Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clarence Saunders' Colors??

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2009 at 12:32 PM

One of my readers recently sent an interesting query: What were the colors of Clarence Saunders' football uniforms?

Now, if you don't even know what I'm talking about, that hurts my feelings, because I've written many, many times in Memphis magazine about the semi-professional football team that the grocery store magnate fielded here in the 1920s. In fact, as recently as April, I mentioned it AGAIN, when I complained that his decision to turn down an offer to join the NFL was a really, really bad decision.

Here's what I said, in our cover story called "April Fools" (go here if you want to read the whole thing.)

"Few cities in America have pursued the National Football League so long, so tenaciously — and at times, so pathetically — as Memphis. So it may come as a shock to learn that one time the situation was reversed. The NFL actually courted Memphis — practically begging the city to join the new league.

"And we turned them down.

"It was all because of one man, really. Clarence Saunders, whose name gets brought up in these pages from time to time, had made a fortune by inventing Piggly Wiggly, the world’s first self-service grocery store. Back in the 1920s and ’30s, private citizens often fielded their own football teams, and a sports promoter named Early Maxwell assembled a pretty good squad here. Saunders — a fellow with a keen eye for publicity — purchased the team in 1927 and, in his typically modest fashion, named them the Clarence Saunders Tigers. They toured the country, putting on exhibition games, and very quickly a remarkable thing happened. They began to win those games, and win them convincingly. And when they began to play “real” NFL teams and beat them, the NFL coaches and players took notice.

"Perhaps one of the greatest days in Memphis sports history took place on December 15, 1929, at Hodges Field in Midtown, when the Tigers overpowered an outfit known, then as now, as the Green Bay Packers. Yes, those Green Bay Packers. In a variation of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” the NFL came calling, practically begging Saunders to join the league.

"But he had other plans. His football team (and he was the sole owner) was just a lark; his real interest was in his grocery store chains. After all, that’s where the money was — or so he thought. He didn’t want to tour, just didn’t want to fool with it, really. We really can’t say how the rest of Memphis felt about it, but they didn’t get a vote. In 1930, Saunders rejected the NFL’s offers, and a few years later disbanded his tough Tigers."

I've seen a few grainy black-and-white team photos. Sometimes the players are wearing uniforms that say "Tigers" across their chests, and in other shots the jerseys says "Sole Owner."

But the question remains: What color were these uniforms? If anybody knows, please tell me.

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