Season 2, Episode 5: Hope and Reality

As the 1924 National Football League season approaches, Dayton Triangles owner/coach/manager Carl Storck hopes to restore the team to NFL glory after a disastrous 1923 campaign. The team must overcome several challenges before the season even begins, but open the with two wins. Then, the Triangles must face another dose of adversity, with struggles both on the field and at the box office.

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Black Players in the NFL

In 1924, Triangles’ owner/coach/manager Carl Storck signed Duke Slater, who had previously played for the Rock Island Independents. Slater was to be the first black player for the Triangles, but the contract was nullified by the league when Rock Island protested.

African-American players were welcome in the early NFL, and black star Fritz Pollard eventually ascended to the Hall of Fame. By 1934, though, the league officially segregated and did not reintegrate black players until after World War II.

Episode Transcript

The advent of the 1924 National Football League season found Dayton Triangles owner/coach/manager Carl Storck looking to turn around the team’s fortunes from the previous fall, which saw the worst season in the club’s history to that point. After hosting but a single contest at Triangle Park in 1923, the Triangles’ planned schedule included four home games in 1924. The ambitious home schedule would include the two-time defending champion Canton Bulldogs on October 5, the Columbus Tigers on October 26 and the Buffalo Bisons (formerly the All-Americans) on November 16. The home season would close with a game against Akron on November 23. For the first time in the team’s NFL history, though, Dayton would open on the road at Akron on September 28.

As the team opened practice in mid-September, local fans buzzed about the return of Al Mahrt to Dayton from Chicago. However, it was not Al but his cousin Armin who turned up at the team’s first practice. Armin did a brief stint with the Triangles in years past before moving on to play college ball at West Virginia. Now, Armin was back, and local fans hoped the Mahrt magic was back with him.

In an effort to upgrade the squad, and make a splash in the process, Storck announced a high profile signing: Duke Slater, a six foot, six inch, 240-pound former Iowa All-American lineman, from the Rock Island Independents. Slater became the first African-American player ever signed by the Triangles. The quarterback position was another area Storck addressed. After Faye Abbott’s problems last season, Storck appointed him as a player-coach and signed Gus Redman, who had previously played for Dayton in 1922, as a quarterback. With Redman at quarterback, the plan was to move Abbott to another backfield position and Francis Bacon to an end spot, replacing the departed Dave Reese, Russell Hathaway would serve as team captain for the 1924 season. Although Hobby Kinderdine was no longer captain, he would continue to hold down his accustomed center position.

The season hadn’t yet started before problems ensued.

Rock Island protested the signing of Duke Slater. The Independents owed Slater back salary at the end of the 1923 season, which under league rules at the time would have entitled Slater to free agency. Storck had signed Slater based on that rule. When Rock Island protested and assured the league Slater would be paid in full before the start of the new season, though, NFL President Joe Carr sided with them and annulled Slater’s contract with Dayton. In the end Duke Slater, the first African-American player ever signed by the Dayton Triangles, never played a snap for them.

Meanwhile, the Triangles’ scheduled home opener fizzled. Sam Deutsch, manager and backer of the Cleveland Indians NFL team, bought the Canton Bulldogs franchise in mid-summer and merged it into his existing team, becoming the Cleveland Bulldogs. With no Canton team to play, Carl Storck had to scramble to fill the Triangles’ home debut. He scheduled league newcomers the Frankford Yellow Jackets, whom the Triangles had played the previous season in a non-league contest, for the October 5 date at Triangle Park.

The Triangles scrimmaged against the local Koors 29 semi-pro team in the week before travelling to Akron for the season opener, showing well. Waddy Kuehl, a newcomer, stood out in practice and looked like a shoo-in for playing time in a crowded backfield that also included stalwarts Lou Partlow and Ken Huffine.

Unfortunately, weather won out the last Sunday in September. Rain made the field in Akron unplayable, forcing cancellation of the season opener. The Triangles turned their attention to the home opener against Frankford.

In anticipation of a record-setting crowd for the October 5 contest against the Yellow Jackets, Triangle Park added more seating. Reports were that the field at the park could now accommodate up to 8000 spectators. Where in years past announcers with megaphones had delivered updates of the baseball World Series, for the first time in 1924 a loudspeaker would deliver the live radio broadcast of the Fall Classic to attendees. Once again, there would be special seating for boys at 50 cents a ticket. In an effort to build interest in the game, the local papers played up Frankford’s revenge factor, having lost to the Triangles 7-6 last season. There was also a human-interest angle. Charlie Way, former University of Dayton coach, would reportedly suit up for the Pennsylvania team.

Perhaps in a sign of the times, the game day advertising spread for the home opener was not nearly as big as it had been in 1922 and 1923. In fact, the largest ad promoted the game itself.

