The Akron Pros were a professional football team that played in Akron, Ohio, from 1908 to 1926. The team originated in 1908 as a semi-pro team named the Akron Indians, but later became Akron Pros in 1920 as the team set out to become a charter member of the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922). Fritz Pollard, the first black head coach in the NFL, co-coached the Akron Pros in 1921. Paul Robeson played for the team in 1921 as well. He was among the earliest stars of professional football, before football became segregated from 1934 to 1946. In 1926, the name was changed back to the Akron Indians, after the earlier semi-pro team. Due to financial problems, the team suspended operations in 1927 and surrendered its franchise the following year.
|Based in||Akron, Ohio|
|League||Ohio League (1908–1919)|
National Football League (1920–1926)
|Team history||Akron Indians (1908–16)|
Akron Burkhardts (1916–1917)
Akron Indians (1918–1919)
Akron Pros (1920–25)
Akron Indians (1926)
|Team colors||Blue, White |
|Head coaches||Peggy Parratt (1912–1915)|
Ralph Waldsmith (1916)
Suey Welch (1917–1918)
Ralph Waldsmith (1919)
Elgie Tobin (1920–21)
Fritz Pollard (1921)
Untz Brewer (1922)
Carl Cramer & Dutch Hendrian (1923)
Jim Flower (1924)
George Barry (1925)
Rube Ursella & Al Nesser (1926)
|General managers||Art Ranney (1919–1927)|
|NFL Championship wins||1 (1920)|
|Ohio League Championship wins||4 (1908, 1909, 1913, 1914)|
|Undefeated seasons||1 (1920)|
|Home field(s)||League Park|
Prior to 1908, several semi-pro and amateur teams dominated the Akron football scene. The most dominant of these was a team known as the Akron East Ends. The East Ends' dominance of Ohio football went unmatched until the Massillon Tigers paid several ringers from the recently disbanded Pittsburgh Stars to defeat the East Ends in 1903.
The Akron Indians date as far back as 1908. The early Indians teams went on to win Ohio League championships in 1908, 1909, 1913 and 1914. The team was always referred to as the Indians by the fans. From 1908–1913, the Indians had a reputation of playing more of a style of football seen at the college level than that of the early athletic clubs. For example, the Indians preferred passing the ball as opposed to running. The team tied for the Akron city title in 190
Before the 1912 season, Peggy Parratt, an early football star with the Massillon Tigers, Franklin Athletic Club and the Shelby Blues, joined the Indians. He made the move after realizing that he could make more money in the large football market that Akron provided. When he arrived in Akron, his first move was to change the team name from the "Akron" Indians to "Parratt's Indians". With Peggy as player, coach, and owner-manager, the Indians split their series with Shelby and twice defeated Canton, 14–7 and 19–7. However, they were defeated by the unheard of Elyria Athletics, who then took the Ohio championship. The Athletics were mostly former Blues players who formed a team in Elyria after Parratt left for Akron.
The following season, Parratt brought most of Elyria's 1912 championship team to Akron, and adding them to his roster. The Indians then beat Shelby and Elyria. They also managed to tie the rapidly improving Canton Pros. During the Indians' championship game against Shelby, the Blues loaded their team with a collection of famous players from big eastern schools and supported each member with a payroll of $700 for just that one game. However, the game was cancelled due to snowstorm. A week later when the Blues returned to Akron, the Indians were prepared with newly recruited talent that was viewed as even superior to that of Shelby's. The Indians won the game 20–0 and brought the Ohio title back to Akron.
For his 1914 recruiting efforts, Parratt signed the usual big-name players, which consisted of a lineup that changed from week to week, with just enough stars on hand to guarantee a win. However, in 1914, he also employed several former Notre Dame stars, including the legendary Knute Rockne, Howard "Horse" Edwards, "Deke" Jones, and Joe Collins, as well as several Ohio collegiate stars like Ed Kagy, Dwight Wertz, Homer Davidson, Dutch Powell, Frank Nesser, and Ralph "Fat" Waldsmith. By late season, the entire left side of his Akron Indian line was from Notre Dame. The team dominated the Ohio League for the season. However, it managed to lose to Canton 6–0 on November 15, 1914. Despite the win, Canton's captain Harry Turner died when his spine broke during a tackle on Akron fullback Joe Collins. Turner's death marked the first fatal accident involving a major professional football team in Ohio.
