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The Best Teams of the 1920s

Post-World War I America was a wild time in sports. Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees ruled major league baseball. Notre Dame really came into prominence on the college football scene, especially with the “Four Horsemen” backfield. Bobby Jones was the king of the golf links all over America. High school football in Wisconsin was drawing even bigger crowds, sometimes with 3,000-5,000 fans or more in attendance. The 1920s was an exciting decade as offenses were getting better and defenses were just as tough as before. Scoring 100-points in a game became scarce in Wisconsin high school football but overall scoring increased. Of the 20 known times a team scored 100-points against an opponent, all but one occurrence was prior to 1920. The last time known instance of a team passing the 100-point mark was done by West De Pere in a 126-0 win against Kewaunee in 1926.

The Notre Dame Box Formation, a variation of the single-wing that was developed in 1907 by Carlisle College coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, was the rage. Developed by Knute Rockne the Box was utilized by many colleges and was also prominent in the early days of pro football, in particular by the Green Bay Packers. Wisconsin high schools followed suit. The northeast part of the state dominated the scene. Green Bay East and Marinette each won 4 state titles in the 1920s and along with Green Bay West these three schools garnered eight of my top ten spots. All three schools used the Notre Dame Box or a variation of it.


10) Green Bay East -1924 - (9-0-0)

The 1924 Red Devils was the first of coach Wiley’s four state champions. They were 9-0-0 and considered the top team in the state and were the first champion of the newly formed Fox River Valley Conference. The Red devils scored 230 pints and allowed only 16 points including six shutouts. Led by David Zuidmulder who went on to play for the Green Bay Packers after college.

9) Green Bay East - 1929 - (9-0-0)

The bookend to the decade was the 1929 GB East team that had many of the stars from the 1928 championship squad. This was coach Wiley’s last season at East and it was a super one at that. The Red Devils stampeded through the Fox River Valley Conference schedule as well as defeating Wausau and Marinette in non-conference play. They scored 271 points and allowed only 40. As usual, their season ending match with GB West was another classic battle ending with a 12-7 victory.

8) Green Bay East - 1920 - (7-1-0)

The 1920 Green Bay East team featured Jim Crowley who was considered one of the top backs in the state along with Superior's John Hancock. It’s not fully understood why East and Superior couldn’t agree to meet but maybe it was because East’s coach, Curley Lambeau couldn’t get away from Green Bay to a neutral site. The Packers played all of their games that season at home except for one. Crowley could do it all, passing, running and kicking plus play outstanding defense. The team's only loss was to Oshkosh Normal, a 15-0 shutout. This East team was not the state champion, the press awarded that title to Superior, but it was a fine unit.

7) Marinette - 1926 - (8-0-0)

Tom Johnson capped his six-season coaching stint at Marinette with the 1926, 8-0-0 team that beat Superior in a season ending scheduled game. Like the other Marinette teams the Purple Warriors had a stellar defense and shutout six of their opponents and allowed only 10 points overall. The offense only scored 165 but with their tough defense they didn’t need to pile up the points.

6) Marinette - 1922 - (9-1-0)

1922 Marinette was undefeated against their Wisconsin and Michigan foes but they accepted a challenge from Toledo (OH) Scott and they did go down in flames, 45-19 but they came away with their heads held high. Why, after taking a beating? Because Scott was the 1922 and 1923 mythical national champion. Marinette scored more points against Scott than any other opponent the Ohio team played in their championship seasons. All 11 starters would go on to play college ball and their seven reserves also played college football. Marinette scored 319 overall points and allowed only 55.

5) Green Bay West - 1927 - (9-0-0)

1927 Green Bay West and Green Bay East season ending match was played before more than 10,000 fans. Both teams were undefeated heading into their annual game. They battled with West winning 7-6 thanks to the play of quarterback Arnie Heber. Future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Arnie, named as the first team All-Time quarterback by the Milwaukee Journal in 1993, passed for a fourth quarter score and then kicked the extra point for the margin of victory. The team only scored 197 points but they were a great defensive unit with seven shutouts and allowing 12 points.

4) Superior - 1920 - (9-0-0)

John Hancock and his Superior Vikings closed out their great three-year run as the top team in the northwest and state champions in 1918 as well as 1920. Their second game of the season was a close battle with Duluth Cathedral, a 7-6 win, while Hancock was injured for much of the game. Superior played Madison for the title, winning 47-7 against a team that was 7-1-0 coming into the game.

3) Green Bay East - 1928 - (10-0-0)

Green Bay East bulldozed through the 1928 season as they won the Fox River Valley Conference shutting out eight of ten opponents. They gave up a field goal to the Alumni in their opener and then a touchdown to Manitowoc in a 32-6 victory. The Red Devils scored 314 points while giving up only 9 all year. Their biggest win was a season ending battle with rival Green Bay West, 26-0.

2) Delafield St. John’s Military Academy - 1929 - (9-0-0)

In his third season at St. John’s, after a 7-1-0 record in both 1927 and 1928, Harry Wilhelm took a big step forward by going undefeated in 1929. The team beat four college teams…the Marquette University freshman, the Platteville School of Mines (Now UW-Platteville), Oshkosh Normal (Now UW-Oshkosh) varsity and the Ripon College varsity. In mid-November St. John’s beat Culver (IN) Military Academy 25-7 before nearly 25,000 football fans at Chicago’s Soldiers Field. They were awarded the National Military Prep Championship, the Western Prep Championship and the North Central Academy Association Championship banners and trophies. St. John’s ranked higher in my overall rankings over their 1929 co-champs, Green Bay East, because of their tougher schedule.

1) Marinette - 1923 - (10-0-0)

The Purple Warriors blasted through their opponents scoring 455 points and allowing only 25 including 7 shutouts. This was the last season a “match game” for the title could be played but Marinette passed on Wisconsin teams and instead felt they could stand on their own 9-0-0 record and chose to play Rockford (IL) instead. Their star player, Einer Lund was ineligible because of age, he had turned 20-years old, and didn’t play in the team’s 14-12 victory over Rockford. The 455 points that Marinette scored in 1923 broke the previous single season scoring record of 427 points, set by Superior Central in 1918 (in just 8 games). The record stood for an incredible 60 years! No Wisconsin high school team is known to have scored more points in a single season until 1983's Schofield D.C. Everest put up 486 points in 13 games.

Honorable Mention:

Pio Nono - 1927 - (8-1-0)

Prairie Du Chien Campion - 1928 - (9-0-0)

The catholic schools of the time are not thought to have been on the same level as the best of the public schools. There was little overlap in schedules but Pio Nono defeated a good Milwaukee Lincoln team on their way to an 8-1-0 season and the first mythical Catholic state championship. A close loss coming mid-season to Racine St Catherine. Prairie Du Chien Campion lost to Pio Nono in the final game of 1927 before going undefeated in 1928 to win the mythical Catholic state championship.

Pio Nono - 1927


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