Nevertheless, on October 5 at Triangle Park, the Triangles seemingly took a step toward reasserting themselves as NFL title contenders. After a scoreless first quarter, Lee Fenner caught a 40-yard pass that staked the Triangles to a 7-0 lead in the second period. News accounts differed on whether Gus Redman or Armin Mahrt threw the touchdown pass. New lineman Dale Seis kicked a 48-yard field goal in the third period to extend the lead. Then, Frankford came back with a drive on the ground, ending in a touchdown by Tex Hamer to make it 10-7. In the fourth quarter, Lou Partlow took over on the defensive end, intercepting two Yellow Jacket passes. He returned the first 30 yards for a touchdown, but the extra point failed. Then Partlow intercepted another pass and took it deep into Frankford territory. Hathaway kicked a field goal from there that closed out the scoring. The Triangles ended up 19-7 winners.

Two things marred the victory. First, it came against a Frankford team playing for the second time in as many days. The Yellow Jackets had come off a home win the previous day over the Kenosha Maroons before hopping a train to Dayton. Second, and more critically, attendance was again a disappointment. The opponent was neither a powerhouse like Chicago or Canton, nor a popular rival like the old Columbus Pan Handles. Only about half the available seats were full that day.

With the Akron game cancelled, the Triangles’ true road opener came the following Sunday October 12 in Buffalo against the Bisons. The Bisons were the old All-Americans under a different name following the purchase of the franchise by longtime player and Coach Tommy Hughitt.

The game against the Bisons was a defensive struggle dominated by punting. Late in the game, Armin Mahrt’s long pass to Faye Abbott set up Lou Partlow’s short touchdown run that turned out to be the only score in the game as the Triangles came away 7-0 winners.

In two weeks, Dayton had doubled last year’s league win total. The Triangles now were tied atop the NFL standings going into a battle of unbeaten teams on the following Sunday, October 19 at the Rock Island Independents. Besides Duke Slater, whom Carl Storck had tried to sign without success, the Independents featured the Triangles old foe, Jim Thorpe.

After flying high in their first two games, the Triangles came back to earth at Rock Island.

Thorpe, though late in his career, ran steadily, helping the Independents control field position. Triangle ends Fenner and Bacon were ejected from the game. The previously promising Waddy Kuehl, a former Rock Island player, started but never carried the ball for Dayton. The Triangles were unable to produce a first down against the stifling Rock Island defense. Unable to run or ignite the passing game, the Triangles fell 20-0.

There was serious fallout the following week. Storck released both Kuehl and Dale Seis, another former Rock Island player, from the team. The clear implication was that both men had “gone easy” on their former teammates. In releasing the two, Storck appeared to send a blunt message to the rest of the team: he would tolerate nothing short of maximum effort from his remaining players. Storck subsequently signed three new linemen: Dick Egan from Wilmington College, Dick Faust from Otterbein and former Michigan standout Stan Muirhead.

Preparing for the upcoming home contest against the Columbus Tigers, the Triangles made several position changes. Apparently, the Gus Redman experiment was judged a failure. Abbott moved back to quarterback and Redman to halfback. Dayton’s game plan for the October 26 contest at Triangle Park centered on stopping the Tigers’ dangerous Bob Rapp, who had slashed through the Dayton line during their game last season in Columbus.

That Sunday, injuries hampered the Triangles. Gus Redman broke his nose early while trying to tackle Rapp. Shortly afterward, Armin Mahrt suffered a dislocated shoulder, also attempting to tackle Rapp. Still the Triangles were in the game most of the way. Rapp had returned the opening kickoff inside the Dayton five-yard line, but the Triangles held and forced a field goal. In the second quarter, Bacon recovered a fumble and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown. The extra point failed, but Dayton led 6-3. The Triangles had an excellent opportunity to extend their lead in the second quarter when Abbott found “Babe” Kinderdine wide open with a clear path to the goal line, but Kinderdine lost the ball in the sun, and the pass fell harmlessly incomplete. From there, Columbus rallied on a third quarter touchdown pass from Sonny Winters to Buddy Tynes and a 30-yard run by Tynes as time expired, sealing their 17-6 victory over the Triangles.

Worse than the defeat, only 3000 fans came out to Triangle Park.

With a road game against the powerful Cleveland Bulldogs now looming, Storck looked for offensive firepower. He signed end Inky Williams, who would become the first African-American actually to play for the Dayton Triangles on November 2 in Cleveland.

Williams, though, couldn’t help the team that Sunday.

After giving up two first quarter touchdowns, Dayton had a chance to get back in the game in the second quarter. Lou Partlow intercepted a Bulldog pass and the Triangles drove to the Cleveland 10. The drive stalled, though, when Partlow gave the ball back on a fumble. In the second half, the Bulldogs’ powerful ground attack, augmented by timely passes, led to three more touchdowns, as Dayton had no answer for the masterful quarterbacking of Happy Hoge Workman. The Triangles headed home 35-0 losers; at two wins and three losses, their once promising season was ruined.

