The Quick Demise Of The NFL's Shortest-Lived Franchise In History

The National Football League is home to some of the most historic, recognizable, and valuable franchises in all of sports. Take the Dallas Cowboys for instance. In 2021 Forbes named them the world's most valuable franchise, with an estimated value of $5.7 billion. They've got a history that spans more than six decades and a logo that's instantly recognized all around the world.

It's sometimes easy to forget that the current 32 NFL franchises aren't the only ones to ever exist. Despite some recent relocations for the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders, the league has maintained a few decades of reasonable stability, something that was virtually unheard of during its early years.

According to Pro Football Reference, there are a few dozen teams that were once part of the NFL and have almost completely been forgotten in the years since. Some played in small markets, like the Pottsville Marrons, who were part of the league in the mid to late 1920s, or the Evansville Crimson Giants, who played in the early part of the same decade. Others tested the waters in large markets like the Los Angeles Dons and Miami Seahawks. There was a team that played in the late 1940s called the New York Yankees. But few teams have a flash-in-the-pan existence quite like the Tonawanda Kardex.

The American Professional Football Association

In 1921, the National Football League didn't exist. However, according to Ohio History Connection, its direct predecessor, the America Professional Football Association (APFA), was up and running. As the sport's popularity ramped up, towns started fielding their own teams, which were sometimes sponsored by local businesses. These teams became a major source of town pride. However, during World War I, with many football-playing-aged men in the service, teams started to look outside of their local talent pools to fill out rosters.

The APFA was the first attempt at creating a unified professional football league for these teams, and it was headquartered in Canton, Ohio, now home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 1920 inaugural season saw 14 teams play schedules with a varying number of games each, and the Akron Pros staking their claim for the league championship (via Pro Football Reference).

For the league's second season, the field expanded to 21 teams, per Pro Football Reference, including the Green Bay Packers, a team even non-football fans would be familiar with. Another team that made its debut that season — one there's a good chance you've never heard of until right now — was the Tonawanda Kardex.

The Tonawanda Kardex

First, let's break down their name: Tonawanda is the name of a town in upstate New York, not far from Buffalo. That part was easy, but what is a Kardex? As it turns out, according to Pacific Standard, American Kardex was the name of an office furniture company. They were the team's primary sponsor and namesake; before the deal with American Kardex they were known as the Tonawanda Lumberjacks or Lumbermen. Tonawanda played one season before joining the APFA, where they racked up nine wins and just one loss with a team comprised mostly of locals. Perhaps thinking they could ride that success, they made the leap to the preeminent professional football league in the country.

They didn't. The Tonawanda Kardex played just two games in 1921, the first of which was a 0-0 draw against a non-APFA professional team out of Syracuse in a rain-shortened game, per Professional Football Researchers Association. Next was Tonawnada's first and only APFA game, where they took on one of the league's charter members, the Rochester Jeffersons. The game was about as lopsided as it gets, with Rochester taking an easy 45-0 victory, according to Pro Football Reference. The Rochester Jeffersons were by no means one of the league's powerhouses, either, as they finished in the middle of the standings with a 2-3 record.

The Tonawanda Kardex fold

That was the last game for the Tonawanda Kardex. According to Pacific Standard, after the unholy beating at the hands of the Rochester Jeffersons, Tonawanda wasn't able to find another opponent to play. Whether that was because no one wanted to play them (playing them seems like it would have been a good opportunity to pad a team's record) or maybe they just didn't look very hard for another game.

With no one to play, the Kardex folded, and became remembered as the 0-1 team that had the shortest lifespan of any NFL team, and that's only if people remember them at all. According to Pro Football Reference, the 1921 APFA season soldiered on — Kardex-less — with the Chicago Staleys winning the APFA championship. Tonawanda came in last place, behind several teams that played and lost two games each: the Louisville Brecks, Muncie Flyers, and New York Brickley Giants. In 1922, the APFA became the National Football League, according to Ohio History Central, a name that has remained intact ever since.