My Town Monday: The First NFL Game

Hopefully you are all recovered from massive amounts of beer, junk food, and the best commercials of the year! Hopefully you had a good time, regardless of which team won. But did you ever wonder how – and where – it all started?

The Marker at Triangle Park today (click to enlarge)

Yup, right here in Ohio! Of course, it’s probably not news to many that the NFL was formed in Canton, Ohio, which is now home to the NFL Hall of Fame. Chartered in 1920, the NFL was originally called the American Professional Football League until the name was changed to the National Football League in 1922. And the AFPL’s first game? It was held in Dayton, with the Dayton Triangles defending against the Columbus Panhandles – a blowout with the Triangles winning 14-0.

The Triangles’ story is an interesting one in itself, a far cry from the multi-billion-dollar industry that the NFL is today. The Triangles roots come from basketball, and begin at St. Mary’s University, now the University of Dayton. Several of the college’s players wanted to keep playing after graduation, and formed a team with other alumni and students in 1912. A year later, they branched into football as the St. Mary’s Cadets and quickly gained a winning record and local business sponsorship.

In 1916, the Cadets reorganized as the Dayton Triangles, pulling their roster from the employees of their three corporate sponsors, DELCO, Delco-Light, and the Dayton Metal Products Company. The Triangles’ Manager, Carl Storck, represented the team in meetings in Canton that ultimately resulted in the forming of the AFPL.

The original franchise fee was $25 (can you imagine?!), there was no league president, no bylaws or standard rules. There was no league schedule – each team set its own. The initial meeting on August 20, 1920 included only representatives from five Ohio teams. The follow-up a month later also included representatives for teams from Illinois, Indiana, and New York. This time, the group adopted bylaws and set the league fee at $100 (which none actually paid). Although Illinois’ Rock Island Independents played on Sept. 26 following the league’s official formation, the first game between two AFPA teams was the one in Dayton, played on October 3, 1920.

The Dayton Triangles, 1920

In 1922, other NFL teams began recruiting top talent from the college pool, but Dayton continued to use local players. This was the beginning of a slow, painful decline culminating in the sale of the team in 1930 to a Brooklyn syndicate, where they were renamed the Brooklyn Dodgers. All of the other eight NFL charter teams had already moved, been renamed, and/or been sold, leaving the Triangles as the last charter team in its original incarnation.

But who knew that the first NFL game was played in Dayton? And if you’d like a little more trivia, the very first touchdown in an NFL game was scored that day by Dayton Triangles’ fullback Lou Partlow.

Did you know about the Dayton connection to the NFL? Until I read the linked article in the Dayton Daily News, I didn’t. Got any other cool sports history trivia? Please share!

Dayton Triangles Logo © The National Football League
Historic Marker photo via
Team photo via Dayton City Paper 

Additional resources:
90 years ago today, NFL began in Dayton,” Dayton Daily News, Oct. 2, 2010
Dayton Triangles,” Wikipedia
Original Class of the NFL,” Dayton City Paper, Nov. 22.2011