The Bankrupt NFL Team That Led To The Creation Of The Philadelphia Eagles

Die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans think of the year 1933 fondly. That's the year their precious Birds were officially established as a National Football League team after Philadelphia natives De Benneville "Bert" Bell and James Ludlow "Lud" Wray — a pair of former professional football players — formed a group to become owners of a new football team, according to Sportscasting. After some soul-searching and a little bit of luck, Bell, who would go on to become one of the most beloved figures in all of Philadelphia sports history, came up with the name the Philadelphia Eagles. And while it's true that 1933 is a pivotal year in the team's history, there's so much more to the story than that.

In fact, per the Philadelphia Inquirer, the origin story of the Philadelphia Eagles can be traced to 1899 when the Frankford Athletic Association was formed as a community-based non-profit organization, which fielded baseball, soccer, and football teams. The latter, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, achieved much success on the football field, which eventually convinced the NFL to grant them a franchise in 1924. Their opening game as an NFL team was a romp against the Rochester Jeffersons, 21 to 0. A successful season led to a recruiting frenzy that included bringing on the famed player-coach Guy Chamberlin. Just two years later, they won an NFL championship in 1926, per the NFL.

From victory to demise

By all accounts, the Yellow Jackets were taken in as part of the tight-knit Frankford community. Many of the players had day jobs in the neighborhood, and many of them lived in boarding houses near the stadium, per Billy Penn. They hung out at the YMCA and played football with neighborhood kids. The team had a band and a fight song, as well as cheerleaders and a mascot. And after covering expenses, the organization donated any further profits to local charities.

For all the strong organizational infrastructure and local support in the community, the Frankford Yellow Jackets were struggling by the early 1930s. The Great Depression hit the Yellow Jackets from just about every angle imaginable, per The Washington Post. The nearby textile mills shut down, which meant fans — and some players — lost their day jobs. As a result, ticket and concession sales were down. The team couldn't attract veteran players without a significant salary offering. Frankford Stadium, which was damaged in a fire in 1929, was finished off in a larger fire in 1931.

Soon, the Frankford Yellow Jackets were forced to become a traveling team in 1931 with no home field. After racking up a 1-6-1 record to start the season, the morale of the Yellow Jackets was decidedly low. One final blow — a 13 to 0 loss to the New York Giants on November 8, 1931 — led the Yellow Jackets to suspend operations, per the Free Library of Philadelphia. They never recovered and declared bankruptcy.

New owners, new team

Two years later, the NFL approved the application for Bert Bell and Lud Wray to buy the defunct Yellow Jackets. Bell and Wray paid the NFL $2,500 for the franchise and took on $11,000 (more than $250,000 combined in 2022 dollars) of the Yellow Jackets' outstanding debt, according to the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The two formed a brand new team under the old franchise and named it the Philadelphia Eagles, which was named after the Blue Eagle logo of Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Recovery Industrial Act. As Bert Bell's son, Upton, tells the story, it was dumb luck that led his father to the winning name. "He was walking down the street and looked up at a billboard that had the National Recovery [Industrial] Act eagle up there ... [He] decided on the spot: 'That's the name of my team,'" Upton told The Game Before the Money podcast.

It wasn't just a matter of slapping a new name and logo on the existing Frankford Yellow Jackets squad. The Philadelphia Eagles were an entirely new team with a new roster of players. One thing did stick, though. For a time, the Eagles continued to wear the powder blue and yellow uniform colors associated with the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Per the Philadelphia Inquirer, on September 23, 2007, the Philadelphia Eagles temporarily set aside their green and white uniforms to wear blue and yellow throwback gear as a commemoration of the team's 75th anniversary.