Sternaman was a star at the University of Illinois, and West Duluth’s Dewey Scanlon was a standout quarterback for Valparaiso University. Another West Duluth boy, Wally Gilbert, became an early star for the team before going on to become one of the greatest third basemen to ever play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Kelley-Duluth team played to a 4-3-0 record that year, good enough for a seventh place finish in a league of twenty teams (the NFL did not have a playoff system in those early years of the league). In 1926 the team’s secretary-treasurer Ole Haugsrud took over management, convinced his pal Ernie Nevers to join the team, and changed the name to the Duluth Eskimos.

This muddy photo, scanned from a yellowed and faded newspaper, once belonged to Eskimos’ owner Ole Haugsrud. It shows the 1924 Kelley-Duluth Hardware football team, which became the Duluth Eskimos in 1926. Top row, from left: Sam Kearnes (trainer), Wally Gilbert, Dewey Scanlon (manager), and M.C. Gebert (president); middle, from left: Art Johnson, Joe Sternaman (coach and quarterback), Allen McDonald, Russell Method, Bunk Harris, Bill Rooney, and Roddy Dunn; bottom from left: Joe Rooney, Howard Kiley, Max Morris, “Doc” Williams, Joe Madigan, Bill Stein, Ted (Ira) Haaven, Dick O’Donnell; at bottom center is Bill Bloedel, the team mascot.
(Image courtesy Dick Palmer and the Duluth Budgeteer)