WHERE IT ALL STARTED;
What's now known as the NFL began with a game between the Dayton Triangles and Columbus
by Jim DeBrosse
It's a long way from megabucks player
contracts, instant replays and slick TV graphics, but the National Football League kicked
off its first game ever right here in our back yard on Oct. 13, 1920, when the Dayton
Triangles met the Columbus Panhandles. Each player received about $50 for his day of pain
and glory. But then the admission price for the crowd of 4,000 was only $1.75. A marker
commemorating the game at Dayton's Triangle Park will be unveiled at 1 p.m. Saturday at
the old stadium site near Ridge Avenue and DeWeese Parkway.
Although the hoopla Saturday won't match
even the pre-game hype of the Super Bowl, it has drawn the blessing of the NFL, which will
have a film crew there to record the event for its archives. Refreshments will follow at
Carillon Historical Park.
The $1,500 bronze marker, officially
sanctioned by the Ohio Historical Society, was paid for through the fund-raising efforts
of the Montgomery County Historical Society and the Miami Valley Sports History
Association, a die-hard group of about 40 local sports history buffs.
The Triangles are part of Dayton sports
history that "people aren't aware of," said Steve Presar, a Centerville resident
who launched the Triangles revival.
Other local claims to sports fame include
the birth of the Soap Box Derby on Dayton's Burkhardt hill, and the early prominence of
the Dayton Marcos baseball team, one of the charter members of the old Negro National
Presar happened upon Dayton's historic role
in professional football during a weekend trip to the National Football Hall of Fame in
Canton in 1988. He was perusing a chart of the history of the National Football League
when he noticed the Dayton Triangles among the 10 original teams. With more digging, he
soon discovered that Dayton also was the site of the league's first game.
Presar picked up the ball and ran with it,
setting up his own Web site (www.daytontriangles.com)
devoted to the team's legacy. Three years ago, he helped form the Miami Valley Sports
Pro football got its start in this country
on August 20, 1920, when the managers of four Ohio professional teams - the Akron Pros,
Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians and Dayton Triangles - met in Canton at Ralph Hay's
Hupmobile auto dealership on Tuscarawas Street.
The four teams formed what was then called
the American Professional Football Association. The franchise fee was a whopping $25.
By the time the group changed its name to
the National Football League two years later, a dozen teams had signed up, including the
precursors to the Chicago Bears (Decatur Staleys) and Arizona Cardinals (Racine
It was a different kind of football back
then - more grueling and less sophisticated. Players often came to the sidelines spitting
teeth to the ground.
You want tough? Triangles halfback Lou
Partlow, who scored the first touchdown in NFL play, practiced his blocking by slamming
into trees. To stay in shape, Partlow would sprint through the dense woods along the Great
Miami River, dodging his rooted opponents along the way.
"Occasionally he would lower a
shoulder into one of them to build up strength," said Mark Fenner, 40, whose
great-grandfather, Lee Fenner, played for the Triangles. Fenner is one of the original
members of the Miami Valley Sports History Association.
Most players competed on both offense and
defense, and many played multiple positions. Field goals and extra points were dropkicked,
and kickers had to be able to run and take a hit.
There were no fancy formations. Running
backs often plowed through the same side of the line for the entire game.
For an all-around athlete like Jim Thorpe -
the hero of the 1912 Olympics - the early National Football League was a chance to excel
in all aspects of the game - running, kicking, tackling.
Family descendents of Triangles players say
Thorpe's feats for the Canton Bulldogs and later Ohio's Oorang Indians were often fodder
for their fathers' and grandfathers' gridiron tales.
In the 1920 season's highlight game against
the Bulldogs, Thorpe tied the score against the Triangles with two fourth-quarter field
goals of 45 and 54 yards.
"My dad always told a story about
Thorpe racing a truck one time," said Tim Roudebush, 75, whose father George played
for the Triangles.
"The players were all riding on the
back of a truck to the playing field when Thorpe said, 'I think I can beat this truck.' So
he jumped off and started running. My dad said he must have run a mile or mile-and-a-half,
but he beat the truck to the field."
Roudebush said the other players in the
league were in awe of Thorpe's abilities. "He was such a natural athlete he just
couldn't be stopped. My dad had seen Thorpe drop-kick a ball 70 yards."
Dave Maurer, a former football coach at
Wittenberg University, said his stepfather, Dr. David Reese, would show up for Maurer's
post-game parties "and mesmerize everybody with stories about the Dayton Triangles.
Reese, who later became the first
commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, had played center for the Triangles.
"I asked him if it was tough tackling
Jim Thorpe. He said he never tackled Thorpe," Maurer said. His stepfather smiled and
told Maurer that "Thorpe had never run his way."
Contact Jim DeBrosse at 937-225-2437.
The Dayton Triangles, one of the four
original teams of the National Football League, played in Dayton from 1916 to 1929. Here
are some interesting facts about the early gridiron game and its players.
- Lou Partlow, the Triangles running back
known for his unusual training method of running around and into trees, was dubbed
"the West Carrollton battering ram."
- Players back then were smaller, averaging
less than 200 pounds, and less protected. Helmets were little more than leather shells.
Shoulder pads had no braces. Face masks and mouth guards? Forget it.
- The Triangles got their name from the three
factories founded by the team's sponsors, local business giants Edward Deeds and Charles
- Triangle Park, on land donated by Deeds and
Kettering, got its name either from the three factories or from the park's triangular
- The Dayton Triangles were the only
undefeated professional football team in the country in 1918.
Copyright 2005 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.
Dayton Daily News (Ohio) April 25, 2005
Monday, BYLINE: By Jim DeBrosse, jdebrosse at DaytonDailyNews.com