To avoid an Akron title in 1915 the owners of the Massillon Tigers raided Parratt's Akron roster and took away many of his star players. Canton manager Jack Cusack also picked up some former Akron players and signed Jim Thorpe to his renamed Canton Bulldogs team. By the end of the season, Parratt's team was made up mostly of Akron sandlotters. After the disastrous 1915 season, Parratt returned to Cleveland, where he took some of his former Akron players and a few ex-collegians and formed a respectable team, which he named the Cleveland Tigers.
In 1916 a local brewer, Burkhardt Brewing Company, took over the remains of the Indians and renamed the club the Akron Burkhardts. The team was reorganized by Howe Welch and his brothers Chang and Suey. After three seasons, Welch was a player, coach and manager for Akron, playing against many of professional football's early stars. The 1916 Burkhardts had a winning record despite falling to the Bulldogs and splitting a two-game series with the Columbus Panhandles. In 1918 the team was once again renamed the Indians, however this is disputed due many records of the time still refer to the club as the Burkhardts until 1920. The 1919 team, finished their season 5–5–0. However, the Indians lost money despite the presence of one of the country's best breakaway runners, Fritz Pollard, the league's first black player. From 1917 through at least 1921, the Indians name was sold off to Suey Welch, who fielded it as an independent club.
After experiencing financial losses from 1912 to 1919, the team was sold to Art Ranney, an Akron businessman and former football player at the University of Akron, and Frank Nied, a cigar store proprietor in 1920. The new owners soon dropped the Indian moniker and went with "Pros," hoping to inspire better results, or at least better attendance. Nied and Ranney befriended and signed Fritz Pollard to their team. The two co-owners later made Pollard the first African-American coach in the NFL.
The minutes for the September 17, 1920, meeting that formed the AFPA, were kept on the stationery of the Akron Pros football team by one of the owners, Art Ranney. Ranney was then elected secretary-treasurer of the league (later renamed the National Football League in 1922).
Pollard and most of the top 1919 players planned to return to the Pros in 1920. The team opened the season at League Park in early October by defeating the Wheeling Stogies, 43 to 0. Al Nesser, one of the infamous football-playing Nesser Brothers, scored three touchdowns on fumble recoveries. The following week the Pros defeated the Columbus Panhandles 37 to 0 using former guard, Frank McCormick as a wingback. After a 13–0 win over the Cincinnati Celts, the Pros played the Cleveland Tigers, a team composed mainly of ex-stars from the Massillon Tigers. Bob Nash, who played for Massillon in 1919, broke up a Stan Cofall punt resulting in an Akron touchdown and a final score of 7–0. The Pros then shocked the league by beating the Canton Bulldogs, who were considered the top team in the nation in 1920 with stars Jim Thorpe, Joe Guyon, Pete Calac and Pete Henry, 10–0. However, after a rained out game against the Detroit Heralds, the Pros played a reorganized Tigers team that held the Pros to a 7–7 tie. The team, under the rushing of Pollard and McCormick, rebounded by defeating the Dayton Triangles 13–0. After a 7–0 victory in a rematch to Canton, as well as a second win over Dayton, the Pros were recognized as the top team in Ohio.
The Pros then held the Buffalo All-Americans to a scoreless tie in front of only 3,000. At the game, Nied and Ranney agreed to sell Bob Nash to Buffalo for $300 and five percent of the gate in the first known player deal between NFL clubs. However, since the Pros held the best record in the league, they only had to avoid losing a game, while Buffalo and the Decatur Staleys had to win in order to capture the AFPA Championship. The Pros held the Staleys to a scoreless tie in front of 12,000 fans at Cub Park.
Both the All-Americans and the Staleys complained about the championship, arguing that Akron had not defeated them. The Pros were not named the AFPA Champs until April 30, 1921, after the team managers got together at Canton and voted the title to Akron, granting the team the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup. (Not coincidentally, Ranney, then the league's secretary, presided over the meeting as de facto President of the league, since neither President Jim Thorpe nor Vice President Stan Cofall appeared at the meeting.) According to modern NFL tie-breaking rules, the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans would be co-champions. They would be tied with the Pros in win percentage, 9½ wins to 1½ losses (.864), both teams beating out the Decatur Staleys, who would have a season that counted 11 wins to 2 losses (.846).
