Football Significant Figures

Football History in Dayton, Ohio


by Dr. Carl Becker


Professional football in the second decade of the twentieth century was in a disorganized state. The owners, managers, coaches and players of the teams, largely located in small Midwestern cities, often engaged in dubious practices: the use of college players as ringers (men playing under false name), players jumping at will from team to team, and the impromptu and haphazard scheduling of games. The public regarded players as riff-raff, even thugs; and the collegiate establishment — administrators, athletic directors, coaches and alumni — insisted that professional football corrupted amateurism and its ideals of fair play and character-building. Moreover, professional teams were often on the brink of insolvency as owners competed for players.


Looking to solve these problems, select representatives of four professional teams met in Canton in 1920 to form a league. Among them was Carl Storck, a resident of Dayton and manager of the Dayton Triangles, then one of the leading professional teams in the Midwest. Like nearly all managers, Storck was an unpaid volunteer; he had fulltime employment as a job foreman in the Inspection and Packing Department at the National Cash Register Company. Out of the meeting the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League in 1922, was founded. Initially it was comprised of fourteen franchises, many in small cities. Serving as president in 1920 was Jim Thorpe, the legendary Indian athlete


Thorpe, a figurehead for publicity for the league, accomplished little in his first and only year as its president. Then in 1921, Joe Carr, a sports promoter in Columbus, replaced him. Storck became secretary-treasurer of the league, apparently working quite effectively with Carr down through the years.  Carr moved quickly to cleanse the league. He brought about by-laws restricting players from jumping team to team, curbing the use of ringers and prohibiting teams from playing non-league games in the territories of other league teams. Early on he demonstrated that the rules were not window-dressing. He forced the Green Bay Packers out of the league for using three Notre Dame varsity players under assumed names in a game against the Decatur Staleys (later a new Packers’ franchise was admitted to the league) and voided a deceptive ploy that George Halas of the Chicago Bears used in an attempt to lure Paddy Driscoll, a good back, from the Chicago Cardinals. He also gave some order to scheduling.  Later, in 1925, he suspended the franchise of the Pottstown Maroons after they played a non-league game in the territory of the Frankford Yellowjackets.


Carr was thus improving the image of the NFL, but late in 1925 he had to deal with a crisis threatening to undo his good work. Only hours after Harold “Red” Grange, the dazzling halfback at the University of Illinois, played his last college game, he signed a contract to play for the Chicago Bears. The collegiate establishment was furious and threatened to levy various sanctions against the NFL, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the American Football Coaches Association urged university administrators not to employ any coaches, trainers or game officials who gave their services to professional football. To soften the collegians’ anger, Carr pushed the NFL owners to adopt the so-called “Grange Rule,” which subjected them to fines and forfeiture of their franchises if they signed any collegian to a contract before his class had graduated. The rule mollified the collegians to a degree, but they remained suspicious of the NFL.


At about the same time, Carr and the owners were moving to creation of a big-city league. By 1927 twenty-two franchises, many in small cities operating at the margin, comprised the league. That year Carr and a group of owners, using various means, persuaded eleven owners to surrender their franchises, leaving the NFL more nearly a big-city circuit. Probably the Dayton Triangles, now essentially a road team that did not draw good crowds, were no stronger than the franchises in such cities as Racine and Hartford that left the league. But they remained in the NFL, surely owing to the influence of Carl Storck, still an officer of the league. Their days were numbered though, the Brooklyn Dodgers acquiring their franchise after the season of 1929


The NFL weathered the Great Depression reasonably well, far better than professional leagues in other sports, notably in baseball. Through the l930s the league enjoyed growing public repute and success at the gate as college stars, heretofore not readily and rapidly entering the professional game, now appeared on rosters of many NFL teams, and as new rules on passing enlivened the game. Attendance per game rose from about 13,000 in 1933 to 20,000 by 1938. Carr was so optimistic about the future of the NFL that he declared that it would outstrip all other sports in the nation in popularity. Professional football, he said, would become the “people’s game,” one enlisting the support of “mechanics, grocery boys, shop girls and workers of all sorts.” But he did not live to see his prophecy tested, dying of cardiac arrest in 1939. Succeeding him and using the same rhetoric was Carl Storck, who presided over continuing growth of the league. Unfortunately, like Carr, he was not destined to savor the burgeoning success of the league. Owing to poor health, he resigned the presidency after two years and died soon thereafter. But he had been present and active in the creation and emergence of the NFL as one of the leading sports institutions in the nation.       .      



Carroll, Bob, ed. et. al.  Total Football.  New York, 1999.

Carroll, John.  Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football.   Urbana,  1999.

Joe Carr File.  Archives.  Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Peterson, Robert W.  Pigskin:  The Early Years of Pro Football.  New York, 1997.

