The Ohio League was an informal and loose association of American football clubs active between 1902 and 1919 that competed for the Ohio Independent Championship (OIC). As the name implied, its teams were mostly based in Ohio. It is the direct predecessor to the modern National Football League (NFL).
A proposal to add teams from outside Ohio, such as the Latrobe Athletic Association, to form a formal league known as the "Football Association" fell through prior to the 1904 season.
Though a champion was declared by the group throughout its existence, a formal league was not founded until 1920, when several Ohio League teams added clubs from other states to form the American Professional Football Association. In 1922, the APFA became the National Football League.
|Claim to fame||Predecessor to the National Football League (NFL)|
|No. of teams||23|
|Most titles||Massillon Tigers (5)|
|New York Pro Football League (NYPFL)|
Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit
|1902||Akron East Ends|
|1903||Massillon Tigers||8||1||0||def. Akron East Ends, 11-0|
|1904||Massillon Tigers||7||0||0||def. Akron East Ends, 6-5|
|1905||Massillon Tigers||10||0||0||def. Canton Bulldogs, 10-0|
|1906||Massillon Tigers||10||1||0||def. Canton Bulldogs, 13-6|
|1909||Akron Indians||9||0||0||def. Shelby Blues, 12-9|
|1910||Shelby Blues and Shelby Tigers||14||0||1||def. Akron Indians, 8-5|
|1911||Shelby Blues||10||0||0||def. Canton Bulldogs, 1-0 (forfeit)|
|1912||Elyria Athletics||8||0||0||def. Akron Indians|
|1913||Akron Indians||8||1||2||def. Shelby Blues, 20-0|
|1914||Akron Parratt's Indians||8||2||1||def. Canton Bulldogs, 21-0|
|1915||Youngstown Patricians||8||0||1||def. Washington Vigilants, 13-7|
|1916||Canton Bulldogs||9||0||1||def. Massillon Tigers, 24-0|
|1917||Canton Bulldogs||9||1||0||def. Detroit Heralds, 7-0|
|1918||Dayton Triangles||8||0||0||def. Detroit Heralds|
The 1923 Toledo Rockets football team was an American football team that represented Toledo University (renamed the University of Toledo in 1967) during the 1923 college football season. In their third season under head coach James Dwyer, the team compiled a 6–4 record, the first winning season in program history, won the Northwest Ohio League championship, and shut out its opponents in all six victories. The team's 87 points against Findlay established the program's single game scoring record and remains the second highest point total in program history. Gib Stick's 30 point tally in the Findlay game also remains tied for the second highest single game scoring total in program history.The team captain was James Pierce, the first African-American to hold the position. Pierce became a professor after graduation.According to the Toledo media guide, the program's nickname dates to the 1923 season. The 1923 season opened with a game against Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. According to the media guide, the Pittsburgh reporters in the press box were surprised to learn that the Toledo team did not have a nickname and asked a Toledo student, James Neal, to come up with a nickname. Neal suggested the team by called the Skyrockets, and the sportswriters shortened the name to Rockets. The Rockets nickname has been in use since 1923.Akron Pros
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.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 classCanton Bulldogs
The Canton Bulldogs were a professional American football team, based in Canton, Ohio. They played in the Ohio League from 1903 to 1906 and 1911 to 1919, and the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922), from 1920 to 1923 and again from 1925 to 1926. The Bulldogs would go on to win the 1916, 1917 and 1919 Ohio League championships. They were the NFL champions in 1922 and 1923. In 1921–1923, the Bulldogs played 25 straight games without a defeat (including 3 ties), which as of 2018 remains an NFL record. As a result of the Bulldogs' early success along with the league being founded in the city, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton. Jim Thorpe, the Olympian and renowned all-around athlete, was Canton's most-recognized player in the pre-NFL era.In 1924, Sam Deutsch, the owner of the NFL's Cleveland Indians, bought the Canton Bulldogs and took the Bulldogs name and its players to Cleveland and named his franchise the Cleveland Bulldogs. He then offered to sell the Canton franchise back to the city of Canton to play in the 1924 season, however there were no buyers interested in the team, so he "mothballed" the Canton club. The Canton Bulldogs were however re-established in 1925, and the NFL considers the 1925 to 1926 Canton Bulldogs to be the same team as the 1920 to 1923 incarnation.
An unrelated "Canton Bulldogs" team played in the United Football League in 1964; the team's name was somewhat coincidental, as it had moved from Cleveland and kept its original nickname; that team moved to Philadelphia and became the "Philadelphia Bulldogs." All in all, this version of the Cleveland-Canton-Philadelphia Bulldogs played from 1961 to 1966, its last two years in Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Football League. Another "Canton Bulldogs" team was slated to begin play in the Stars Football League in 2012, although that team never materialized. The Bulldogs name is also in use at Canton McKinley High School.Cincinnati Celts
The Cincinnati Celts (pronounced with a hard C) was the first professional football team to play in Cincinnati, Ohio. The team played in the unofficial "Ohio League" and the American Professional Football Association (renamed the National Football League in 1922). The Celts were a traveling team, playing all of their APFA games in other cities' stadia. In its only season in the APFA, 1921, the team had a record of 1–3. For the entire span of the team's existence, the Celts were coached by Mel Doherty, who was also the team's center.Cleveland Tigers (NFL)
The Cleveland Tigers were the first Cleveland, Ohio team franchise in what became the National Football League (NFL). The Tigers played in the "Ohio League" before joining the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League in 1922) during the 1920 and 1921 seasons.Columbus Panhandles
The Columbus Panhandles were a professional American football team based in Columbus, Ohio. The club was founded in 1901 by workers at the Panhandle shops of the Pennsylvania Railroads. They were a part of the Ohio League from 1904 before folding after one season. Three years later, the team tried again and playing the Ohio League from 1907 to 1919, not winning a championship, before becoming charter members of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) which became the National Football League (NFL).
