Dayton Team Played in First League Game in ’20s
By Jim DeBrosse
Dayton Daily News
Saturday, January 31, 2004
DAYTON — Regardless of who wins this Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, Dayton-area football fans have bragging rights to winning the first game ever played in what would become the National Football League.
It happened Oct. 3, 1920, at Triangle Park when the Dayton Triangles defeated the Columbus Panhandles, 14-0, before a crowd of 4,000 fans. The ticket price was $1.75. The players earned about $50 each for the game.
As one of four charter members of the newly-formed American Professional Football Association, the Triangles scored the first two touchdowns and extra points in league competition. Two years later, the association morphed into the National Football League.
A cadre of Triangles supporters, with the help of the Montgomery County Historical Society, wants to make the area’s bragging rights official by erecting a plaque at the old stadium site near Ridge Avenue and DeWeese Parkway.
This week, the Ohio Historical Society approved the marker. All that’s needed now is $1,500 in donations to cast and ship the monument to Dayton.
A longer-term goal for Triangles fans is to preserve one of the two original locker rooms still standing in Triangle Park and now being used as a city storage center. The other locker room was destroyed in a fire set by vandals years ago.
The fundraising effort by Triangles supporters “so far has been mostly to a very core audience of sports enthusiasts,” said Steve Presar, a Centerville resident who launched the Triangles revival five years ago. “I would like to expand beyond that.”
Presar stumbled upon Dayton’s historic role in professional football during a weekend trip to the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton in 1988. Presar was studying a chart of the history of the National Football League when he noticed the Dayton Triangles among the 10 original teams. With a little more digging, he soon discovered that Dayton also was the site of the league’s first game.
Presar, an interpreter at Carillon Historic Park, picked up the ball and ran with it, setting up his own Web site (www.daytontriangles.com) devoted to the team’s legacy. “It just seemed like a story that nobody else was telling,” he said.
Presar was joined by Skip Ordman and Mark Fenner, whose grandfather played for the Triangles. Carl M. Becker, a retired history professor from Wright State University and an author of several books on Ohio’s early professional football history, came on board as the historian.
Like so much of Dayton’s legacy, the Triangles football team was the brainchild of automotive and business giants Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering. The team was sponsored by the duo’s three factories — Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO), Dayton Metal Products Company (DMP) and Domestic Engineering Company (DECO) — that formed an industrial triangle of plants in downtown.
Triangle Park was originally developed for the private use of their employees. No one knows if the park got its name from the factories or from its triangular shape created by the confluence of the Great Miami and Stillwater rivers.
Football was a very different sport in 1920, Becker said. Players were smaller — averaging less than 200 pounds — and were far less protected. Helmets were little more than leather shells hanging on fabric straps. Shoulder pads slumped over the shoulders without braces. Face masks and mouth guards were unheard of.
None of it deterred tough guys who loved the game, like Triangles running back Lou Partlow, who scored the first touchdown. Partlow was known for his unusual training technique of running into trees.
Any business or civic group that would like to learn more about the Triangles can visit the Dayton Triangles Web site at www.daytontriangles.com.
FIRST NFL GAME
Match-up: Columbus Panhandles at Dayton Triangles.
When: October 3, 1920.
Where: Triangle Park, Dayton.
Score: Dayton 14, Columbus 0.
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