A conversation with Wellington Mara and later with Art Daley provided me with an amusing story from the 1920s and a man running for his life.
George Trafton played at centre for the Decatur Staleys/Chicago Bears from 1920-32 and was a notorious on the field ruffian. He was far from popular in Rock Island, Illinois when that city fielded an NFL team, the Independents, in the early 1920s. During one game in 1920, several of the Rock Island players had to leave the game with assorted injuries after encounters with Trafton. The crowd, already angry, became enraged when Independent fullback Fred Chicken joined the casualty list as he tried to race around end and out of Trafton’s reach.
“I tackled him right on the side-line,” Trafton said, “there was a fence close to the field and after I hit Chicken he spun up against the fence post and broke his leg. After that the fans were really on me”. An understatement, to say the least. At the end of the game the crowd chased George out of the stadium and down the street under a shower of rocks, empty bottles and other lethal objects at hand that could be thrown. Dutch Sternaman, a halfback and half-owner of the Bears, tried to pick him up in a taxi but the pursuers were too close. Trafton finally managed to escape with the help of a passing motorist.
The next time the Bears appeared in Rock Island the game was again an especially physical one and the crowd grew nasty as it had the time before. When the game was over and George Halas was handed $7,000 in cash, the Bears’ share of the gate receipts, he slipped the money into Trafton’s pocket without George realising.
Halas said later, “I knew when the trouble started I’d be running only for the seven thousand dollars, Trafton would be running for his life.”
Halas retrieved the money when they had reached safety although George Trafton apparently said if he had known about the money he wouldn’t have stopped running until he reached Mexico.
To add to his notoriety George would fight future world heavy weight champion, Primo Carnera, on March 26th 1930 in Kansas City being knocked out in the first round.