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Sunday
Aug192018

The Minneapolis Marines

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

Long before the Minnesota Vikings played their first game in 1961 there was another NFL team in the city. The Minneapolis Marines introduced professional football to the city in 1921, and while their win-loss record was nothing to brag about, the team was a source of entertainment and pride for the communities they played in.

The Minneapolis Marines

A photo of Bobby Marshall taken in 1905Starting back in 1905, the Marines consisted of local neighborhood boys for their first few years of existence where they competed in city leagues. The team was the starting point for many future NFL players, which is a big reason why they saw regional success. The peak years for the team came shortly after they started bringing in ex-collegiate players from local colleges, such at the University of Minnesota, Augsburg, and Hamline. The most notable of these players is Bobby Marshall. After graduating from Minneapolis Central High School, Marshall attended the University of Minnesota where he became the first African-American to play baseball, hockey, and football at the university, as well as enroll in their law school.

From 1913-1917, the Minneapolis Marines were the best independent football team in the Midwest sporting a 33-0 record. With the United States’ involvement in World War I, all independent teams disbanded. During this time, the Marines’ star players, including Bobby Marshall, left for Illinois to play for the Rock Island Independents. In 1920, the Independents became a founding member of the American Professional Football Association, which later rebranded as the NFL. It was because of this that Bobby Marshall became the first African-American to play in the NFL.

A year later, the Minneapolis Marines would also make the jump to the NFL, however, they would not find the same success they had as an independent team. From 1921 to 1924 they went 4-17-3, including a 0-6 record during their last season. The financial burden was too much for the owners, so the team folded. A few years later in 1929, the owners of the Marines decided to give it another go and field another team in the NFL. This time they would be called the Minneapolis Red Jackets. Once again, the gamble did not payoff, and the team went 2-16-1 during their two seasons in the league. With the team never making money and the Great Depression in full swing, the owners folded the team one last time. The best thing to almost happen to this iteration of the team would’ve happened in 1930 when they offered a contract to legendary Golden Gopher, Bronko Nagurski. Unfortunately, the Chicago Bears offered a better deal, and Nagurski signed with them for $5,000.

Football game at Bottineau Field, 1926

From playing in parks like Bottineau and Camden to stadiums like Nicollet Park and Lexington Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints, the Minneapolis Marines/Red Jackets found lots of success early on and unfortunately ended things on a bad note, much like the Vikings did last season, but let’s put that behind us. Will the Vikings ever dawn the red jerseys with red and white striped sleeves that the Marines once wore for a throwback game? Probably not, but the interest and passion that this team created for professional football in the city and state can still be seen throughout Minnesota.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 5+ years.

He can be reached at mrainvillejr@comcast.net.

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