Season 2, Episode 4: The Storck Era Begins

Following the untimely death of the Dayton Triangles’ most ardent financial supporter, Carl Storck must assume ownership of the team’s NFL franchise in an effort to keep the team going. The 1923 season sees the Triangles struggle to replace retired quarterback Al Mahrt, as numerous teams in the new league struggle to survive financially.

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On The Down Low

The Dayton Triangles underwent a change in ownership in 1923, but it apparently wasn’t public knowledge for another two years. When Triangle Park was created by the partnership of the Delco, Domestic Engineering and Dayton Metal Products in 1916, F. B. MacNab, the park’s (and team’s) staunchest supporter and Nelson Talbott (first coach of the team) made up two-thirds of the park’s executive board and had a blank check to support all sorts of recreational benefits for employees and the community at large, including the Triangles football team.

By 1923, however, with MacNab dead, Talbott focused on his family’s other interests and General Motors in charge of the Triangle companies, financial support for the Triangles was no longer forthcoming. Team manager Mike Redelle had estimated in 1925 that the Triangles football team had lost nearly $100,000 over several seasons.

Carl Storck assumed ownership of the franchise, but was still referred to by the press as “Manager” or “Coach” Storck for two seasons. It wasn’t until 1925 that Storck and Redelle went public with the fact that the Triangles were no longer financially supported by their namesake companies.

Episode Transcript

The 1923 season found unrest in the young National Football League. As owners and team managers met in August to finalize plans for the fall campaign, many teams struggled financially. The owners moved to cut salaries, even as some players held out for better money.

Meanwhile in Dayton, a crisis was quietly unfolding. With the November 1922 death of F. B. MacNab, who had been the team’s biggest booster in the Triangle companies and on the Triangle Park executive board, support for the Dayton Triangles football team collapsed. Over the course of several seasons, the team had lost the Triangle companies nearly $100,000. The new regime, now under General Motors, did not share MacNab’s altruism or Nelson Talbott’s youthful enthusiasm. In a move that did not become public knowledge for two more years, the executive committee withdrew financial support. To keep the team going, Carl Storck assumed ownership of the Dayton Triangles’ NFL franchise.

Under immediate pressure to maximize revenue and trim costs, Storck made plans to cut the number of home games at Triangle Park to just three: a September 30 opener against the new Columbus Tigers, a November 4 game against the Toledo Maroons and what would be the first-ever visit from the Chicago Cardinals on November 25. The rest of the schedule would be on the road. Storck also looked into booking post-season games.

With all the changes on the business side, player personnel remained relatively stable. Many of the stalwarts from last year returned for 1923, among them Ken Huffine, Eddie Sauer, Russ Hathaway and Dutch Thiele. Dave Reese and Lee Fenner were back at the end spots. With Al Mahrt now gone, Storck named center Hobby Kinderdine as team captain. One of the newcomers was Hobby’s fleet-footed younger brother, Walt “Babe” Kinderdine. Two others were linemen John Beasley and 6-foot, 220 pound Al Jolley. Long time backup Faye Abbot stepped in to become the starting quarterback.

The Columbus Tigers were new, but they were no mere expansion team, having sprung up following the demise of the old Panhandles. Their star player was former Ohio State All-American running back Pete Stitchcomb. In the run up to the season opener, former coach Talbott stepped in to help the Triangles get ready. In an attempt to make up for the absence of Mahrt, Talbott installed a “triple threat” offensive scheme. Under this new system, the offense would run all plays out of punt formation. Any of the backfield players could run, pass or kick on any given play, the idea being to keep the opposing defense guessing. Talbott also created a game plan designed to stop Stitchcomb.

Despite all the changes, there was still excitement leading up to the start of the season. For the second straight year, Triangle-boosting advertising appeared in the local papers on opening day, Sunday September 30.

