Early Duluth underdogs find victory: 1924 Duluth Kelleys vs. Green Bay Packers

John Patrick “Jack” Underwood takes the screen pass from Cobb Rooney. He shrugs off the would-be tackler Curly Lambeau and leaps for the goal line. Duluth leads 6-3 over the Green Bay Packers, according to Leatherheads of the North, by Chuck Frederick. It’s September 27, 1924, and the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Duluth Kelleys is a day away. A five-pound bag of pure cane sugar is 41 cents. Coffee in a one-pound tin is 48 cents at the new Piggly Wiggly on 130-132 West First St.

Tickets are $1.36 for men and 90 cents for women, according to a Duluth News Tribune article published September 27, 1924.

The Kelley-Duluth football team entered the professional league on July 2, 1923, with a down payment of $250. The team was named after the hardware store that sat on Superior Street.

Hundreds of former high school and college stars from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin turned out to try and acquire one of the 16 available and valuable spots on the team.

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As the last few minutes tick off the clock, the smell of victory is in the air at Athletic Park, the home of the Duluth Kelleys. The Kelleys miss two drop kicks and the Packers have a chance to win, due in part to Duluth player Bill Stein.

Stein, the center-guard-tackle receives a 50-yard penalty for “slugging.” A 5-yard penalty for stalling is allowing the drive to continue and kill all hope for the Kelleys.

The Green Bay Packers were coming off of a 7-2-1 season. They had won their last five games by a combined score of 58-7. All year, they gave up a mind-boggling 34 points.

It’s September 28 at Athletic Park. On a picture perfect day, the crowd of 3,000 is set for the opening game of the season.

The first half is an endless barrage of punts for both teams. The punter for Duluth was a man named Doc Kelly, a dentist from over the bridge in Superior.

His nickname was “ Old Tooth Carpenter” and he was playing in his first professional game. He was a smaller man, only 5-foot-10-inches and 170-pounds. By contrast, on the Green Bay Packers, Cub Buck was 6-foot-3-inches and weighed 250-pounds—one of the biggest football players in the league according to the Packers’ Hall of Fame website biography on Cub Buck.

The Packers first and only score came when Kelly came under heavy pressure and was barely able to get away the punt. His kick came off at a horrible angle, and it looked certain that a touchdown was near.

Curly Lambeau, the star player, owner, and coach fumbled on a play near the goal line. Luckily, a teammate of his got on top of the ball. The Packers dodged a bullet.

Then Buck attempted to fake a drop kick, about to pitch it to Lambeau. However, the underdog Kelleys weren’t fooled, and dropped him for a 2-yard loss.

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The Packers were beginning to get fed up with this team they were supposed to dominate. Buck put the kick through the uprights and took a 3-0 advantage at Athletic Park.

In the Duluth News Tribune it read that right after the score, “the large gallery of Duluth fans felt a sickening feeling creep over their mid-section, but it soon passed, for the Kelleys seemed to take the three points which were scored against them as the needed tonic.”

With the Kelley’s down by three, they needed a score fast. It was when Bill Rooney, Cobb’s brother, took the kick after the score 20 yards. After a couple of plays they had to kick. Then the dentist from Superior booted a booming kick 55 yards.

The Packers received the ball with momentum. Lambeau was hit fast and hard by the 6–foot-7-inch, 218-pound, Doc Williams and it caused him to fumble. Duluth recovered the ball. After two modest gains on the ground, the third play was a touchdown.

As the final ticks came off the clock, the Duluth Kelley’s were able to hold off Green Bay’s last stand.

On September 29, 1924 the headline of the Duluth News Tribune read, “Kelleys Defeat Packers in Thrilling Dope Upset”.

Going into the game, Duluth was given only a slight glimmer of hope to hold its own with the so-called “gridiron stars selected from several points in the east and the west”.

After this game, the Kelley-Duluth team would finish fourth in the final National Football League. Standing with a 5-1 record, the sole loss was at the hands of Green Bay at their home turf, Bellevue Park.

The Kelley-Duluth team would remain until 1927 when the name was changed to the Duluth Eskimos. However, this victory would be the biggest in the team’s history.

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