The Pros finished in 3rd place in 1921 and 10th place in 1922. The team only finished higher than 13th place in 1925, when it completed the season at fifth. Following the 1925 season, the Pros returned to being the Akron Indians. This new team played for the next four seasons before disbanding due to declining financial support and the team's poor record after the 1926 season. The team suspended operations in 1927 and formally surrendered its franchise the following year.
|Season||Team||League||Regular season||Post Season Results||References|
|1920||1920||APFA †||1st †||8||0||3 ♦||Named APFA Champions †|||
|1921||1921||APFA||3rd||8||3||1||The APFA did not hold playoff games|||
|1922||1922||NFL||10th||3||5||2||The NFL did not hold playoff games until 1932|||
|1926||1926||NFL||T-16th||1||4||3||The NFL did not have playoff games until 1932|||
| Ohio League Champions
1908 & 1909
Shelby Blues & Shelby Tigers
| Ohio League Champions
1913 & 1914
| APFA Champions
The 1919 Akron Indians season was their twelfth season in existence. The team played in the Ohio League and posted a 5–5 record. The team later became a charter member of the National Football League the very next season.1920 APFA season
The 1920 APFA season was the inaugural season of the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League in 1922. The league was formed on August 20, 1920, by independent professional American football teams from Ohio, all of whom had previously played in the Ohio League or New York Pro Football League (NYPFL). At the meeting, they first called their new league the American Professional Football Conference. A second organizational meeting was held in Canton on September 17, adding more teams to the league, and at the meeting, the name of the league became the American Professional Football Association. Four other teams also joined the Association during the year. Meanwhile, Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs was named the APFA's first president but continued to play for the team.
Scheduling was left up to each team. There were wide variations, both in the overall number of games played, and in the number played against other Association members. Thus, no official standings were maintained. In addition, football teams in the APFA also faced independent football teams not associated with the league. For instance, the Rochester Jeffersons played a schedule consisting mostly of local teams from their local sandlot circuit and the NYPFL, not the APFA.
The Akron Pros ended the season as the only undefeated team in the Association. Despite this, two one-loss teams—the Decatur Staleys and Buffalo All-Americans—who both tied Akron that year made cases for a co-championship. At the league meetings in Akron on April 30, 1921, the Pros were awarded the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup for the 1920 season, the only year the trophy was used.
If modern NFL tie-breaking rules were in force in 1920, the Buffalo All-Americans (9–1–1) would have been co-champions with the Akron Pros (8–0–3), as both had a win percentage of .864 and their only game was tied, while the Staleys (10–1–2) would have finished third with .846.
Further, if games against non-APFA teams were excluded, Akron (6–0–3) would still have won the championship with .833, with the All-Americans (4–1–1) and the Staleys (5–1–2) finishing equal second with .750 as they did not play each other.
Of the 14 teams that played in the APFA/NFL's inaugural season, the Chicago Cardinals, now known as the Arizona Cardinals, and the Decatur Staleys, now known as the Chicago Bears, are the only teams that remain in the league.1920 Akron Pros season
The 1920 Akron Pros season was the franchise's inaugural season with the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and twelfth total season as a team. The Pros entered the season coming off a 5–5 record in 1919 as the Akron Indians in the Ohio League. The Indians were sold to Art Ranney and Frank Nied, two businessmen, to help achieve a better record and crowd. Several representatives from the Ohio League wanted to form a new professional league; thus, the APFA was created.
Returning to the team for the 1920 season would be most of last year's team, including quarterback Fritz Pollard. The Pros also added end Bob Nash, who previously played for the Tigers, Al Garrett, and end Al Nesser of the famous Nesser brothers. They opened their regular season with a win over the Wheeling Stogies, en route to an 8–0–3 record. In week 11, the Pros traded Bob Nash—the first trade in APFA history. A meeting was held by the APFA to determine a winner, and the Pros' season concluded with the team winning the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup for finishing first place in the APFA. The Decatur Staleys and the Buffalo All-Americans demanded the title because of the number of wins each team had.
