Players moving up from the Practice Squad to the regular lineup was not a frequent occurance, but in Covid times, the Practice Squad has become much more important. On some teams over a dozen players have been on the Covid list for an upcoming game, make it imperitive to bring replacements in quickly. Bringing players up from the Practice
Squad is one way to combat the problem.
Just how did the Practice Squad get started?
One of the more colorful characters in sport was Micky McBride. Chicago Bears fans might be interested in just how McBride affected NFL history.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Mickey McBride was a tough newsboy on the south side of Chicago. He worked his way to one of the most critical jobs in the newspaper business, circulation manager. McBride was good at his work. He moved to Cleveland and got a position doing the same thing. In time, he also made money in real estate, taxi cabs, and a wire service. McBride became a wealthy business owner.
McBride’s sons attended Notre Dame and he became interested in football while they were attending school. He decided that he wanted the challenge of owning a professional football club. First, he tried to persuade the Cleveland Rams owner, Daniel Reeves, to sell his NFL franchise. Reeves would not sell. Arch Ward, a powerful Chicago Tribune Sports Editor began to form a new league just as World War II was ending: the All-American Football Conference (AAFC). McBride signed on to establish a team in Cleveland. It would turn out to be one of the strongest teams in the league and would be picked up by the NFL.
McBride knew little about football. He thought a top caliber coach and manager was imperative. One of the best coaching talents in those days was Paul Brown. Brown signed on to coach for McBride. A fan contest determined that the “Browns” name would be used to honor the coach.
The AAFC needed media exposure. Brown brought it. The AAFC needed excellent teams. Brown developed one. The AAFC needed owners with deep pockets. Mickey McBride had them. It wasn’t enough. A handful of frail franchises would weaken the league. But the Browns success waspersuasive and they and the AAFC Colts and 49ers would be folded into the NFL.
Many players were not under contract during the war and it was a players’ market as the conflict was drawing to a close. It was a unique time for professional football. Brown could select former NFL players who were currently unsigned and great college players who had not been recruited during the war. In order to get players securely signed while they were still in military service, Brown offered retainers that paid players a monthly stipend until they were discharged. The same strategy had been used by McBride to lure Brown himself.
Mickey McBride was resourceful in other ways. McBride also owned a large taxi cab company and when Brown had a player whom he liked, but had no room for him on his team, McBride could give him a job as a taxi cab driver. Then, if Brown needed to fill a slot quickly he went to his “taxi squad” for help. It time the idea of having extra players available was adopted in the league.
The Taxi Squad evolved into the Practice Squad. Not all NFL owners own cab companies.
For more football history see Patrick McCaskey’s Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships.
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