The Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) is an organization of researchers whose mission is to preserve and, in some cases, reconstruct professional football history. It was founded on June 22, 1979 in Canton, Ohio by writer/historian Bob Carroll and six other football researchers and is currently headed by an executive committee led by its president, Ken Crippen, and executive director Mark L. Ford. Membership in the organization includes some of professional football's foremost historians and authors. The organization is based in Guilford, New York.
The PFRA publishes books and a bimonthly magazine, The Coffin Corner, devoted to topics in professional football history. The organization also gives out awards each year for outstanding achievement in the field of football research.
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The Coffin Corner is a bimonthly magazine devoted to topics in professional football history. Membership in the organization includes six issues of The Coffin Corner, as well as access to the "Members Only" section of their website, which contains detailed research on a multitude of subjects.
The PFRA's research is mostly divided into committees. Some of these committees are not permanent.
The Ralph Hay Award, named after the Canton Bulldogs owner whose Hupmobile Automobile showroom was the site of the NFL's first organizational meeting, is awarded for "lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography."
Past winners have been:
The Nelson Ross Award is presented annually by the PFRA for "outstanding achievement in pro football research and historiography."
Past winners include:
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 classBruno Banducci
Bruno Banducci (November 11, 1921 – September 15, 1985) was an Italian, American football offensive lineman in the National Football League for the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. Banducci played college football at Stanford University and was drafted in the sixth round of the 1943 NFL Draft. He earned a Pro Bowl nomination in 1954 and named an Associated Press first team All Pro in 1947 and 1954. Banducci is also a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity.
After retiring from professional football, he taught high school math at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, California, USA and Sonoma Valley High School in Sonoma, California, USA.
The Professional Football Researchers Association named Banducci to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2009Canton 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.Dan Policowski
Dan Policowski was an early professional football player for the Massillon Tigers from 1904 to 1906. Originally from Canton, Ohio, which was the home of the Tigers', rival the Canton Bulldogs, Policowski played end under the alias Dan Riley. He was also known as "Bullet Riley".Del Shofner
Delbert Martin Shofner (born December 11, 1934) is a former American football wide receiver who played for eleven seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants from 1957 to 1967 in the National Football League (NFL).
Shofner was a five-time consensus All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 1958, 1959, and from 1961 to 1963. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 1958 with a total of 1,097 and finished second in that category in both 1959 and 1961 with totals of 936 and 1,125. In 1962, he finished second in receiving touchdowns with 12. Shofner's 1963 receiving yards total of 1,181 was his career-best and the third highest in the NFL that season.
Injuries and illness caused a decline in his effectiveness in 1964 and thereafter and he eventually was supplanted as the starting split end in the middle of the 1965 season. He retired after the 1967 NFL season.
In 2005, he was named to the Professional Football Researchers Association Hall of Very Good in the association's third HOVG class.Shofner played college football at Baylor University. He was also a punter early in his professional football career.
In addition to football, Shofner played basketball, baseball, and was a sprinter while at Baylor.
Shofner helped lead the Baylor Bears to a 13-7 victory over Tennessee in the 1957 Sugar Bowl and was voted the game's Most Valuable Player.Duquesne Country and Athletic Club
The Duquesne Country and Athletic Club was a professional football team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1895 until 1900. The team was considered one of the best, if not the best, professional football teams in the country from 1898 until 1900. However, the team is most famous for being the first football franchise to be owned by an individual, William Chase Temple.Evansville Crimson Giants
The Evansville Crimson Giants were a professional American football team based in Evansville, Indiana and were a part of the National Football League in 1921 and 1922. The Giants home games were played at Bosse Field. According to the Evansville Courier and Press in 1921, 'they surprised local fans in developing a winning team' and 'the Giants' one-sided victories over inferior non-league teams has had good fan reaction.' However, the team did not succeed, mostly due to scheduling mistakes and management problems. Evansville's local sporting enthusiasts also failed to respond favorably and attend the home games.Jeannette Athletic Club
The Jeannette Athletic Club, also referred to as the Jeannette Indians, was an early football team, based in Jeannette, Pennsylvania from 1894 until around 1906. The team is best known for its role in the Latrobe Athletic Association's hiring of John Brallier, who became the first player to openly turn professional. This event occurred in 1895, a few days before Latrobe's game against Jeannette. Latrobe starting quarterback, Eddie Blair, due to a scheduling conflict could not play in the game. This led Latrobe manager, Dave Berry to hire Brallier to play against Jeannette for $10, plus expenses. Latrobe would go on to win that game 12-0.However, Jeannette also had a rivalry with the nearby Greensburg Athletic Association. In 1894, Greensburg player, Lawson Fiscus reportedly kicked a Jeannette player in the face, however the Pittsburgh Press reported that Fiscus tripped the player and "purposely tramped on his neck." This led to Jeannette loudly petitioning the umpire to expel Fiscus from the game. Greensburg shouted just as loudly that Lawson had simply performed in the line of duty. The official was reported to have ties with Greensburg and tended to side with them. The arguments continued through halftime, which was expanded to allow for more shouting. Finally one team, or another, stormed off the field in a protest and the game was declared a scoreless draw.Jeannette's most memorable wins came in 1900 against the Johnstown Athletic Club and in 1903 against the Steelton Athletic Club.Joe Fortunato (American football)
Joseph Francis Fortunato (March 28, 1930 – November 6, 2017) was an American football linebacker in the National Football League.
