Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Mystique of Early Professional Football Players, Teams and Leagues



The Mystique of Early Professional Football Players, Teams and Leagues

By Chino Kafuu
The Daily Magi
October 12, 2069

In the early 20th century, football began to catch on in the general population of the United States and was the subject of intense competition and rivalry, albeit of a localized nature. Although payments to players were considered unsporting and dishonorable at the time, a Pittsburgh area club, the Allegheny Athletic Association, of the unofficial western Pennsylvania football circuit, surreptitiously hired former Yale All-American guard William "Pudge" Heffelfinger. On November 12, 1892, Heffelfinger became the first known professional football player. He was paid $500 to play in a game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. Heffelfinger picked up a Pittsburgh fumble and ran 35 yards for a touchdown, winning the game 4–0 for Allegheny. Although observers held suspicions, the payment remained a secret for years.

On September 3, 1895 the first wholly professional game was played, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, between the Latrobe Athletic Association and the Jeannette Athletic Club. Latrobe won the contest 12–0. During this game, Latrobe's quarterback, John Brallier became the first player to openly admit to being paid to play football. He was paid $10 plus expenses to play. In 1897, the Latrobe Athletic Association paid all of its players for the whole season, becoming the first fully professional football team. In 1898, William Chase Temple took over the team payments for the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club, a professional football team based in Pittsburgh from 1895 until 1900, becoming the first known individual football club owner. A year later in 1899, the Morgan Athletic Club, on the South Side of Chicago, was founded. This team later became the Chicago Cardinals, and now is known as the Arizona Cardinals, making them the oldest continuously operating professional football team.

The first known professional football league, known as the National Football League (not the same as the modern league) began play in 1902 when several baseball clubs formed football teams to play in the league, including the Philadelphia Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates' team the Pittsburgh Stars were awarded the league championship. However the Philadelphia Football Athletics and Philadelphia Football Phillies also claimed the title. A five-team tournament, known as the World Series of Football was organized by Tom O'Rouke, the manager of Madison Square Garden. The event featured the first-ever indoor pro football games. The first professional indoor game came on December 29, 1902, when the Syracuse Athletic Club defeated the "New York team" 5–0. Syracuse would go onto win the 1902 Series, while the Franklin Athletic Club won the Series in 1903. The World Series only lasted two seasons.

The game moved west into Ohio which became the center of professional football during the early decades of the 20th century. Small towns such as Massillon, Akron, Portsmouth, and Canton all supported professional teams in a loose coalition known as the "Ohio League," the direct predecessor to today's National Football League. In 1906 the Canton Bulldogs–Massillon Tigers betting scandal became the first major scandal in professional football in the United States. It was the first known case of professional gamblers attempting to fix a professional sport. Although the Massillon Tigers could not prove that the Canton Bulldogs had thrown the second game, the scandal tarnished the Bulldogs' name and helped ruin professional football in Ohio until the mid-1910s.

In 1915, the reformed Canton Bulldogs signed former Olympian and Carlisle Indian School standout Jim Thorpe to a contract. Thorpe became the face of professional football for the next several years and was present at the founding of the National Football League five years later. A disruption in play in 1918 (due to World War I and flu pandemic) allowed the New York Pro Football League to pick up some of the Ohio League's talent; the NYPFL had coalesced around 1916, but efforts to challenge the Ohio teams were largely unsuccessful until after the suspension. By 1919, the Ohio League and the New York league were on relatively equal footing with both each other and with teams clustered around major cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit.

In 1923, Adam Martin Wyant, a guard for the Greensburg Athletic Association, from 1895 to 1897, became the first professional football player to be elected to the United States Congress. He was a Republican who represented Pennsylvania's 22nd, and later 31st congressional district, for a total of 12 years.

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