I grew up within walking distance of American professional sports history, but didn’t know about it until much later. North of downtown Dayton, Ohio on an October afternoon in 1920, the first game between members of what would become the National Football League was played. That day, the Columbus Panhandles visited the home-standing Dayton Triangles at Triangle Park. The Triangles won the game 14-0. There was another game played that day in Illinois, but in the Central time zone, so the Triangles-Pan Handles game was almost certainly the first to kick off.
The more I looked into it, the more I wondered who these people were, how they got to this point and what their legacy was. I found a great resource online, www.daytontriangles.com, created and maintained by Steve Presar. There’s also information about the Triangles at the Professional Football Researchers Association web site.
As I went through all of these threads, I decided I wanted to try and weave them together into book form. After all, there’s a book about the Columbus Panhandles; why not one about the Triangles?
So, over the past few months I’ve been going through the archives of the Dayton Daily News and other sources, doing a deep dive on the history and background of the team and some of the key people involved. I’m interested in not just facts and figures, but some of the stories behind them. For example, a century ago:
- There was no Internet, no television and radio was in its infancy. Newspapers were the media, social or otherwise.
- “Cable news” meant telegraph cable.
- In the papers, racist language was used as a matter of routine.
- “Dope” meant information, and “crack” meant a person or team was very skillful.
- Affordable mass air transportation was still years away: teams travelled by train.
As for the game itself:
- When you threw a forward pass, several things could happen and almost all of them were bad.
- There was no “end zone”.
- There were no hash marks; when a play went out of bounds, the next play was run as close to the out of bounds line as possible.
- Not only did the quarterback call all the plays, communication from the sideline was illegal.
- There was precious little grass on the field. Games were played in the dirt; when it rained they were played in the mud.
- There was no such thing as “concussion protocol”.
- The college game was paramount; professionals were considered mercenaries, hacks or both.
Thus far, I’ve researched how the Triangles came to be, including their prehistory, the pre-NFL years, including the war years or 1917-18, and the early years of the league. My sense is that that’s going to be the bulk of the story, because the latter years were pretty depressing. By about 1926 or so, the Triangles had become what used to be called “breathers”, teams the stronger teams beat up on to get an easy break in their schedule. As they played more games on the road, the local papers stopped covering them, and they had all but disappeared from the city’s consciousness be the time the team was finally sold in 1929.
This is just a whiff of what I’ve found out, and as I continue in this project, I anticipate I’ll be posting tidbits here from time to time. I might also blog a bit about the process I go through as I look to try and get this thing published, which I hope will be in time for the 100th anniversary of that first game, in 2020.