The Story of the NFL's Dayton Triangles

Book Tells Story of Early Ohio Teams:
Three small cities along the Ohio River had
teams capable of taking on the NFL's best

By Ritter Collett; DAYTON DAILY NEWS
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
September 25, 1998

The National Football League with its 30 profitable franchises and contracts with four different television networks is unquestionably a billion dollar business.

Those of you who sit glued to your big screens every Sunday afternoon might be surprised to know that in one tiny time capsule from 1928 through 1933, three small cities in a 40-mile stretch along the Ohio River fielded teams capable of taking on the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants on relatively even terms.

Economic reality at the outset of the Great Depression ended the big-time dreams of the Ironton Tanks, Portsmouth Spartans and Ashland (Ky.) Armco.

The story of those towns and their teams is told in Home and Away about to be released by the Ohio University Press.

The book represents a five-year involvement by the author, Carl M. Becker, a Miamisburg resident and retired professor of history at Wright State University.

Becker's study is more than a football story. It is a social analysis of the three small cities which came to view their teams as agents of civic progress. The daily newspapers in each town supported their teams almost as cheerleaders. Some of the game stories of that era would be laughed at today.

The Tanks, never a member of the NFL, defeated both the Giants and Bears in 1930. As a 9-year-old boy, I stood in the crowd on Center Street in Ironton listening to a play-by-play (from a telephone) shouted out from a second story window of a restaurant of those games played in Redland (later Crosley) Field in Cincinnati.

Portsmouth did play in the NFL four seasons (1930-33) and had great success. In 1932, they beat Green Bay,19-0, ending the three-year run of the Packers in their first championship era.

Ashland fielded a company-sponsored team for four seasons. Among its victims were Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians, an NFL member worthy of its own story, in 1926. The Armcos beat the Canton Bulldogs in 1929 and the Tanks twice that year.

Pro football sprang to life in the aftermath of World War I. The NFL played its first season in 1920 with the Dayton Triangles a charter member.

Town teams were formed in many cities in Ohio and the Midwest. They were pros only in the sense that they split the gate when there was anything to split.

That's how the Tanks came into being, playing four games in 1919 with strictly local talent. The star was T.C. (Shorty) Davies, who had lettered at Ohio State behind Chic Harley, the first Buckeye All-American.

It was when the three teams started to import college stars in the late 1920s that they sealed their economic doom. Ashland dropped out after 1929, the Tanks a year later.

It was Portsmouth that started the trend. Through the early years, the team was known as the Smoke House, Presidents and the Shoe-Steels, the latter coached in 1927 by Thorpe.

Although Portsmouth was twice the size of Ironton (at 40,000 the biggest of the three cities) the Tanks dominated the rivalry. It wasn't until 1927 that Portsmouth beat the Tanks.

The next year, business and civic interests subsidized the Spartans. By 1932, there wasn't a native on the team. Players from St. Marys (then a California powerhouse), Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Tulane, Texas and Oregon were in the ranks.

After the 1933 season, when the team went 9-5-1, the franchise was sold to George Richards, the owner of WJR radio station in Detroit. The stars of the Spartans became charter members of the Detroit Lions.

 

Copyright 1998 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

 

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