The Panhandles are credited with playing in the first NFL game against another NFL opponent. They have zero NFL championships, but Joseph Carr, the team's owner from 1907 to 1922, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his work as NFL president.Dayton Triangles
The Dayton Triangles were an original franchise of the American Professional Football Association (now the National Football League (NFL)) in 1920. The Triangles were based in Dayton, Ohio, and took their nickname from their home field, Triangle Park, which was located at the confluence of the Great Miami and Stillwater Rivers in north Dayton. They were the longest-lasting traveling team in the NFL (1920–1929), and the last such "road team" until the Dallas Texans in 1952, who, coincidentally, descended from the Dayton franchise.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."Greasy Neale
Alfred Earle "Greasy" Neale (November 5, 1891 – November 2, 1973) was an American football and baseball player and coach.League Field
League Field is a former American football stadium located in Canton, Ohio. The stadium was home to the Canton Bulldogs of the National Football League from 1905 to 1926. It had a capacity of 8,000 spectators. The stadium was replaced in the late 1930s by the current Fawcett Stadium.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.Massillon Tigers
The Massillon Tigers were an early professional football team from Massillon, Ohio. Playing in the "Ohio League", the team was a rival to the pre-National Football League version of the Canton Bulldogs. The Tigers won Ohio League championships in 1903, 1904, 1905, and 1906, then merged to become "All-Massillons" to win another title in 1907. The team returned as the Tigers in 1915 but, with the reemergence of the Bulldogs, only won one more Ohio League title. Pro football was popularized in Ohio when the amateur Massillon Tigers, hired four Pittsburgh pros to play in the season-ending game against Akron. At the same time, pro football declined in the Pittsburgh area, and the emphasis on the pro game moved west from Pennsylvania to Ohio.
The team opted not to join the APFA (later renamed the NFL) in 1920; it remained an independent club through 1923, when the Tigers folded. During their time as an independent, the Tigers never played against any team in the NFL, even though several other independent teams did. The Massillon Tigers team name was transferred to Massillon Washington High School, which still uses it today.New York Pro Football League
The New York Pro Football League (NYPFL) was a professional American football league, active in the 1910s, and based in upstate New York, primarily Western New York. Between 1920 and 1921, the league's best teams were absorbed into the National Football League, though none survive in that league today. It was one of the biggest challengers to the Ohio League in professional football in the 1910s.
Its formation was highly informal. The teams were largely clustered around the two cities of Rochester, New York and Buffalo, New York, with rural teams to fill the differences. Rochester had built its reputation around a strong "sandlot football" circuit, for instance, and was most popular when it consisted mostly of local teams. Rochester's best team, the Jeffersons, was instrumental in bringing the NYPFL and the Ohio League together to form the NFL. The circuit continued to exist even after the birth of the NFL (with the NYPFL teams continuing to play in both circuits), with the league finally dwindling away in the late 1920s and early 1930s. One NYPFL team, the Watertown Red & Black, still survives.Northern Ohio League
The Northern Ohio League (NOL) was an OHSAA athletic league in north central Ohio that began competition in 1944 and disbanded in 2017 after six of its seven members joined the Sandusky Bay Conference.Sam Willaman
Samuel Stienneck Willaman (April 4, 1891 – August 18, 1935) was an American football player and coach. He served as the head coach at Iowa State University (1922–1925), Ohio State University (1929–1933), and Western Reserve University (1934), compiling a career college football record of 47–26–9. At Iowa State, Willaman integrated the team by playing Jack Trice.Shelby Blues
The Shelby Blues were an American football team based in Shelby, Ohio. The team played in the Ohio League from 1900 to 1919. In 1920, when the Ohio League became the APFA (now known as the National Football League), the Blues did not join but continued to play against APFA teams, only to later suspend operations. The Blues returned to play as an independent between 1926 and 1928.
The team was named for their blue uniforms, that were worn in their first year. In 1905, the Blues replaced the Shelby Athletic Club as the top football team in town. A year later the team was the runner-up for the Ohio League title, behind only the Akron Indians. The Blues won Ohio League championships in 1910 and 1911, with Peggy Parratt, an early pioneer and master of the forward pass, at quarterback. In 1904, the Blues are credited with signing the first black players in American professional football, halfback Charles Follis.Toledo Maroons
The Toledo Maroons were a professional American football team based in Toledo, Ohio in the National Football League in 1922 and 1923. Prior to joining the NFL, the Maroons played in the unofficial "Ohio League" from 1902 until 1921.Triangle Park (Dayton)
Triangle Park is a former American football stadium located in Dayton, Ohio. The stadium was home to the Dayton Triangles of the National Football League from 1920 to 1929. It had a capacity of 5,000 spectators. It was located at the confluence of the Great Miami River and Stillwater River. On October 3, 1920, it hosted the first NFL game against the Columbus Panhandles. Today, it is a park in the city of Dayton.
Professional gridiron football leagues in North America