A Tiger before a Giant

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In honor of Super Bowl Sunday tomorrow, I thought I’d put up a little football-related post …

While doing research on an upcoming article for Pennsylvania Magazine, I came across a semipro team called the Main Line Tigers, who appear to have existed in various forms in the Philadelphia area for at least a couple decades spanning the 1920s to the 1940s.

In June 1946, the Philadelphia Tribune reported on the Tigers’ 7-6 win over the Havorford Cubs on the Bryn Mawr Polo Grounds on Memorial Day. Among the stars for the Tigers that day was … Pro Football Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell!

In addition to eventually being a superb defensive back for the New York football Giants, Tunnell also excelled in baseball for Radnor High and the Coast Guard.

I couldn’t find any more references in the Tribune’s archives to Tunnell playing for the Main Line Tigers, but the fact that he was a good enough baseball player to compete for a semipro team reflects the kind of superb, all-around athlete Tunnell was.

I haven’t had a chance to do extensive research and reading about the Main Line community in Philadelphia and the social context in which the Tigers played, nor Tunnell’s youth and background, but a cursory search shows that the “Main Line” string of communities in suburban Philly earned its name from the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which shoots in a northwest direction from downtown Philadelphia.

The “Main Line” communities include Lower Merion Township, Radnor Township, Gladwyne and Villanova, which apparently are among the wealthiest communities not only in Philly but in the entire country.

Encompassing parts of some of those townships along the Main Line is the census-designated place of Bryn Mawr, Tunnell’s native community — and one featuring average family incomes well over $100,000 and home values approaching $900,000 on average.

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Downtown Bryn Mawr

Other Bryn Mawr natives or one-time residents are everyone from entertainers like Katharine Hepburn, Teddy Pendergrass, Jim Croce, Jayne Mansfield, Kat Dennings (hubba hubba!) and one of my absolute fave musicians, Warren Zevon, to politicians like longtime Michigan Senator Philip A. Hart, Congressman and diplomat Richard Swett, and none other than President Woodrow Wilson.

Radnor High School, Tunnell’s prep alma mater, is one of the best public high schools in the country and one that has been integrated for a long time, apparently including Tunnell’s time there in the early 1940s.

Tunnell was from the Radnor Township neighborhood of Garrett Hill, which seems to be very different from other Bryn Mawr and Main Line communities in that it’s decidedly working class and industrialized. It also has long been integrated, including during Tunnell’s youth.

According to a September 1966 article on Tunnell in the Philadelphia Tribune:

“Tunnell was a pretty good athlete as a kid. He played baseball, basketball and football at Garrett Hill, Pa., a place that never used the word ‘integrated.’ In those days everyone lived together — Irish, Italians, Germans, English, Negroes, you name it.”

The article then refers to Tunnell’s “fun, but poor life, on the Main Line …”

Much of Tunnell’s background is doubtlessly filled in by his 1966 autobiography, “Footsteps of a Giant,” but I haven’t been able to get my hands and/or eyes on a copy of the book. I’m also sure football historians and Giants fans also might know more about Tunnell’s youth and adolescence.

But from what limited info I have, it all begs the question of whether the Main Line Tigers might, by some chance, have been integrated, or at least played against white teams. Again, Tunnell’s autobiography and/or football historians could know such things, so to a large extent I’d defer to them.

But for now, it’s still quite intriguing. Anyone know more about this?

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