The NFL: Professional Football Organized
The National Football League (NFL) was conceived in August 1920. The first meeting was held at Ralph Hay’s Hupmobile auto dealership on Tuscarawas Street in Canton, Ohio.
Five professional football teams were represented that day. These early pioneers were Frank Neid of the Akron Pros, Ralph Hays of the Canton Bulldogs, Joe Carr (who would serve as league president from 1921-39) of the Columbus Panhandles, Leo Lyons of the Rochester (New York) Jeffersons, and Carl Storck of the Dayton Triangles. They set a franchise fee of $25. This new football association was a very loose organization. The group chose no president and set no by-laws or standard rules of play. Individual teams still set their schedules.
On August 20, 1920, an organizational meeting was held in Canton, with representatives from Akron, Canton, and the Cleveland Indians (not associated with the current Cleveland Indians Baseball organization) attending. This meeting formed the American Professional Football Conference.
Editor’s Note: In this first meeting August 20, 1920, included Canton (Ralph Hay and Jim Thorpe), Cleveland (Jimmy O’Donnell and Stan Cofall) Akron (Frank Nied and Art Ranney) and Dayton (Carl Storck). Rochester (Leo Lyons) offered his support by written “letter” only and was “probably” included as “in attendance”.
Because they were present at the next meeting in September, Hammond (Doc Young) and Buffalo (probably Frank McNeil) had also sent letters and “may” have been included as in attendance.
Doc Young also was present at the second meeting. It is also possible that these teams had “initially” sent those letters to Ralph Hay requesting games with the Canton Bulldogs for the upcoming season.
It was also anticipated that steel magnate F.J. Griffiths would arrive at the first meeting with plans to restart the Massillon Tigers, but he turned into a no show and no financial backer was ever found to restart the team. (1)
Another organizational meeting was held on September 17, 1920. This meeting also took place in Ralph Hay’s showroom. Because there were not enough chairs, some team representatives sat on automobile running boards. The name of the new league was changed to the American Professional Football Association (A.P.F.A.) and league by-laws were adopted. Hoping to capitalize on the fame of Jim Thorpe, the representatives unanimously elected him the new league’s figurehead president. Also at this meeting, a membership fee of $ 100 per team was established. No charter team ever paid it.
Representatives from professional football teams of four states met that day; the Racine Cardinals (named after the Racine Street neighborhood in Chicago, now the Arizona Cardinals), the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears).
Editor’s Note: The Decatur Staleys moved to Chicago in 1921 with the financial backing of Staley himself, under the guidance of George Halas and his partner Dutch Sternaman. They retained the name Chicago Staleys for one season as per Staley’s request and were renamed the Bears in 1922. (2) and Rock Island Independents from Illinois; the Hammond Pros and Muncie Flyers from Indiana; Rochester from New York; and Ohio teams from Akron, Canton, Cleveland, and Dayton. These owners traveled extensively and living out of suitcases.
Carl Storck attended these meetings for the Dayton Triangles.
On September 26, the first game featuring an APFA team was played at Rock Island’s Douglas Park. A crowd of 800 watched the Rock Island Independents (APFA) defeat the St. Paul Ideals (a non-American Professional Football Association team) 48-0.
After the charter APFA meeting, the Columbus Panhandles joined the league. The first game matching two APFA teams was held in Dayton, Ohio on October 3, 1920, at Triangle Park. Dayton defeated Columbus 14-0. Dayton’s Lou Partlow scored the first touchdown in a game between APFA teams, and the second was scored by the Triangles’ Francis Bacon. “Hobby” Kinderdine kicked the new league’s first and second extra points.
Lou Partlow had an interesting method of training for the football season. All summer long he would run through the heavily wooded country along the Miami River near his home in West Carrollton, Ohio. He learned to dodge oncoming tacklers by running between the trees. Occasionally, just to get tough, he would run into a tree at full speed to develop his shoulder blocking. Later in his football career teammates would recall Partlow as an outstanding fullback, but one who always had difficulty remembering the called plays. A fellow running back would have to tell Partlow, right before the snap of the ball, where he was to run.
The high point of the Triangles’ 1920 season was a 20-20 tie at Triangle Park with the Canton Bulldogs. No other team had been able to score three touchdowns on the Bulldogs since 1915. In the third quarter, Thorpe narrowed the score to 20-17 with a 45-yard dropkick. Then, in the final minutes, he zeroed in on a 35-yard placekick that tied the score. (3)
Six games into the season, the Triangles remained undefeated, with a 4-0-2 record and a non-league victory over Cincinnati, but in the final three games lost twice to eventual league champion Akron, ending 1920 with a 5-2-2 season record (4-2-2 league record).
At the next league meeting in Akron on April 30, 1921, Joe Carr, manager of the Columbus Panhandles, was named president and Carl Storck, of Dayton was named secretary-treasurer. Carr moved the league’s headquarters to Columbus, where it remained until 1941. Carl Storck handled his league duties from Dayton.
In 1921, the Triangles finished with a 4-4-1 record, and Frank Hinkey, of “flying wedge” fame (The flying wedge was a football offensive play where the players would move forward in a triangular formation. The ball carrier would advance within the wedge to move the ball forward.), came in to aid with coaching duties.
(1) quoted from Bob Carroll of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) and Rob Jackson
(2) quoted from Rob Jackson
(3) quoted from Bob Carroll of the PFRA
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