September 14, 2009

The NFL's Oorang Indians

Oorang IndiansThe Oorang Indians were a traveling team in the National Football League from LaRue, Ohio (near Marion). The team was named after the Oorang dog kennels. It was a novelty team put together by the kennels' owner, Walter Lingo, for marketing purposes. All of the players were Native American, with Jim Thorpe as its leading player. They played the 1922 and 1923 NFL seasons. Of the 20 games they played over two seasons, only one was played at "home" in nearby Marion.

With a population well under a thousand people, LaRue is the smallest town ever to have been the home of an NFL franchise, or probably any professional team in any league in the United States.

Fielding the team

Jim Thorpe served as a player-coach and recruited players for the team. In keeping with Lingo's wishes that franchise be an all-Indian team. The Oorang Indians consisted of members that were Cherokee, Mohawk, Chippewa, Blackfeet, Winnebago, Mission, Caddo, Sac and Fox, Seneca and Penobscot. The team roster included such names as Long Time Sleep, Joe Little Twig, Big Bear, War Eagle, and Thorpe.

Since Lingo’s plan was to advertise his dogs and kennel, the Indians were a traveling team, having only played one home game. That one "home" game was also played in nearby Marion, instead of LaRue since the town did not have a football field. This caused the team to travel week after week to many of major cities in the country. However, despite the hectic schedule, Lingo insisted that the Indians received the very best of care. The same dieticians and the same trainer who fed his Airedales and cared for their well-being, also tended to the Indian team members.

1922 and 1923 seasons

There were two future Hall of Famers on the roster, Thorpe and Joe Guyon, but they did not play much. Thorpe sat out quite a few games and never played more than a half, while Guyon did not join the team until midway through the first season. The Indians defeated the Indianapolis Belmonts, in a snowstorm, 33-0 in their inaugural game, taking home 2,000 in profits and a Cherokee tackle named Chief Johnson, who Thorpe recruited at halftime.

However football was not a priority for Lingo, promoting his kennel was. The pre-game and halftime activities were considered more important than the results of the game, and this entertainment was provided by the players and the Airedale dogs. Because of this lack of interest by Lingo, the Indians turned out not to be a very good team. In fact, they won only three games in two years. The players must have found it difficult to take their football seriously when considering that they were entertainers, instead of an NFL caliber team.

First ever halftime shows

Rather than retiring to the locker room at halftime, the Oorang Indians showed Lingo’s Airedales to the crowd. It was debatable, though, whether the Indians were there to play football or give Airedale exhibitions at halftime. In addition to the exhibitions with the dogs; the Indians, including Thorpe, participated in helping the Oorang Airedales perform tricks for the crowd. However, it was their halftime entertainment that made them such a huge attraction in the early 1920s. There were shooting exhibitions with the dogs retrieving the targets. There were Indian dances and tomahawk and knife-throwing demonstrations. Thorpe would often repeatedly drop kick balls through the uprights from midfield. Nikolas Lassa, also called "Long-Time-Sleep," even wrestled a bear on occasion.

Party lifestyle

The whole purpose of the Indians was to advertise Lingo's Airedales. The Indians knew that football wasn't important to the owner, so they spent a lot of their time partying and drinking.

In 1922 the night before a game with the Chicago Bears, the Indians went to a Chicago bar called "Everyman's Saloon." At 2:00 a.m., the bartender stopped serving drinks since Illinois law prohibited the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m.. This action upset the Indians who stuffed the bartender in a telephone booth and turned it upside down. The Indians were defeated by the Bears 33-6 just a few hours later.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see New Jim Thorpe Documentary and Indians to Protest at Super Bowl.

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