Inducted June 9, 2005
Piekarski was a four year letter winner for the University of Pennsylvania from 1901 to 1904. The first Polish American to be named All-American, he was named to Walter Camp’s third team All-American team, and was a consensus All-American in 1904. A guard, Piekarski helped lead the Quakers to a 12-0-0 record in 1904. Playing in an era with no helmets, mouthpieces or faceguards the game itself was far different than modern football. There were few restrictions on what linemen could do to opposing players. His Penn team was so dominant that it shut out 11 of 12 opponents and outscored its opposition by a combined score of 222-4. Piekarski’s team was widely acclaimed as national champions.
Frank Piekarski — Football’s First Polish-American All-American
By: Tom Tarapacki
NPASHF Board Member
Today Polish Americans are highly identified with the sport of football. In the 1930s and 1940s Polish American names Johnny Lujack, Ziggy Czarobski, Bill Osmanski, and Alex Wojciehowski were among the most famous in the sport. Their presence in the game was so prominent that Polish-sounding names became synonymous with football. But the man who started the remarkable run of great Polish Americans in football was Frank Piekarski, the first Polish American to earn All-America status in football.
Frank Piekarski was a four-year letter-winner for the University of Pennsylvania in from 1901 to 1904. In 1903 he was named to Walter Camp’s third team All-American team, and was a consensus All-American in 1904.
In the early 20th century college football was far different from the sport we know today. While it was rapidly growing in popularity in colleges, it was a very brutal sport. Protective equipment was virtually nonexistent. There were no helmets, mouthpieces or face guards, and the body pads used at the time were of little help. The game itself was far different as well. There was no forward pass, no neutral zone between teams, and no limit to how many players could be on the line at once. “Hurdle” plays allowed teams to lift up their ball carriers and throw them over the opposing lines. Mass-momentum plays such as the “flying wedge” of players frequently caused serious harm to the participants. In addition, there were few restrictions on what linemen could do to opposing players. Serious injury and even death were not uncommon. In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt told colleges that he would abolish the sport if it did not become safer. Eventually, that led to rules changes that that opened the sport up, such as shortening the game from 70 to 60 minutes and legalizing the forward pass.
However, Piekarski played in an era when football was at its most vicious and dangerous. As guard, Piekarski was always in the middle of the field, where most of the action was. Piekarski was the only lineman from the national champions to earn All-American status. However, another Penn lineman and Polish American, tackle Tom Butkiewicz, was named a third team All-American.
The Quakers were a national power at the time, and in 1904 achieved a 12-0-0 record and the as widely acclaimed the national champion in 1904. In Gridiron Greats: A Century of Polish Americans in Football, author Ben Chestochowski pointed out that Piekarski’s Penn team was so dominant that it shut out 11 of 12 opponents, and outscored its opposition by a combined score of 222 -4. The only score allowed during the entire season was one field goal, which at that time counted for 4 points. During Piekarski’s four years, the Quakers had a record of 40-12-0.
More than a hundred years ago, long before the likes of Ron Jaworski and Mike Ditka enjoyed gridiron fame, Frank Piekarski was recognized as among the best in the game, and was the first Polish American to be an All-American.