Hoping to snap their losing streak, the Triangles headed to Chicago on November 9 to face the Cardinals. Abbott set up a defensive game plan in the hope of stopping Cardinals’ star Paddy Driscoll, who had burned Dayton in the two teams’ prior meetings. That Sunday at Comiskey Park, though, Driscoll had help from his teammates. John Hurlburt and Fred DeStafano scored for Chicago early. Driscoll kicked a field goal and threw a touchdown pass to Carl Hanke when the game was already out of reach, sealing the Cardinals’ 23-0 win. The Triangles had chances to score but could not dent the Chicago goal line. Their most significant pass on the day was a 15-yarder from Partlow to Ken Huffine. Dayton missed its chance to spoil the shutout late when Chicago held on downs, stopping a drive that had reached the Cardinals’ ten-yard line.

The following week, Storck announced a change in schedule. The Buffalo Bisons return game that had been planned for Triangle Park would instead occur in Buffalo. Storck pointedly told the media that the change was due to poor attendance in Dayton; the game, he said would be a better draw in Buffalo. In preparation for the game, the Triangles made some tweaks on the line, moving Elliott Bonowitz to center and Hobby Kinderdine to right guard.

In Buffalo that Sunday, November 16, the Bisons avenged their earlier loss with a 14-6 win over the Triangles. Armin Mahrt, who had returned from his earlier shoulder injury, accounted for Dayton’s only score with a 20-yard end run. Buffalo’s scores came on a pass from Benny Boynton to Len Watters and a power run by old Triangle foe, fullback Pete Calac. Perhaps in retaliation for Storck’s decision to move the game to Buffalo, the Dayton newspapers did not publish a box score. The Dayton Herald got the score reversed in their roundup of results; the Daily News ignored the game entirely the following Monday.Contrary to Storck’s statement about the game being a better draw in Buffalo, only about 2,700 fans braved the intermittent snow to take in the game. It was a smaller turnout than in either of the Triangles’ home games that year.

The hoped-for final home game against Akron also failed to materialize. The Park had recently replaced the sod on the west end of the field, and heavy rains made the footing unsafe, forcing the cancellation.

Dayton finished its 1924 NFL season in Pennsylvania with a late-scheduled return match on the road against the Frankford Yellow Jackets on Thanksgiving Day. This time the Pennsylvania team was rested and ready, and they dominated the Triangles 32-7. Dayton’s only score came late on a 37-yard interception return by Glenn Tidd. The Triangles, who were tied for the league lead after two weeks, finished tied for fourteenth place.

With another disappointing NFL season of two wins and six losses in the books, the Triangles faced a challenge for Dayton city honors from the Koors 29 semi-pro team. Interestingly, the Triangles, long considered Dayton’s elite football team, were not overwhelming betting favorites. The coach of the Koors squad was the crafty Louis “Foos” Clark, who had masterminded the Saint Mary’s Cadets’ upset wins over the Olt’s Superba Oakwoods back in 1913. In many respects, the 1924 game was a mirror image of the 1913 contests. The Koors team was young, quick and pass-happy; the Triangles, no longer a passing juggernaut, planned to rely on the ground attack.

On Sunday December 7, in a game that played more closely than the score indicated, the Triangles won the city championship from Koors 29. The final count was 20-0. The first Triangle touchdown came from what we would now call a “sack-fumble.” Stan Muirhead, who would later receive consideration for NFL All-Pro honors, scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown. The extra point failed, and the score stayed 6-0 until the fourth quarter. Then the Koors team finally wore down, mentally as much as physically. Early in the fourth quarter, the Koors shanked a punt that set the Triangles up in great field position. Armin Mahrt, Gus Redman and Ken Huffine pounded the ball on the ground, Huffine scoring from one yard out. The last score came on a fluke play. One of the Koors players moved to down a punt, but failed to hold the ball until the whistle blew to stop play. Francis Bacon alertly scooped up the still live ball and ran for a touchdown to complete the scoring. The Koors team was unable to get their passing game going, or the comtest might have been much closer.

Although the result did not turn out like the 1913 city championship game, the presence of key participants from the 1913 contest in 1924 attested to how much had stayed the same, and how much had changed. On the Koors 29 sideline was Coach Clark, who had coached and played for the 1913 Cadets. On the Triangles sideline was Carl Storck, who had played a key role in the Cadet cause against the Oakwoods. Last, but not least, serving as head linesman in the officiating crew, was Al Mahrt. His playing career now over, Mahrt was establishing a stellar reputation as a game official.

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