Episode premiere date: May 9, 2019
This episode introduces the series by discussing my personal connection to the Triangles. It also talks about how different football and life were a century ago. In this sense, the episode functions very much like the introduction to a book. After all, I originally conceived this project as a book. For a full transcript of the episode, please scroll down.
If you’re interested in looking into some history yourself, here are some links to some of the research resources I used.
If you have a card for the Dayton Metro Library, you can use that to log in to the library’s website and access a lot of cool resources, including the ProQuest Dayton Daily News archive for the paper’s first 25 years (1898-1922). That’s where I started.
Later, I made heavy use of Newspapers.com — and I still do. It does require a subscription.
There are a lot of great resources on the early history of pro football at the Professional Football Researchers Association web site. Much of it is freely available to download and read.
There’s also a freely available digital archive of old newspapers available from the Library of Congress.
If you enjoy the episode, please consider supporting us with a donation.
Triangles S01, E01: Beginnings Transcript
(Please note: this transcript may not follow the narration word-for-word.)
When I was a kid growing up near Dayton, Ohio in the 1960s, I had no idea I was living within walking distance of professional sports history.
On summer evenings back then, my dad occasionally took me to a place called Triangle Park. The park was in town, but close to our house. I remember walking there a few times with my sister, Donna, who was about ten years older than I was. There was a baseball field at the park called Howell Field. It’s still there, on the east side of Ridge Avenue. The land on the west side of the road now hosts some tennis courts. It’s now called DeWeese Park, after a prominent Dayton family from generations back, but a hundred years ago, it was all part of Triangle Park. Howell Field’s home plate backs up to a hillside with bleachers on it. Dad and I watched amateur ball games there, but honestly, I was more interested in the concession stand, with its Chiclets, cotton candy and soft drinks. (As you can imagine, I was a pretty chunky kid.)
I only learned, decades later, that that very spot was the site of the first game ever played between members of what became the National Football League. On an unusually warm Sunday afternoon, October 3, 1920, in front of an estimated crowd of around 5,000, the Columbus Panhandles visited the home standing Dayton Triangles.
How do we know this was the first game? There was another league game played that day, when the Muncie Flyers from Indiana took on the Rock Island Independents at Rock Island, Illinois. The Rock Island Argus reported that kickoff of that game occurred at exactly 3:04 PM, local time. Rock Island was (and is) in the Central Time Zone, so the kickoff happened at 4:04 PM Eastern Time. No one in the Dayton press reported the exact time of kickoff in the Dayton game, but the papers did report that it was scheduled to occur at or just after 2:30 PM, Eastern Time.
Back in those days, there were no media timeouts. The periods were not the standard fifteen minutes they are today. Referees had a lot of leeway to determine the timing of periods in that era, and on that day, the periods were twelve-and-a-half minutes in length. The intermissions between quarters and halves weren’t very long either. Substitution rules were stricter, too. There was no shuffling of players in and out, as you see today. Once a player substituted out of a game, he could not return to action until the following period. If he substituted out in the fourth quarter, he was done for the day.
In short, the games were not the three-plus hour affairs they are now. If the Dayton game kicked off even close to on time, it seems likely that it was finished, or nearly so, by the time the Rock Island game started. We can say with some degree of confidence, then, that Lou Partlow’s third quarter rushing touchdown was the first scored in NFL history, and George “Hobby” Kinderdine’s extra point the first ever successfully converted in the Triangles’ 14-0 victory.
As you can probably tell, once I got started doing the research, I got into it pretty deeply. I’m indebted to a wonderful resource on the Web, daytontriangles.com. It contains a wealth of information about the history of the club. Another great resource is the Professional Football Researchers Association, which publishes information about not just the NFL, but also the Canadian Football League, Australian Rules football, and more. They provided me with the first in-depth look at the life and playing career of the great Al Mahrt.
As I went on, though, I started asking more and more questions and felt the need to push into deeper research. I wanted a better understanding of some things, like:
- The team was called the Triangles, and they played at Triangle Park, but the park was not named for the team, nor was the team named for the park.