Fortunato played 12 seasons for the Chicago Bears (1955–1966). As a linebacker, he made the Pro Bowl five times, and was named to the NFL 300 Greatest Players team. He wore #31 with the Chicago Bears. Fortunato played fullback and linebacker for Mississippi State University, and made All-American in 1951. He is a member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Fortunato made his home in south Mississippi.
He spent two seasons as a coach with the Chicago Bears; 1967 as linebackers coach and 1968 as defensive coordinator.
In 2017, the Professional Football Researchers Association named Fortunato to the PFRA Hall of Very Good Class of 2017 Fortunato is one of only four players named to the National Football League 1950s All-Decade Team who isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fortunato died on November 6, 2017.Latrobe Athletic Association
The Latrobe Athletic Association was a professional football team located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1895 until 1909. A member of the unofficial Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit, the team is best known for being the first football club to play a full season while composed entirely of professional players. In 1895, team's quarterback, John Brallier, also became the first football player to openly turn professional, by accepting $10 and expenses to play for Latrobe against the Jeannette Athletic Club.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.McKeesport Olympics
The McKeesport Olympics were a professional football team from McKeesport, Pennsylvania from 1896 until around 1940. The Olympics were considered one of the top football teams in Pennsylvania from 1910 until 1919.
The Olympics played against many of the teams that later formed the National Football League. These teams included the Buffalo All-Americans, Rochester Jeffersons and the Canton Bulldogs. The primary reason the Olympics never joined the NFL during the early era was the state of Pennsylvania's blue laws which prevented football from being played on Sunday; as a result, no Pennsylvania team joined the NFL (which played most of its games on Sundays) until 1924, though because most teams were available to play on Saturdays, they were able to schedule exhibition games against NFL teams fairly easily. Why the Olympics never joined after that was unclear. In 1929, the Olympics were crowned as Sandlot Qrid Champs with Art Rooneys team, Rooneys Majestics, placing second.
The team also played against a current NFL team, the Pittsburgh Pirates (renamed the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1940) twice. The first game between the two clubs was held on October 31, 1938. The Pirates, led by Byron White, won that game 21-6. However, almost a year later, on October 4, 1939, in McKeesport, while the Pirates won that game too, the semi-pro Olympics held them to a much closer score, 9-6.
The Olympics also played against several strong clubs that never made it into the NFL. These teams included the Youngstown Patricians and the Shelby Blues. However, the Olympics main rivals were the Pitcairn Quakers, another strong team from the Pittsburgh-area. In 1919 the Olympics had won the first game of the two-game series, 3-0 and had employed the entire Cleveland Indians team just for that game. However, Pitcairn would win the second game due to a last minute field goal by Paul Rupp.
