Today’s NFL–A Product of Ohio’s Rich Pro Football History

Today’s NFL–A Product of Ohio’s Rich Pro Football History

by Tim Kurz

The National Football League is marching toward crowning its 53rd Super Bowl Champion on February 3, 2019, with the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams squaring off this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game (3:05 PM, FOX) for the right to challenge the winner of the AFC Championship Game (6:40 PM, CBS) later in the day between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.

While neither of Ohio’s current representatives in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, have hoisted the Vince Lombardi championship trophy, you might be surprised by Ohio’s undisputed impact on the history of professional football in America.

  • The first major attempt to unify America’s various professional football teams occurred in 1920, with the formation of the American Professional Football Association. The league was founded in Canton, Ohio.
Ohioan Jim Thorpe was the first president of the American Professional Football Association.
    • The NFL became the NFL in Ohio’s capital city in 1922 when American Professional Football Association Commissioner Joseph Carr changed its name to the National Football League. The league’s first two headquarters were in Columbus houses before moving to the Hayden Building on East Broad Street. Columbus diners would visit the building for many years after it became the popular Marzetti Restaurant.
    • The 1932 NFL season ended with the Portsmouth Spartans and Chicago Bears tied, and commissioner Carr, a Columbus native, ordered them to play a championship game. The Spartans and Bears were scheduled to play at Wrigley Field, but a winter storm blew in. Fearing a small crowd because of the inclement weather, Bears owner George Halas moved the game indoors to Chicago Stadium, which had dirt and dung on its floor from hosting a circus a few days earlier. Chicago won. Portsmouth had a team for four years before leaving to become the Detroit Lions.
      • From 1922-23, LaRue Ohio was home of the NFL Oorang Indians, the only team comprised of American Indian players, including Jim Thorpe. LaRue was also the smallest community to ever host an NFL team. Jim Thorpe was eventually named the Greatest Athlete of the first half of the 20th century by the Associated Press.
Oorang Indians team photo, 1922.
      • Every team in the 2018-‘19 NFL Playoffs boasts players (35 total) that hail from Ohio on their rosters, guaranteeing that Ohio will be represented among the Super Bowl LIII Champions. Go Ohio!
      • Five Super Bowl Most Valuable Players have strong Ohio connections including Len Dawson (SB IV, Alliance), Roger Staubach (SB VI, Cincinnati), Larry Csonka (SB VII, Stow), Desmond Howard (SB XXXI, Cleveland), and Santonio Holmes (SB XLIII, Ohio State University 2002 National Champion).
      • If the transient Los Angeles Rams go on to win Super Bowl LIII, Cleveland can claim some of the glory. The Rams called Cleveland home from 1936-45 before moving to Los Angeles (and then to St. Louis and back to LA).
      • In addition to Cleveland, 10 Ohio cities have been home of NFL teams. Rattle these off at the party and win the Ohio History Trivia contest:

-Portsmouth Spartans
-Akron Indians
-Canton Bulldogs
-Cleveland Indians
-Columbus Panhandles
-Dayton Triangles
-Cincinnati Celts
-Oorang (LaRue) Indians
-Toledo Maroons
-Cincinnati Reds


The Columbus Panhandles circa 1910.
      • “Fritz” Pollard of the Akron Pros was the first black head coach in the NFL, amassing a record of eight wins, three losses, and one tie during the 1921 season.
      • Most of us know that Canton is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But did you know that 24 Ohioans are enshrined as players in the Hall? On your next visit, look for the busts of:

-Cliff Battles (Akron)
-Bob “Boomer” Brown (Cleveland)
-Paul Brown (Massillon)
-Larry Csonka (Stow)
-Len Dawson (Alliance)
-Dan Dierdorf (Canton)
-Benny Friedman (Cleveland)
-Lou Groza (Martins Ferry)
-Wilbur “Pete” Henry, (Mansfield)
-Clarke Hinkle (Toronto)
-Jack Lambert (Mantua)
-Dante Lavelli (Hudson)
-Dick LeBeau (London)
-Tom Mack (Cleveland Heights)
-George McAfee (Ironton)
-Mike Michalske (Cleveland)
-Marion Motley (Canton)
-Chuck Noll (Cleveland)
-Alan Page (Canton)
-Jim Parker (Toledo)
-Don Shula (Painesville)
-Roger Staubach (Cincinnati)
-Paul Warfield (Warren)
-Bill Willis (Columbus)


1966 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees with their busts. Ironton’s George McAfee is on the bottom row, second from the left. McAfee played for the Chicago Bears.
      •  Prior to the NFL, professional football teams from Ohio included the Elyria Athletics, Ironton Tanks, Massillon Tigers, Shelby Blues, and Youngstown Patricians.

Learn more about many of these teams and athletes at Ohio—Champion of Sports, Ohio History Connection’s all-new major exhibit, which opens March 16, 2019.

Tim Kurz is a writer, marketer and insatiable sports fan who served as news and sports editor for Ohio-based pioneering online service providers CompuServe, Netscape and America Online.

Posted January 18, 2019
Topics: Daily Life

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