This is a post in an ongoing series, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field.
Ah, the mysterious AAFC. Way back in the 1940’s, football was wild…and largely unpopular. Before the pass happy era of the 1950’s, the 40’s were an era dominated by the good teams and stunk up by the bad teams. The divide between the two was harsh, and while the Cleveland Browns glimmered with a 14-0 record and a championship, the Chicago Rockets endured the league’s worst record a season so bad that they had to change the team’s name and identity at the start of 1949.
The season was also so bad that, unless I’m proven otherwise, have no existing pictures on the internet. So for this post, we’re going near-typewriter style, only needing 1 picture to get us through the entire thing.
In 1947, the Rockets suffered through an awful 1-13 season, in which they were outscored 425-263. Their coach, Jim Crowley, was fired after an 0-10 start and Hampton Pool (the same interim guy with the Miami Seahawks) came in, guiding them to their only win over the Colts. The defense allowed 7.7 yards per passing attempt and nearly 5 yards per rushing attempt. The offense couldn’t stop turning the ball over, and that’s all she wrote. People in Chicago hated the team, and the attendance began to dwindle.
Here came 1948, and there were hopes for a .500 turnaround. Edward McKeever was hired as head coach, and personnel changes were made.
Immediately, the Rockets raced out of the gate…and hit a wall. The good news was, they had held their first opponent (the Los Angeles Dons) to under 14 points for what would be one of two times all season, but they ruined the opportunity by scoring 0 points and turning the ball over 3 times.
In Week 2, the team faced the Buffalo Bills (not the AFL Bills, the original AAFC Bills). They were crushed 42-7 and turned the ball over an incredible 9 times.
In Week 3, the team pulled together for a 21-14 win over Baltimore…their only of the season.
This pattern of scoring no points, giving up tons and turning the ball over at a New York Jets pace continued. The Rockets had the misfortune of playing in a legendary division: the 14-0 Otto Graham-led Browns, the unbelievable 49ers (there will be an article on them later), and the unexpectedly tough L.A. Dons, who finished at .500.
When the smoke cleared, the Rockets were 1-13 for the second year in a row. The offense was stuck in a pit while the defense had their helmets on backwards. The 1948 team was definitely worse than the ’47 team, as they
- Scored 61 points less
- Gave up 13 more points
- Set a professional football record by finishing with a turnover differential of -30, a feat that hasn’t been beaten to this day, only being tied by the Steelers in 1965.
In their average game, Chicago was beaten by exactly 17 points. Their -237 point differential was predictably the worst in the league, and Ed McKeever was fired at the end of the season as head coach.
Although the statistics aren’t amazingly terrible like the ’46 Seahawks, they are pretty dismal. The leading passer on the team was Jesse Freitas, who completed 50.3% of his passes (terrible considering he only threw 167 all season) for 1,425 yards, 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He had a rating of 67.9, and I can’t tell you how many times he was sacked because it wasn’t marked down in 1948. Although Freitas started 9 games, he lost all of them.
The next man up was Sam Vacanti, who completed 40.5% of his passes for 633 yards, 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a grand rating of 24.7. Stunning. Although Vacanti’s stats are crap, he led the Rockets to their only win over the Colts and Rex Grossman – who was Baltimore’s kicker at that time, not to be confused with the mediocre quarterback in modern times, don’t be foolish.
Not much else to report about in the passing department, except for Tom Farris, who despite starting zero games appeared in 13. He threw nine passes, completing three for 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. This led to a rating of 2.8.
In all, the pass attack contributed for 2,290 yards, 19 touchdowns and 38 interceptions, thanks in part mainly to Vacanti. The quarterbacks and throwers on the team had an average rating of 44.7, and roughly 1/10 of passes thrown were interceptions. I’m sorry, I just…
I was amazed to find that I actually found a picture of the leading rusher, Eddie Prokop. I’m desperately trying to prove he’s somehow related to Joe Prokop, the former Punter in the 80s and 90s, but I can’t find any evidence.
Prokop finished the year with 54 carries for 266 yards and a touchdown, which is not bad at all considering he averaged 4.9 yards per carry to lead the team. The rushing attack wasn’t very good, and is even worse when you consider how much teams ran the ball back in that time. No player finished with more than 1 touchdown on the ground apart from the immortal Sam Vacanti, who rushed for two, one in the Rockets’ win over Baltimore.
Way down on the rushing list we have Angelo Bertelli, who is the only man on the team to rush for negative yardage. Bertelli carried the ball twice for -1 yards. Naturally, he did not score a touchdown.
In all, the stale running attack carried the ball a healthy 479 times…for a not-so-healthy 1,701 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry as a team and only 8 touchdowns.
The top receiver on the team was a guy named Fay King, who recorded 50 receptions for 647 yards and 7 touchdowns. Very good numbers when you think about how putrid the quarterback play was. There isn’t anything interesting about the receiving department, aside from the fact that Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch played on this team. Before he gained his fame on the Rams, Hirsch was a run-of-the-mill back and receiver, who caught 7 balls for 101 yards and a touchdown.
However, despite the statistics leading you to believe that this offense was at least below-average, it certainly was not. It was much worse. Chicago averaged only 14.4 points per game, while the other teams in the division blew it out of the water, with totals of 18.4, 35.3 and 27.7.
The defense was really the weak sister of the team, though. You can point to the electric divisional teams, but I think those teams were electric because of Chicago’s defense. Since it was 1948, statistics are scarce, so I can only give you the barebones of what can be found. The Rockets altogether gave up 439 points, an average of 31.4 per game. They allowed nearly 6 yards per play (missing it by 0.1), as they gave up 7.8 yards per pass attempt and 23 touchdowns, which was a very large sum at that time. They also picked off as many passes (19) as the offense passed for. The team also gave up 2,614 yards on the ground and 33 touchdowns, giving up 4.9 yards per carry and 117 rushing first downs.
The turnover problem was also previously mentioned, as a horrid -30 ratio was Chicago’s finishing number. The stats site, however, tells me that the Rockets turned the ball over 65 times and the defense forced only 33, leading to a ratio of -32, which would give them the all-time worst.
At the end of the season, with already pitiful attendance reaching ridiculous lows (only 4,930 people showed up to watch their final home game against the Yankees, which they lost 28-7), and the firing of Ed McKeever, the Rockets sort of…half-folded. The organization dropped all ties with the name “Rockets” and that team’s history, changing their name to the Hornets and playing one more season in Chicago.
The 1949 Hornets finished 4-8, and despite the improvement, the team folded with the AAFC Conference as the more successful teams (San Francisco, Cleveland and Baltimore) went on to play in the new league. After just four short seasons, Chicago AAFC football was done, as the teams who played there racked up a grand record of 11-40-3.