The Columbus game started badly for the Triangles. Dutch Thiele fumbled the opening kickoff. The Tigers recovered, but the Triangles defense held on downs at their own two-yard line. Abbott attempted to punt the team out of danger, but shanked the kick giving Columbus the ball at the Triangles’ seven-yard line. The Tigers scored a touchdown from the short field on a quarterback sneak by Sonny Winters, but missed the extra point. Columbus led 6-0 at the half.

The Triangles were unable to make headway against the Tigers defense in the third quarter. Their big break came in the fourth quarter, when Bob Rapp fumbled for Columbus. Dave Reese recovered for the Triangles and attempted to advance the ball but was tackled at the Tigers’ 15-yard line. Three short runs brought the ball inside Columbus’ ten-yard line. With time running out, and needing a touchdown, the Triangles had to gamble on fourth down. Francis Bacon got open and Abbott hit him for just enough to give Dayton first-and-goal at the five. They needed another fourth-down conversion to get the touchdown on a sneak by Abbott. Russell Hathaway kicked the extra point, and the Triangles were able to hold the Tigers off the rest of the way to claim the 7-6 victory.

Everyone on the home side went away happy, everyone that is except Carl Storck. He was disappointed in the turnout, and this had a decisive effect on scheduling future home games.

The Triangles’ road schedule began with a visit to Hammond, Indiana to face the Pros. Hammond, which had failed to score (let alone win) last season, had put some effort into upgrading their roster. Most notably, the Pros had signed future Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard, who had been a thorn in Dayton’s side in 1920 as a member of the Akron Pros.

Pollard proved fatal to the Triangles once again.

On October 7, the Pros exploited an early Francis Bacon fumble of a punt at the Triangle ten-yard line. Hammond end Inky Williams scooped up the fumble and scored the only touchdown on the day. The extra point was good. The Triangles almost salvaged a tie in the last minute of play when Abbott hit Reese for 45 yards. Reese was just short of the goal line when Pollard tackled him, saving the touchdown and preserving the Hammond victory. Time expired before the Triangles could run another play, leaving Dayton on the short end of the 7-0 score.

The following week saw changes. In a move widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in Abbott’s quarterbacking, Storck signed Earl Burgner. Speculation ensued that Burgner could replace Abbott as soon as the next game at Canton against the defending champion Bulldogs.

If Storck’s move to sign Burgner was meant to motivate Abbott, it had the opposite effect. Abbott started and went all the way for the Triangles, but failed to complete a pass. Canton took advantage of Dayton turnovers and stifling defense to win 30-0. The Triangles managed only two first downs in the defeat.

Dayton’s offensive woes continued the following week against the Toledo Maroons, in a game the Triangles expected to win. Russ Hathaway put Dayton in front with an early field goal, but Abbott threw another costly late interception to Steamer Horning that the Maroons converted into a touchdown by rookie running back “Cowboy” Hill. Storck benched Abbott late in the game, but to no avail. Toledo won in an upset, 6-3, but the margin might have been greater except for Maroon turnovers. The Triangles now found themselves 1-3 and eyeing a tough matchup with the Chicago Cardinals. Facing the greatest adversity in team history to that point, the Triangles went to Chicago’s Comiskey Park on October 28 and played their hearts out.

It wasn’t enough.

Dayton simply had no answer for Cardinals left halfback Paddy Driscoll. Driscoll accounted for all of Chicago’s scoring with a touchdown, extra point and two field goals to lead the Cardinals over the Triangles 13-3. Penalties hampered Dayton, whose only score came on an early field goal by Hathaway.

As the Triangles completed their road swing, fans looked forward to a scheduled return game at home against the Toledo Maroons. After their upset win over the Triangles in Toledo, though, the cash-strapped Maroons demanded that Dayton increase their guaranteed share of the gate receipts to 45 percent. Storck countered with 42.5 percent. Having reached an impasse, the team appealed to NFL President Joe Carr. NFL rules at the time stipulated the guarantee could be up to 40 percent, plus a “privilege” – but the rules did not specify what the “privilege” could or should be. With the two sides unable to come to agreement and no clear rule on the privilege, Carr threw up his hands and ordered the game cancelled.

