From settlement by Quakers to revolutionary idea craftring to the Steel Town era to a metropolitan mentality, the state of Pennsylvania has ridden the tides of American history into the 21st century, always changing, ever difficult to read for outsiders.
One thing that never, *ever* changes in Pennsylvania (which, depending on how the remainder of the 2010s plays out, may or may not officially be renamed “Wentzylvania”): The rabid love of Pennsylvanians for football. Along with Ohio and New York, this state may be pointed to as one of the professional game’s breeding grounds – and remember that, until the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were, without exaggeration, the most pitiable NFL franchise bar none.
Betting in Pennsylvania
Well, William Penn and his lot of Quaker folk set the early tone against all forms of “vice” in the 17th century. Apparently, Penn believed in freedom of religion, but no freedom for forms of release other than spasming and writhing about during Sunday masses.
Such hardcore prohibitive attitudes dominated state law through the Revolutionary War and into the 19th century. Despite Philadelphia’s status as the home of revolutionary philosophy and propaganda, the overarching philosophical radicalism remained blissfully uninfluential on (bland) everyday life in Pennsylvania. In 1833, Pennsylvania became the third state in the union to outlaw any sort of lottery.
To so-called “Blue Laws” held firm as the decades passed, through the Great Depression when many a horse track in the US paradoxically did decent business and through the state lottery craze of the 1970s. Lawmakers finally conceded the allowing of pari-mutuel betting at three state-run horse tracks – in 1963.
In the 1990s, Pennsylvania state lawmakers finally (finally!) began loosening up. In the 2010s, most forms of gambling, including daily fantasy football, are legal, and these involved in state finances are more than merely metaphorically shaking their heads and wondering why it took so long to arrive at today’s point. According to official statistics released in 2015, casinos, the state lottery, racetracks, etc., have created some 16,000 new jobs and brought in hundreds of millions in tax revenue.
Football in Pennsylvania
Organized football in Pennsylvania starts right near the beginning of it all. In 1869, the first-ever NCAA-sanctioned game was played between Rutgers University and Princeton (née University of New Jersey); the Penn Quakers team was first fielded for the 1867 season. Penn today claims many spots in the college football record book, but many of these must carry asterisks, as the team’s status as a truly big-time Rose Bowl-appearing program were effectively over after Chuck Bednarik graduated the school in 1948.
But in terms of football fandom, Pennsylvania is outstanding in its longtime appreciation of the pro game. While most of the country preferred the college game over the NFL until the mid-1950s or so, Pennsylvania has loved its pros all out of proportion; perhaps the adoration is grounded in the early success of the state’s NFL teams of the 1920s, two legendary clubs known as the Frankford Yellow Jackets and the Pottsville Maroons.
The Pottsville Maroons were the newly-formed national league’s first dominant team, employing such novel tactics as having the players live in the same area so as to make practices possible. In the team and league’s first two seasons of 1925-26, the Maroons ran up a cumulative record of 20-4-1, but ironically was screwed out of its rightful championship title of ’25 “thanks” to Pennsylvania’s other pro team.
The Maroons scheduled a late-season exhibition game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Philadelphia, considered to be what we would today call the Yellow Jackets’ media market. No matter that the Maroons jumped the NFL’s prestige several leagues (so to speak) by topping the Irish, 9-7: League officials found in favor of Frankford, temporarily suspended Pottsville, and awarded the title to the Chicago Cardinals despite a 21-7 beatdown given them by the Maroons. Without a title, the tiny crowds attending Pottsville home games could not bring the revenues to pay for star players, the team relocated to become the Boston Bulldogs in ’29 and folded in ’30.
From 1925 to ’31, the Yellow Jackets defended their Philly suburb admirably, with a wacky cumulative record of 70-45-15. One year after they’d blocked Pottsville from the NFL title, Frankford took a championship after going 14-1-1 in ’26; in that season, Frankford allowed an insane *2.9 points per game*. By the end of 20s, though, Frankford was experiencing economic woes similar to many a team in the bloated NFL and managed a sad cumulative record of 5-19-2 in 1930-31 before folding. Of note: The Frankford club traced its own lineage back to 1899, the first year they fielded a semipro team.
But from the ashes of the Yellow Jackets arose a phoenix – or an eagle, to be more precise. The NFL awarded new ownership what remained of the Yellow Jackets’ assets to form the Philadelphia Eagles. That same year, the Pittsburgh (football) Pirates were born; in 1940, the name was renamed the Steelers. The rest can be read about on innumerable sites, so we’ll move on after making one comment: Realize that, before the days of Chuck Noll, specifically the span from 1933 to ’71, the Pirates/Steelers managed just six winning seasons in 39 years for a cumulative 168-270-18 record, or a .368 winning percentage. In the post-Noll era, the Steelers are 449-282-3 (or .611!) with six titles. They should just rename the goddamn city “Chuck Noll.”
Football fandom in Pennsylvania is impressive enough for the various rogue football leagues to have tried their hands at selling new teams in the state. The Philadelphia Bell was Pennsylvania’s entry in the World Football League (WFL), going just 13-18 in the 1974 and ’75 seasons. The United States Football League brought us the Philadelphia Stars, who won two USFL titles and were said to be the only team which might have competed in the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Maulers who made absolutely no one forget the Stars, never mind the Steelers. The XFL did not have the cajones to get into either big Pennsylvania market, but league MVP Tommy Maddox did helm the Steelers for a while…
The history of college football in Pennsylvania, as stated above, starts with Penn. In the 1940s, Penn was ranked in the national top-20 seven times, but since then has had to be content as an Ivy League powerhouse.
The big university game in the Keystone State is of course Penn State. First beginning play in 1887, the NIttany Lions have notched two national titles and six undefeated seasons. In the nearly unprecedented 46-season run as head coach, Joe Paterno consistently brought PSU to bowl games and kept the team in national prominence. But, well, we all know about that dark dark underbelly of winning now. In the late 2010s, the feelgood story that will blow away lots of bad juju is waiting to happen, as the cleaned-up program has been on the cusp on earning a committee invite to the final four playoff tournament for a few seasons.
Get this, though: In terms of history, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers have both Penn and Penn State beat. Formed in 1890, the Panthers have bagged *nine* national championships, albeit with most happening under Jack Sutherland in the 1930s. The team’s last national title came in 1976 following a 12-0 season, and the Panthers have unfortunately not won a division title since 1980. Pitt’s last bwol win to date was a 30-27 win over Bowling Green in 2013 Pizza Bowl.
Betting on football in Pennsylvania
First up, NFLbets can tell you that betting on daily fantasy football is 100% legal in Pennsylvania. As for other forms of football betting, Pennsylvania is proving incredibly progressive. Beginning in 2015, state legislators have been working on legal and financial framework for intrastate gambling. Though this will certainly immediately affect casino-style gaming in Pennsylvania, it’s fairly certain that sports betting is close behind on the docket.