Staley’s Bears 1920-1921

Emmet (Emmett) George Keefe

Height: 5’10 Weight: 195
Born: 4/28/1893 Raub, IN
Died: 9/11/1965 Chicago, IL
High School: Raub, IN
College: Notre Dame
Staleys: 1920 (one game)


Emmet Keefe’s participation with the Decatur Staleys has been shrouded in mystery and confusion for some years.  Several publications and web sites have listed “Jerry” Keefe as the man who subbed for Jerry Jones on Sunday, November 28, 1920 in Chicago against the Racine Cardinals.  This author believes that Emmet was paid cash to abandon his Chicago Tigers team to help out his former navy mates, Halas and Jones.

Emmet George Keefe [aka Emmett Gerlad] was born into a large Irish Catholic family in York Township, Benton County, in northwest Indiana.  His father and older brothers ran a general store.  He won his varsity football letter at Notre Dame playing right tackle in his 1912 freshman season along with Golden Dome legends Knute Rockne and “Gus” Dorais.  He also lettered in 1913[the season the Irish defeated West Point using new forward pass rules], 1914, and 1915 as the starting left guard and received All-Western College Team honors his junior year.  On June 15, 1914, he received his “certificate in the short course in mechanical engineering” from Notre Dame.

For a while after graduation, Emmet worked as an assistant engineer for E. W. Bemis in the Chicago City Hall.  In the fall of 1917, he became the head of athletics and football coach for the now-closed St. Viator College in Bourbonnais, IL.  In 1918 he went into the U.S. Navy and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station where he played football on the line with George Halas and former Notre Dame teammate Jerry Jones and was part of the 1919 Rose Bowl Championship team.

When the American Professional Football Association was formed in the fall of 1920 Keefe joined the Chicago Tigers franchise.  Only he and four other men, including former Evanston High School star Guil Falcon, played in all seven Tiger APFA games that season.  Two days after the Tigers second loss to the Decatur Staleys [Thursday, November 25, 1920] the Decatur Herald reported:  “Manager Halas of the Staleys has signed Keefe, of the Tigers, who will play left guard for the Starch Workers Sunday” [November 28 against the Racine Cardinals of Chicago].  However, when the Chicago and Decatur papers reported the games on Monday, Keefe was not listed in the lineup in the Staleys 6-7 loss to the Cardinals at the west side Normal Park, but was listed as playing in the Tigers lineup as they thrashed the Thorn-Tornados 27-0 in a non-league contest in “Cubs Park” on the north side of Chicago.  Two days after these games the Decatur Herald reported:  “Teefe, (sic) former Notre Dame star, who played with Staley against the Cardinals last Sunday, will be back with the locals Sunday if Ingwereson’s (sic) knee is still out of condition.”  When Decatur sports reporter Howard Millard completed his review of the Staley’s football season in the January 1921 issue of the Staley Journal, he clearly explained that Ingwersen, Jones and Chamberlain were all injured in the November 28 loss to the Cardinals and that “Keefe” played almost the whole game for Jones at right guard.  In 1921, both the Decatur Herald and the Staley Journal reported that Keefe played right guard in an indoor exhibition football game in Chicago’s Dexter park pavilion against the Logan Squares on January 16, 1921.

This author believes that since Emmet Keefe was the only Keefe who played football for Notre Dame in that era; was a close friend and former teammate of Halas and Jones; was residing in Chicago; that the league season was over for his 1-5-1 Chicago Tigers [who would soon abandon the city to the Cardinals] that Emmet accepted cash to come finish the season with the Staleys.  I also contend that his name in the Tiger lineup and omission of same from the Staley lineup in the newspapers the day following the November 28 games were both errors in reporting.  It is also possible that the introduction of “Jerry” Keefe into Staley and Bears history could have been caused by sloppy reporting years later by Howard Millard.

In 1956 Millard was helping the Staley company in finding missing players from the 1920 and 1921 teams for a reunion with Halas in Chicago.  On September 26, 1956, Millard admitted the following in his “Bait for Bugs” sports column in the Decatur Daily Review:

“Then on the desk when we arrived this morning was a letter from Charles Keefe, Raub, Ind., to advise that the Staley gridder was his brother, Emmett G. Keefe, and not Jerry.  That Jerry never did click with Bait but Emmett certainly does and to think that he has been residing in Chicago for many years, and with the Pullman Co.  Emmett was one of the older fellows to play with the Starchworkers for he was with Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais who made football history when the Irish sank the Cadets of West Point.  He later assisted Rockne at Notre Dame and was a member of the famous Great Lakes team that had some stars who later played with the Staley eleven assembled by Halas.”

In 1921 Emmet Keefe started all seven league games at guard for the Rock Island Independents.  Playing alongside five other Notre Dame players and former 1920 Staley standout Jimmy Conzelman they lost both of their games to the Staleys.  Keefe then moved on to play with Curly Lambeau and the Green Bay Packers in Chicago.  Keefe started and played the whole game at guard on November 27, 1921, as Staley won 20-0.   In 1922 he again played with Rock Island for five games before finishing the season starting at guard for the NFL Milwaukee Badgers.  The day before Rock Island was set to play its second game of the season against Green Bay the Green Bay Press-Gazette opined that “Emmett Keefe is well known in the football world.  He gained fame at Notre Dame, and added to his pigskin glory as a member of the Great Lakes team in 1918.  Keefe plays a whale of a game at guard and possesses a ‘football sense’ which enables him to solve plays.  Early the fall Green Bay was after Keefe, but he decided to stick with Rock Island.”

Little is known about the rest of Emmet’s life.  He married about 1924 and by 1930 was living in Ferndale City, Michigan and selling scales.  When former Notre Dame teammate and legend Knute Rockne was killed in a plane crash, Keefe was one of the twelve members of the class of 1914 to form a guard of honor at the April 4, 1931 burial service in South Bend.  By 1942 he was back in Chicago working as an engineer in the research and development department of the Pullman Company.  There is no evidence that he ever attended any of the Bear’s reunions including the 1956 celebration at Wrigley Field.  The Sept/Oct 1965 Notre Dame Alumni Newsletter noted that he died on September 11 “after a long illness” at age 72.  He was survived by his wife Nellie, son William and daughter Ann.

Copyright 2016 Mark W. Sorensen