At the same time, citing disappointing attendance at the Columbus Tigers opener, Storck announced cancellation of the return game against the Chicago Cardinals that had been scheduled for November 25 at Triangle Park.

Before the end of October, the Dayton Triangles 1923 home season was over. Semi-pro club Koors 29 was now the big sports draw on autumn Sundays in Dayton.

Storck pushed back against critics of the team’s 1-4 start. Other than the Canton game, he asserted, the results stemmed from bad breaks. He told the papers that he intended to book both the Bears and Cardinals to come to Triangle Park next season. In the meantime, a proposed November 4 matchup against a non-league team from Steubenville, Ohio fell through.

Coming off a week’s rest, the Triangles travelled to Cleveland on November 11 to face the Cleveland Indians. They made a much better showing than they had in earlier games, dominating field position, but were unable to score. Hathaway missed a short field goal attempt in the second quarter. The Triangles also blocked a Cleveland punt, and only a heroic effort by the Indians’ punter averted a Dayton score. The Triangles’ best opportunity came in the third quarter when Babe Kinderdine, in for Francis Bacon, broke through the line on an off-tackle run. With one man to beat to the goal line, he was stopped short. The game ended in a scoreless tie.

The next Sunday found the Triangles in Buffalo to play the All-Americans, a former league champion that had recently fought the defending champion Canton Bulldogs to a 3-3 tie. That November 18, in ankle-deep mud, the game quickly turned into a punting contest. Both running and passing proved futile. The All-Americans got an early field goal that held up thanks to the stellar defense and punt blocking of “Swede” Youngstrom. Buffalo edged the Triangles by a final score of 3-0.

With the cancellation of the scheduled Chicago Cardinals game, the weekend of November 24 and 25 was open. Storck took the opportunity to book a rare Saturday game on the 24th against the non-league Frankford Yellow Jackets of Pennsylvania.

In another low scoring affair, the Triangles beat the Yellow Jackets, 7-6. Dayton blocked a punt in the second quarter. Thiele fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, and Hathaway kicked the extra point. Frankford returned the favor in the fourth quarter, but their extra point attempt bounced harmlessly off the cross bar, preserving the Triangles victory.

At least one player took the opportunity to moonlight for another team the following day, Sunday November 25. Lou Partlow appeared for the Cleveland Indians against Canton. Partlow did not score, though, and Canton won handily by a 46-10 count.

The Triangles finished the season with a return game in Columbus against the Tigers, the only league team they had defeated in 1923. Without the strategic coaching and preparation of Bud Talbott, the season ended on a much different note than it had started. Dayton got both their first downs and three points in the first quarter, Hathaway kicking a field goal for the Triangles’ only score. From there, Columbus scored thirty unanswered points.

As had been the case in the earlier Canton game, the Triangles failed to complete a single forward pass. To make matters worse, the defense that had played so well for long stretches of the season failed them. Columbus left halfback Bob Rapp made runs of 60, 50 and 40 yards. In the end, Columbus avenged their season opening defeat with a resounding 30-3 thrashing of Dayton.

The first season of the Storck era ended with two wins (one of which came against non-league competition), six losses and a tie. The Triangles’ 1-6-1 league mark put them in a tie for 16th place out of 20 teams in the 1923 season.

There were rumors of change as 1923 closed. One proposal surfaced to scale the NFL back to ten teams within overnight train travel of each other. This would eliminate distant cities, such as Green Bay and St. Louis.

Meanwhile, the gap between the more and less professional teams continued to widen. For Carl Storck, the challenges of fielding a competitive team in a small market only grew. His players were weekend warriors, and Storck himself burned the candle at both ends, juggling team ownership, coaching and business management, his duties as a league official and his full-time job as personnel executive with General Motors in Dayton.

Worse, the Triangles’ lack of home games apparently did not cause much grief for local football fans. Semi-pro, amateur and school teams took up the slack. For Storck and the Dayton Triangles, the future looked like an uphill climb.

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