NFL Roots Run Deep in Dayton
By Tom Archdeacon
Year after year, it happened right here.
Lou Partlow - called "the West Carrollton Battering Ram" in the old Dayton Journal - was a fullback for the Dayton Triangles, one of the original teams in the NFL. During the summers he trained by running through a thick woods near his hometown. Envisioning trees as would-be tacklers, he'd feint and juke and zig-zag through the leafy defense. But every once in a while - when he wanted to work on his blocking - he'd simply lower a shoulder and run full bore into a mighty oak or maple.
Although he became a back of note, there were - according to research done by Steve Presar, a Dayton Triangles' history buff who runs a Web site about the team - some side effects. Seems like later in his career, Partlow had trouble remembering the called plays.
As you look back at the Triangles, you'll be stunned, though not in the way Partlow was. Instead of hurt, this is history and a lot of it was made right here. That's what Dayton Municipal Court Judge Dan Gehres discovered on an NFL Web site that listed the 100 most important games in league history: "Right at the top, the No. 1 game was played right here in Dayton."
An Oct. 3, 1920 matchup between the Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles at Triangle Park, it is considered the first game in NFL history. Dayton won 14-0, and it was Partlow who scored the first touchdown in NFL history. George "Hobby" Kinderdine kicked the first-ever point after.
Then there was the Triangles' roly-poly manager, Carl "Scummy" Storck, who was one of the NFL's founding fathers. He took part in the 1920 meetings that formed the American Professional Football Association - which changed it's name to the NFL two years later - served as a league executive for 21 years and was the NFL president from 1939 to 1941. It's believed he ran the league from his downtown Dayton office.
The city's link to the league is unknown by most local NFL fans. It was that way with Presar, a Web site builder and Internet coach, until he visited the Football Hall of Fame in Canton several years ago and saw Dayton listed as one of the NFL's original teams.
Intrigued but unable to find any other information, he returned to Dayton and pored over old newspaper clips at the public library. Eventually he interviewed the late Mack Hummon - the longtime Oakwood High coach and administrator who played with the Triangles - and with the help of other people in the area, put together a history of the team that now can be found at the Web site www.DaytonTriangles.com.
As you look into Dayton's NFL past, you'll find that football icons like Jim Thorpe and "The Galloping Ghost," Red Grange, played here. Dayton's team was made up primarily of local players, though they had played for colleges like Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt and Purdue.
The Triangle with the most colorful name was a Chinese running back named "Sneeze" Achiu. When he and his teammates played in New York in the late 1920s, a promoter billed them as a "Team of Immigrants."
In truth, the Triangles had deep local roots going back to the dozens of sandlot and semi-pro teams that represented Dayton neighborhoods and factories in the the years around World War I.
When the NFL organized in 1920, Thorpe - the hero of the 1912 Olympics and already a Canton Bulldogs star - was named league president. Although it cost $100 for a league membership back then, none of the charter members ever paid.
The inaugural teams included three Illinois teams - the Racine Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), the Decatur Staleys (Chicago Bears) and Rock Island Independents - The Muncie Flyers and Hammond Pros from Indiana, a team from Rochester, New York and Ohio teams from Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton.
A Dayton Daily News article previewing the first-ever game noted that, "Reeves is another star from the (Ohio) State team who is playing with the Pan Handles. Of course, Reeves is an assumed name. Ohio State followers no doubt will recognize him as soon as he trots on the field."
Six years ago, I interviewed 97-year Arda Bowser, who was the oldest living NFL player. He was living in a Florida nursing home, but in the early 20s he played for the Bulldogs. He said many college players used fake names so as not to tarnish their reputations in the "renegade" pro game.
"The fellows today would be in for a shock if they had to play the game the way we did," Bowser said. "Our helmets were really nothing but a little bit of felt with a piece of leather on top. They would get so hot, we'd just take em off sometimes."
Bowser is credited with inventing the kicking tee: "The tee idea started when I played for Bucknell. The ball was a bloated thing back then and I needed a way to get under it, so I made a tee with mud. I sent one of the freshmen to town to buy a steel washtub with handles. We put dirt in it, mixed it into mud and then had the kid run up and down the sidelines with it. I'd come over, scoop out a handful of mud and go build my tee."
According to Presar, many players back then were paid according to performance. They got $100 for winning and $50 for a loss. Meal money for the Triangles in the mid-1920s was $1 a day. Stars were paid more, and the biggest name was Thorpe.
In 1920, Thorpe came to Dayton and drop-kicked fourth-quarter field goals of 45 and 54 yards to help his powerful Canton team tie the Triangles, 20-20. Two years later, he was with the most novel NFL team ever - the Oorang Indians - out of tiny Larue, Ohio, near Marion. The team's owner was Walter Lingo, who ran Larue's Oorang Kennels and shipped 15,000 Airedales a year. Back then, President Warren G. Harding had an Oorang Airedale, as did movie star Gary Cooper, heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey and ballplayers like Ty Cobb.
The NFL team - with a roster of all Indians- promoted Lingo's business. They gave birth to the halftime show, trading their uniforms and helmets for buckskins to put on a extravaganza with arrows, tomahawks, bears, horses and, of course, Airedales.
The Larue team folded after two years. In Dayton, things weren't much better. The club didn't spend money on talent, local crowds dwindled and soon the Triangles became a travelling team.
After winning just two games in four years, they were sold in 1929 and became the Brooklyn Dodgers. The loose trail that follows shows them combining with another New York team, moving to Baltimore, Dallas, back to Baltimore and now residing two hours away as the Indianapolis Colts.
It's been the effort of Presar and more recently Gehres - both with the Miami Valley Sports History Committee at Carillon Park - to get people to recognize Dayton's contributions to the NFL. The Hall of Fame now displays a Triangles jersey and helmet. A commemorative game was played last year at Triangle Park, and money was raised for a sign designating Dayton's NFL history.
"The sign's done and its beautiful, it's shaped like a football," Gehres said. "We were going to put it up at the park, but we were afraid it would get stolen by a souvenir hunter. We need to find something we can secure it to so it stays there."
If they want something with meaning, tack it to a mighty oak or maple. While it made Lou Partlow forget, it would help the rest of us remember.
Copyright Dayton Daily News 2002
Contact: Tom Archdeacon at 937.225.2156
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Copyright © 2002