Presar, Steve.  “Present at the Creation:  Dayton’s Triangles and the National Football League.”  Miami Valley History.  II (1990), 19-30.



                                        Harold “Red” Grange in Dayton

On October 2, 1927, Harold "Red" Grange and his New York Yankees, came to town for a contest against the Dayton Triangles. The hometown media did not show much respect for the local boys. A Dayton Daily News article reported, "They will come here on the first leg of their country-wide travels, with their complete lineup of the cream of the country’s greatest, and they will be here to knock this Triangle club all over the lot and thereby receive a lot of publicity."

 The following interview was conducted on Saturday morning Oct. 1, 1927 in a downtown hotel. The author was Mr. Simon Burick, two years graduated from Stivers High School, and on his way to national fame. Mr. Grange shares his views on the professional game, and also mentions a couple of local coaching legends:


              HAROLD (RED) GRANGE, whose New York Yankee football team will play the Dayton Triangles at Triangle park Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock, was eating breakfast when the writer entered his room Saturday morning.  On the other side of the table sat Ralph Scott, former All-American lineman from Wisconsin, and now coach of the Yankees.

               Between mouthfuls of a light meal of ham and eggs, toast, coffee, French fried potatoes, cantaloupe and a few other delicacies, the man who was known as the "galloping ghost of the gridiron" spoke of football, the Dempsey-Tunney fight, the coming world series and a hundred other things.

               In response to a question as to what he thought of professional football, Red had the following interesting statement. "The good pro team will beat the good college eleven every day in the week. For this reason: A college coach is limited by the material he has on hand. If he can develop a great tackle, it’s all right. But what if his teams weak spot is tackle? Can he go out and scour the country till he finds a player capable of handling the job for the next game?

               "Of coarse he can’t. He’s limited. But what does the pro manager do when he’s got a weak spot? He goes out and finds a better man and fires the first fellow. An all American player doesn’t mean a thing in the program. A team can have 11 all Americans and lose to a club that has seven or eight itself. Few pro clubs have a weak spot."

               "Do you find the going much tougher now than when you were playing for Illinois?"  the writer asked.

               "Very much more. You find the defense of a pro club much better developed than in college teams." And then Red made the most surprising statement of all. "A professional player is smarter than a college man. He uses his noodle. He knows what to do and when to do it. He rarely goes up in the air as is the case with most of our college players when they get in a tight place."

               Scott, the coach of the Yankees, had his say at this time. "Red hasn’t gone back a bit though, since he’s taken up the pro game. He’s every bit as good now, if not better, than he was at Illinois. I have a record of the yardage he made in every game he played last year. And his average was eight yards gain per try. I wish we had three more backfield men like Red," said Scotty, a little baby of only 240 pounds, concluded with a laugh.

               Grange is well acquainted with Floyd Stahl, Stivers high school coach, and Floyd’s predecessor, Harry Wilhelm, who is now coach at Denison.

               "Do I know Shorty Stahl? I’ve plenty of  reason to remember him. Floyd and I tried out for center field on the Illinois baseball team, and he beat me out, even if I did have it all over him in size and weight. I’ll bet he’s some coach."

               Harry Wilhelm coached Grange when Red was a freshman at Illinois. "Burt Ingwerson was head freshman coach then and Harry, who was taking "Zupp’s" coarse in coaching was Burt’s right hand man. He copied every move Zuppke made. He imitated him in the slightest detail. He sure was a great student of the game. I always thought Harry would make a great coach," Grange recalled.

               Grange recently completed his second starring picture at Hollywood. He will be cast as a auto race driver this time.

               Red has gathered a roster of players, all of whom were famous as college stars within the past year or two. Kelly of Montana will play quarter, Grange and Tyron, Colgate, all American, will be at halfback positions, and either Fry of Iowa or Bo Molenda of Michigan will be at full against the Triangles. Maloney of Dartmouth and Lawson, Stanford, are the ends; Bayley, Syracuse, and Hall of Illinois will play the tackles; Michalske, Penn State, and Oliver of Alabama will be at the guard posts, and Stephens of Idaho has been assigned the center job.

               The Triangles are represented by the best team they have had in years and there is every reason to expect a great game to be staged here Sunday.

               Earl Britton, who will play fullback for Dayton, is Grange’s former teammate at Illinois. The two played together as pros in 1925, immediately after the college season was over

The Triangles went into halftime with a 3-0 lead. The Yankees didn’t score until late in the third period. A 77- yard punt return by Roy Baker, put them on the Triangle 2 yard line. The next play was a handoff to Grange. A sea of blue stopped him, gaining barely a yard. On third down and goal, Frye of Iowa, scored the winning touchdown. Red Grange was barely a factor during this game, thanks to the Triangle defenders.