The team disappears from the records shortly after the 1939 contests and likely shut down, as many professional football teams and leagues did, due to World War II.Pittsburgh Athletic Club (football)
The Pittsburgh Athletic Club or the Pittsburg Athletic Club football team, established in 1891, was based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1892 the intense competition between two Pittsburgh-area clubs, the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, led to William (Pudge) Heffelfinger becoming the first known professional football player. Heffelfinger was paid $500 by Allegheny to play in a game against Pittsburgh on November 12, 1892. As a result, Heffelfinger became the first person to be paid to play football. Allegheny would go on to win the game, 4-0, when Heffelfinger picked up a Pittsburgh fumble and ran it 35 yards for a touchdown. In 1893, Pittsburgh again made history when it signed one of its players, probably halfback Grant Dibert, to the first known pro football contract, which covered all of the team's games for the year.Providence Steam Roller
The Providence Steam Roller (also referred to as the Providence Steam Rollers, the Providence Steamroller and the Providence Steamrollers) was a professional American football team based in Providence, Rhode Island in the National Football League from 1925 to 1931. Providence was the first New England team to win an NFL championship. The Steam Roller won the league's championship in 1928. They are the last team to win a championship and no longer be in the league. Most of their home games were played in a 10,000-seat stadium that was built for bicycle races called the Cycledrome.Ray Wietecha
Raymond Walter Wietecha (November 2, 1928 – December 14, 2002) was an American football center in the National Football League for the New York Giants. He played college football at Northwestern University and Michigan State University.
Following his retirement, Wietecha entered coaching and was the offensive coordinator under Vince Lombardi in Green Bay when the Packers won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.
1963-1964 Los Angeles Rams (OL)
1965-1970 Green Bay Packers (OC)
1972-1976 New York Giants (OL)In 2012, the Professional Football Researchers Association named Wietecha to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2012Riley Matheson
Riley M. Matheson (December 12, 1914 – June, 1987) was a professional American football player who played offensive lineman for ten seasons for the Cleveland Rams, the Detroit Lions, the Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers. Playing guard on offense and linebacker on defense, Matheson made both the Associated Press and United Press All-NFL Teams in 1944 and 1945.Matheson also played two final seasons with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders, being named an All star both seasons.
The Professional Football Researchers Association named Matheson to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2010Thomas Trenchard
Thomas Gawthrop "Doggie" Trenchard (May 3, 1874 – October 16, 1943) was an All-American football player at Princeton University in 1893 and a college football head coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia University. Trenchard earned the nickname "Doggie" because of his shaggy haired appearance.Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit
The Western Pennsylvania Professional Football Circuit was a loose association of American football clubs that operated from 1890 to approximately 1940. Originally amateur, professionalism was introduced to the circuit in 1892; cost pressures pushed the circuit to semi-professional status from about 1920 through the rest of its existence. Existing in some form for 48 years, it was one of the longest-lived paying football loops to operate outside the auspices of the National Football League.
The football clubs of the 1880s and 1890s were amateur teams. They were under the membership of an athletic club, which provided both sports and the ability to wager money on the sports. However, the prestige and increased membership that could come from a successful team, led these clubs to begin secretly hiring talented players. The amateur athletics that these clubs engaged in were policed by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). By the mid-1890s allegations of professionalism became known to the AAU. The Allegheny Athletic Association was found guilty of paying cash to players and was permanently barred from any kind of competition with other AAU members. This punishment would end a team, because their opponents, whether other pros, amateur associations, or colleges, would have simply stopped playing them. Allegheny then defied the AAU in 1896 and created an entirely open professional team. A year later, the Latrobe Athletic Association, went entirely professional. The misconception that these were amateur athletic club were held to in public, even when newspapers wrote openly of players being under contract. To get around this, the circuit teams played for local or regional championships, with the only generally recognized national champion being the best college football team. However, the winner of the circuit was usually able to lay claim to a national, but professional, football title from 1890-1903.By 1904, the exodus of pro football talent to the "Ohio League", diminished the region's level of play and the national professional champions, were usually then claimed by the teams from Ohio. Though a champion was declared by the media, fans and clubs throughout this period, a formal league was not founded until 1920, when several teams from the "Ohio League" and the New York Pro Football League formed the American Professional Football Association. In 1922 the APFA became the National Football League.The circuit did not immediately die out and in fact experienced a slight renaissance in the 1920s as the Western Pennsylvania Senior Independent Football Conference. 1920s era blue laws in the state of Pennsylvania meant that while the NFL played its games on Sunday, Pennsylvania teams would have to play on Saturday; while this prevented the state's teams from joining the NFL until 1924, Pennsylvania teams could thus schedule exhibition games against NFL teams on either one's day off (other circuits such as the eastern Pennsylvania circuit and the Eastern/Anthracite Leagues also thrived in the 1920s) The J.P. Rooneys were founded in 1921; it later joined the NFL in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates (now the Pittsburgh Steelers). Records of the Pirates playing other Western Pennsylvania teams (including the McKeesport Olympics) continue up to at least 1940, after which point most teams dissolved due to World War II; the Pirates (by now renamed the Steelers) then shifted its exhibition schedule to other minor league teams.