Rip King and Fritz Pollard were named first-team all APFA and Alf Cobb was named second-team all APFA by the Rock Island Argus. The Pros only allowed 7 points all season, which was the lowest among all APFA teams. The 1920 Akron Pros are considered the first team in the history of the APFA to have an undefeated record. This changed with the 1972 rule change, however. In 2005, Pollard became the only player from the 1920 Akron Pros to be elected into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.1921 Akron Pros season
The 1921 Akron Pros season was their second in the league. The team failed to improve on their previous output of 8–0–3, losing three games. They finished third in the league.1922 Akron Pros season
The 1922 Akron Pros season was their third in the league. The team failed to improve on their previous output of 8–3–1, winning only three games. They finished tenth in the league.1923 Akron Pros season
The 1923 Akron Pros season was their fourth in the league. The team failed to improve on their previous output of 3–5–2, winning only one game. They tied for sixteenth place in the league.1924 Akron Pros season
The 1924 Akron Pros season was their fifth in the league. The team improved on their previous output of 1–6, winning two games. They tied for thirteenth place in the league.1925 Akron Pros season
The 1925 Akron Pros season was their sixth in the league and last season before becoming the Indians. The team improved on their previous output of 2–6, winning four games. They finished sixth in the league.1926 Akron Indians season
The 1926 Akron Indians season was their seventh and final season in the league and only season as the Indians. The team failed to improve on their previous output of 4–2–2, winning only one game. They tied for sixteenth in the league.Al Nesser
Alfred Louis Nesser (June 6, 1893 – March 1967) was a professional American football offensive lineman. He played for seven teams: Akron Pros, Cleveland Bulldogs, Columbus Panhandles, Akron Indians, New York Giants, and Cleveland Indians in the National Football League (NFL) and the Cleveland Panthers in the first American Football League. He won NFL Championship titles with the Akron Pros in 1920 and the New York Giants in 1927. During his career, Nesser played against Charlie Copley, Fritz Pollard and Jim Thorpe.
Although he didn't play college football, prior to the formation of the NFL, Nesser played in the "Ohio League" for the Columbus Panhandles and the Canton Professionals (later renamed the Canton Bulldogs). He was one of the seven Nesser Brothers who played professional football. He became the last Nesser brother to retire from the game, when he ended his playing career in 1931. He was the last football player to play without having to use a mandatory helmet.
Although none of the Nessers have been named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Al was elected to the professional branch of the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1952. In 2004, he was named to the Professional Football Researchers Association Hall of Very Good in the association's second HOVG classBrunswick-Balke Collender Cup
Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup was a silver trophy donated to the American Professional Football Association (renamed the National Football League in 1922) by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, Tire Division.Carl Cramer
Carl H. Cramer was a professional football player with the Akron Pros (renamed the Akron Indians in 1926) and the Cleveland Tigers of the National Football League. In 1923 Carl served as a player-coach for the Pros. Carl split coaching duties that season with Dutch Hendrian.Dick Stahlman
Richard Frederick Stahlman (October 20, 1902 – May 11, 1970) was an American football offensive lineman. He played seven seasons in the National Football League and one season in the first American Football League.Dutch Hendrian
Oscar George "Dutch" Hendrian (January 19, 1896 – December 13, 1953) was an American actor and former American football player in the National Football League.Frank Nied
Francis Theodore Nied (August 14, 1894 – May 13, 1969) was a founder of the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League in 1922), as well as the owner of the Akron Pros and, as the team became known as in 1926, the Akron Indians.Fritz Pollard
Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard (January 27, 1894 – May 11, 1986) was the first African American head coach in the National Football League (NFL). Pollard along with Bobby Marshall were the first two African American players in the NFL in 1920. Football pioneer Walter Camp ranked Pollard as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen."League Park (Akron)
League Park refers to two former American football and baseball stadiums located in Akron, Ohio. The original League Park was located at the corner of Carroll St. and Beaver St.; the newer stadium was on Lakeshore Blvd. between W. Long St. and W. Crosier St.Scotty Bierce
Bruce Wallace Bierce was a professional football player who played for the Akron Pros, Buffalo All-Americans, Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Bulldogs of the National Football League. Bierce won a league title in 1920 with the Pros and he won a second title in 1924 with the Bulldogs. Scotty also served as a player-coach for the Pros in 1925.
After his playing career ended, Briece became a prominent Akron attorney and a community leader.Tommy Tomlin
John Albert "Tommy" Tomlin (August 17, 1894 – March 23, 1949) was an American football player. He played professionally as a guard and tackle who played for the Akron Pros, Hammond Pros, Milwaukee Badgers and New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL). He was born to Elizabeth Ford (1859–1927) and George Tomlin (1854–1928). Tomlin won an NFL title in 1920 with Akron.
Akron Indians / Pros
|NFL Championships (1)|
|Ohio League Championships|