Staley’s Bears 1920-1921


Height: 6’2”  Weight: 240
Born: 06/27/1897 Lincoln, NE
Died:  01/1/1927  Calumet City, IL
High School:  Hyde Park High School [Chicago]
College: Syracuse
Staleys: 1921

In 1913, Hyde Park High School was the Chicago Public School Football League city champions.  Sophomore Lou Usher was on that team while also being one of the school yearbook sports editors.  So it is possible that he penned this typical description of amateur athletics in the 1914 issue of The Aitchpe:  “The boys that represented Hyde Park in football were a fine, clean bunch of fellows who fought hard, just as true sportsmen should.”

Usher was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1897 and was the youngest of three sons for Thomas James Usher and Jessie Van Vonkerburg.  By 1910 the family had moved to the south end of Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  Lou’s father and older brothers went into hardware sales, and it appears that big Lou was involved in businesses at various times in Detroit after high school.  While the “Pro Football Archives” lists Usher as attending Detroit Mercy College, that school has no record of him ever attending, working or playing there.  He registered for the draft while in Detroit in August 1918 but was not called into service, possibly because he was recently married.

According to Student Directories at Syracuse University, Lou was a first-time student for at least part of the 1916-1917 year.  He did not return there until the fall of 1918 as a student in the Law College, possibly a cadet in the Student Army Training Corps, and as the starting right tackle on the varsity football team.  The football season at many colleges that year started a month late due to the influenza pandemic and military travel restrictions.  Syracuse only lost one game that season – to Michigan in Ann Arbor on November 17 after Usher was “laid out” on the final play of the first quarter.  The last game of the shortened season was against Rutgers and played at the Polo Grounds in New York City on Saturday, November 30, and with the legendary Walter Camp watching from the stands Usher had the game of his life.  While the Orangemen were fighting to keep the already famous Paul Robeson in check, Usher blocked a punt in the first quarter, recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.  In the third quarter, Usher recovered a Rutgers’ fumble and ran 25 yards into the end zone thus providing 12 of the 21 points of his team’s shutout.  It was the last game of Usher and Robeson’s collegiate career and a month later Camp named Usher a first team All-American tackle and Robeson a first team end.  Robeson would go on to team up with Fritz Pollard on the Akron Pros in 1921 as two of the very few African-Americans to play professional football in that era.

While Robeson’s long life is well documented, nothing is known of Usher’s activities during the next few years.  He played at least one American Professional Football Association game for the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons in 1920 when he started on the line against Fort Porter on October 10.  In 1921 he was credited with playing one game at the start of the season with the Jeffersons but then came to Chicago in November and finished the season with the recently relocated Staleys.  He subbed in the snow in a win over Rock Island at Cubs Park on November 13 as team scribe Howard Millard reported, “Usher, the All American lineman with Syracuse a few years back, played his first game with the starchworkers taking the place of [Tarzan] Taylor in the latter part of the contest.  Usher is a player of wide experience and will make a valuable addition to the starchworkers forward wall.”

In his only other appearances for Staley he subbed at both left tackle and left guard in a 20-0 win at Green Bay on November 27,  and started at left guard in a rainstorm win against the Canton Bulldogs on December 11 as sportswriter Millard opined that Usher “showed the Canton athletes a few things about line play.”

Again, there is no public record of what Lou did for the next 20 months, but in the fall of 1923 he joined seven other former Staley grid stars to play the season with the now Chicago Bears.  However, during that same season he also started three games for the Hammond Pros from Indiana – but played against them during the Bears-Pros game.  In 1924 he played a total of 12 games for three different teams, the Pros, the Kenosha Maroons and the Milwaukee Badgers.  He finished his professional football career in 1926 starting in 4 games for Hammond.

Lou’s personal life must have been very interesting.  All agree that he was married at least twice.  A search of genealogical and news data bases listed him as marrying Frances M. Ferris in Detroit on June 26, 1918,  and Eloise R. Roberts claimed that their daughter, Dorothy Lee was born in Lima, OH, on October 14, 1923.  When Lou was tragically killed on New Year’s Day 1927, after his car collided with a bus in Calumet City, IL, the Chicago Tribune obituary on January 4 listed that his wife Norma Usher and son Jack survived him.  However, the same issue of the paper revealed that in court the day before his former wife Elizabeth Beach Usher was shocked to learn that she would not receive her overdue alimony of $150 because Lou, at age 35, was recently deceased.

Lou Usher rests in peace next to his mother and father in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

Copyright@2018 Mark W. Sorensen, Decatur, IL

Special thanks for their assistance to Patricia Higo, Archives and Special Collections Librarian, University of Detroit Mercy and to Grace Wagner, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University.