Maxwell Football Club Turns 75 Tonight

Remembering two football greats: Robert W. “Tiny” Maxwell, and former NFL commissioner Bert Bell.

Tonight at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, the members of the Maxwell Football Club will hold their 75thannual anniversary awards gala. Led by current president Ron Jaworski, they’ll toast this year’s Maxwell Award winner, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and Tyrann Mathieu of LSU, winner of this year’s Chuck Bednarik Award for the Defensive Player of the Year, along with a number of other awardees. And as always, they’ll honor the memory of two local gridiron legends: Robert W. “Tiny” Maxwell, and former NFL commissioner Bert Bell, who founded the Maxwell Football Club and named it to honor his friend Tiny.

Tiny wasn’t tiny; he stood six-foot-four and tipped the scales at 240 pounds during his playing days in the earliest part of the 20th century. He played lineman for the University of Chicago for two years before transferring to Swarthmore for his final two years of school. In 1905, the Swatties were undefeated except for one loss in a legendary game to the University of Pennsylvania, in which, legend has it, Tiny was blocked by three Quaker linemen who so bloodied and manhandled him that a newspaper photo of his mangled face shocked President Teddy Roosevelt, who threatened to outlaw football if colleges didn’t impose stricter rules and limit injuries. There was some basis for his fears; that year, 18 college football players were killed in games. By the end of 1905, 62 colleges had met and agreed to a set of game modifications that included extending the distance required for a the first down from five to 10 yards; cutting the length of games from 70 to 60 minutes; instituting a neutral zone; and legalizing the forward pass.

After graduation, Tiny played pro ball, coached at Swarthmore and Penn, and then became a renowned referee for local pro and college football games as well as a sportswriter. He died in 1922, at the age of 37, after he drove his car into a truckload of Boy Scouts outside Norristown.

As for Bell, he was larger than life: coach of the Penn Quakers, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL commissioner, owner of the Eagles, inventor of the draft system, negotiator of the league’s first TV contract. (Not all his innovations were winners; he also instituted the TV timeout and the TV blackout policy.) He married a Broadway showgirl and died of a heart attack in the stands at an Eagles game, in 1959. He also famously said, “On any given Sunday, any team in our league can beat any other team.”

Chances are you’re thinking more about baseball than football today. But if you hoist one this evening, tip your glass to Tiny and Bert and the 75th anniversary of a tradition that brings football’s greats to our doorstep every year.