American Professional Football Association

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Columbus Panhandles Football Team.jpg
Group portrait of the Columbus Panhandles Football Team, identified from left to right as: John Nesser, Frank Nesser, Reagan Burton, Andy Kertzinger, Chief Henry, Ed Hughes, Joe Carr (founder and manager), Harry Greenwood, Phil Nesser, Fred Nesser, Baker, and Carlise. The Panhandles were one of the first professional football teams to join the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League, when it formed in 1920. They operated as a professional football franchise from 1920-1922, then again from 1923-1926. Note: Complete name identification and date provided by Chris Willis, former OHS employee now with NFL Films.

The American Professional Football Association was the name of the predecessor of the National Football League.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, American football became an increasingly popular sport. Because people enjoyed watching the sport, private businesses or individual communities began to sponsor professional teams of men who were paid to play football. These Professional teams became a source of pride for the businesses and towns.

Because of the lack of local male athletes caused by World War I, teams began to recruit players outside of their own state. This led professional football teams to feel the need for a multi-state or national organization to regulate this recruitment.

The first major attempt to unify the various professional football teams occurred in 1920, with the formation of the American Professional Football Association (originally known as the American Professional Football Conference). The league was founded in Canton, Ohio; five of the first teams were from the state. The league's original teams included the Canton Bulldogs, the Cleveland Tigers, the Dayton Triangles, the Akron Professionals, the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons, the Rock Island (IL) Independents, the Muncie (IN) Flyers, the Decatur (IL) Staleys, the Chicago (IL) Cardinals, the Buffalo (NY) All-Americans, the Chicago (IL) Tigers, the Columbus Panhandles, the Detroit (MI) Heralds, and the Hammond (IN) Pros. The season consisted of eleven games with a declared end-of-the-season winner: the first champion was the Akron Professionals. Between 1920 and 1922 the name of the organization changed frequently. In 1922, the organization became the National Football League, the name that is still in use.

The American Professional Football Association's first president was Jim Thorpe. He played and coached for the Canton Bulldogs during the 1910s. Under Thorpe's leadership, the Bulldogs were the unofficial world champions in 1916, 1917, and 1919. His contributions to the game led him to become the highest paid player in the league during its early years. Thorpe retired as a player from professional football in 1928. At that time, he played for the Chicago Cardinals. In the league's early decades, there was a tremendous turnover of teams. Numerous communities tried to sponsor teams, but quickly realized that they could not cover the expenses. Teams also commonly moved, lured away by other communities that offered a more lucrative financial deal. During the league's history, numerous teams were based in Ohio. Some of these teams, and their dates of existence, are:

Canton Bulldogs (1920-1923) (1926-1926)

Cleveland Tigers (1920-1921)

Akron Professionals (1920-1926)

Dayton Triangles (1920-1929)

Columbus Panhandles (1920-1922)

Cincinnati Celts (1921-1921)

Marion Oorang Indians (1922-1923)

Toledo Maroons (1922-1923)

Columbus Tigers (1923-1924) (1926-1926)

Cleveland Indians (1923-1923) (1931-1931)

Cleveland Bulldogs (1924-1925) (1927-1927)

Akron Indians (1926-1926)

Portsmouth Spartans (1930-1934)

Cincinnati Reds (1932-1934)

Cleveland Rams (1937-1943)

Cleveland Browns (1949-1996) (1999-present)

Cincinnati Bengals (1968-present)

Because of Ohio's prominent role in professional football, the National Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, where the league began in 1920.

See Also