- The aforementioned Kinderdine never played high school or college ball. He started on the local sandlots after finishing his education, yet became one of the best centers in the game.
- The aforementioned Partlow used to train by running through the woods, dodging trees – and sometimes not dodging them.
- One of the original Triangles turned in a performance during his college days that was so impressive, it ended up in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – nearly 20 years after he did it.
- One of them was nicknamed “Scummy” – and nobody remembers why.
- The team’s first coach was a son of one of the area’s leading industrialists, and went on to serve in both World Wars and Korea.
As I dug deeper, I found myself wanting to understand more than just the players and the games. What were their backgrounds and family histories, for example? While I was at it, what was it like in those days? For us in the twenty-first century, with our technology and conveniences, it must seem strange to think that when the Triangles first formed in 1916:
- There was no Internet, no Facebook, no Instagram or Snapchat
- There were no podcasts like this one
- There was no television, and radio was still an experimental technology
- There was something called “cable news” – it referred to telegraph cable
- The only media, social or otherwise, were the newspapers, and there were a lot more of them than there are now
- Women could not yet vote
There’s more. Words didn’t necessarily mean the same things they do now. For example, “dope” didn’t mean drugs or a hot beat, but valuable information. If you had the dope on someone or something, you were “in the know.” Open racism was commonplace, but unlike baseball, football in 1916 was not racially segregated.
A lot changed by the end of the Triangles’ run in 1929, some for the better, others not so much. Radio was well on its way to revolutionizing the media landscape. Prohibition, with its crime and corruption, was on. Women suffrage was the law of the land, but the NFL was now segregated. The demise of the Triangles also coincided with the end of an era in pro football: its wild and wooly infancy. The stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression that followed, contributed to an economic shakeout that saw a reduction from as many as twenty or more teams in the first decade of the league’s existence to a stable group of ten clubs located mainly in the nation’s largest population markets by the late 1930s. One of those clubs, the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the successor to the Triangles.
Over the course of the several episodes in this series, we’ll talk about the history of the Triangles. We’ll also touch on the entire history of independent semi-pro and professional football in Dayton, beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century and ending with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Triangles’ founding in 1941. As I’ve already suggested, football was a much different game back then, and you can’t fully understand how the Triangles came to be without understanding the changes that grew out of the crisis and reforms of 1905, when the game of American football was nearly outlawed.
We’ll talk about the players, of course, but along the way, we’ll also talk about unsung heroes who worked largely behind the scenes to benefit not just the team, but also the entire city of Dayton. We’ll have a look at the business of semi-pro and professional ball more than one hundred years ago. We’ll see how things changed, and how they stayed the same.
Here’s what you can expect from this series. At least, this is what I have in mind. Since I began this as a book project, it will probably feel like an audiobook as you listen to it. I’ll try to present it in roughly chronological order, but I reserve the right to digress backward or forward in time as needed. I hope to produce episodes about fifteen to twenty minutes in length (give or take), this introduction being an obvious exception. For now, I anticipate splitting the material into two seasons of ten or so episodes per season, with a four to six week break between seasons. The first season would cover the period from before the Triangles formed up to the beginning of the NFL, the second season the Triangles’ NFL era and its aftermath.
Since footnoting in the middle of an audio presentation would be awkward, I will state up front that I sourced most of the story from the Dayton papers of the day – the Daily News, the Journal and the Herald. I found these sources through two primary online databases, beginning with Pro-Quest’s archive of the Daily News dating from 1898-1922, and later expanded to include archives from Newspapers.com. If Sir Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, then my giants were the sportswriters of the day: Jerry Conners, Robert Husted, Glenn Whitesell and others. I also make use of several articles from Professional Football Research Association publications, many of which are now freely available online at profootballarchives.org for those who would like more detail. In researching the 1905 football reforms and some other events, I relied somewhat on the Library of Congress newspaper archives, which are freely available at chronicalingamerica.loc.gov.
Finally, before we begin, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not a dispassionate journalistic observer. The more I learned in this process, the more I came to root for these men, to revel in their triumphs and mourn their losses, as if they were my very own. It is my fond hope that you will root for them too.