Rosie the Quarterback

from universe - 3 Chinnaka I

Survival for the Rock Island Independents during WWII meant returning to exhibition games, setting the stage for the story of Marjorie 'Rosie' Aberson. The story comes from Marjorie's best-selling book, They Call Me Rosie.

After a perfect 1942 season, all eyes were on the Chicago Marauders to continue their dominance. Boston was floundering and both New York teams had nowhere to play home games. Hopes ran high for another championship season in Chicago. For Rock Island, however, players were being drafted into service or leaving to play for other professional leagues, especially the AFA. The pay was much better in the AFA and the games had a more reliable schedule. Despite the obstacles, Coach Holland fielded twenty players for the team, drawing on talent from retired players and college teams.

Chicago, meanwhile, was dealing with their own problems. Two exhibition games had been canceled for various reasons. The front office would claim that Chicago needed at least one game to properly prepare for the season ahead. The truth of the matter was that they were not scheduled for enough games to play the season. Big money awaited any team in other pro leagues willing to schedule a game. With their undefeated season the previous year, no team appeared willing to take them on. Rock Island eventually agreed to a game and a date was set.

Welcome to Moline

Coach Holland had neglected to say that Darby field held only 5000 fans and that he didn't have a full team. With such a small stadium, the ticket receipts wouldn't come close to covering Chicago's costs. If Chicago would win by more than a seventy point margin, the NAFL may declare the game ineligible for the purposes of completing a season. Coach Morris of the Marauders had no other offers for a game. He would later say that he planned to limit his own team to thirty-five points. For Coach Holland, the Independents needed this game to stay in the existence and create a future of his team. How he convinced Chicago to travel to Moline is an enduring football mystery.

Coach Holland convinced the lineman to rotate 2 players to play both ways throughout the game. Eddie, a fullback, would be the emergency QB. He hoped for one more player, but none could be found until that fateful night when he took what was considered at the time, a big gamble.

He asked his wife to call on Marjorie at work the next day. Marjorie was doing factory work while her husband was seving overseas. She and Ms. Holland worked in the same factory and talked frequently. Coach wanted to offer her money to help the team practice for the Chicago game. Marjorie was keen on the idea and the three of them began to work. Holland introduced her to the team as a placeholder so that the other 20 players could focus on the strategy for the upcoming game. Another assistant served as the center for practice. Marjorie proved effective and consistent. The kicker, Chance Holloway, was a lanky nineteen year old that lied about his age to play football. With him and Marjorie, the team would take the field with twenty-two players, the league minimum for a game.

The team was apprehensive at first with Holland's plans, but they grew in confidence as they became comfortable with a pass-heavy gameplan. Eddie chose to play both fullback and make appearances as a linebacker. They also practiced a couple of gimmick plays in an attempt to fool the Marauders famous defense. Marjorie would later write that everyone on the team was resolute. "The boys," she wrote, "believed that their victory was as inevitable as the Allied forces."

September 20, 1942

The day of the game came. The radio broadcasters set up. The Marauders set up on the far sideline and Rock Island lined up for the kickoff.

Chicago was surprised by the Independents' tough defense. Chicago wasn't able to score until late in the 3rd quarter on a 2 yard TD run. This was the first score of the game for either team. With a successful extra point, this put Chicago up 7-0.

Early in the 4th quarter, Rock Island answered with a touchdown of their own on a breakaway run by Eddie for a 43 yard TD. The kicking team took the field and the Chicago defense reacted in disbelief. Marjorie would say that she thought that they were gawking at Chance as he weighed 125 soaking-wet. The team lined up for the extra point and Chance was able to splite the uprights. All was not well on the field as a Chicago player took it upon himself to teach Marjorie a lesson. After the play, he ran up and knocked her down hard. He chuckled chuckled to himself as he left the field.

Marjorie dusted herself off, walked over to him and staring directly into his eyes said, “Now that didn't do anything, now did it?”

Before the Chicago player could react, his teammates walked him off the field as the entire Rock Island team rushed on to protect Marjorie. She would write that the team's support was appreciated, but was entirely unnecessary.

Late in the 4th quarter, Chicago marched downfield, but had to settle for a FG, taking the lead 10-7. By this point, however, the Independents were worn out. Chicago had put in fresh players in an attempt to expand their lead. The exhausted Independents battled on. A fumble on Chicago's next drive gave the ball back to them with enough time to tie the game. With a minute left, they lined up for Field Goal after three failed attempts to make the 2 yard run for a touchdown. Coach Holland pulled Marjorie aside and told her to run the Haymaker. She nodded and trotted in with the Chance. Chicago fans made it clear that the Independents would be lucky to walk off the field. It was later revealed that a fan was so upset by Marjorie's presence of the field, that he planned to rush the field if she returned. Several Rock Island fans pinned the man under the grandstand for the last minute of the game.

Marjorie would write that all she felt in that moment was that if the lineman tried to push her again, that she would just slug him right in the jaw. She wasn't that emotionally involved in the game, she was there for a little extra money to buy a couple chickens for eggs. Still, she had no plans to suffer a fool.

Rock Island's Last Gasp

She would also say that the snap to her went towards her face. The Chicago nosetackle had gotten the best of the center, creating a terrible trajectory. She stood up to catch the ball, took two steps back and threw a lob just over the defender to Eddie alone in the end zone. Rock Island ran together to the sideline to protect Marjorie as she left the field. Now up 13-10, Coach Holland had Rock Island return to line up in a running formation to put the ball in. Marjorie wasn't on the field. Exactly what happened after that touchdown is disputed to this day. She wrote in her book that she turned to walk off the field only to be met with a celebration of fans and teammates.

By other accounts, there was an unconscious referee, two injured Chicago players, ten fans arrested, and a hoarse radio announcer croaking over and over, “Can you believe it?” At some point in the confusion, a stray dog took the football off the field requiring some time to get it back. Ultimately, the point after attempt was not successful and Chicago had 45 seconds to come back for the win. Driving down the field, it appeared their victory was assured.

The last play of the game was a desperate blitz that successfully pinned Chicago's quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. The game ended with a Rock Island victory and the story of Rosie the quarterback was born.

The Rest of the Story

Rock Island made it through the rest of that season finishing 3-4. The Marauders went on to claim another championship. As for Marjorie, she never took the field again. She got the chickens she needed and went back to work the next day. Her husband returned from the war and her experience in professional football was soon forgotten for thirty-seven years. She wrote her book in the 1981, addressing the myths that had built up around her and the actual events of the game as she remembered them. The NAFL would honor her in 2020, inducting her into the Hall of Fame, pledging equity for women in all levels of football.

Marjorie "Rose" Aberson, number 21 for the '42 Rock Island Independents remains the only woman inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.