Season 2, Episode 6: Wandering Years

After concluding that National Football League original team the Dayton Triangles could no longer make money on home games, owner/coach Carl Storck and his business manager Mike Redelle turn the Triangles into a road team in 1925. In 1926, Storck and Redelle reconsider that strategy and float a “trial balloon” in an effort to rekindle interest in the team.

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The Reality of Early Pro Football

The problem that led Carl Storck and Mike Redelle to turn the Dayton Triangles into mainly a road team from 1925 on was common to early pro teams. The college game was simply superior. It’s likely a reason pro football never caught on in nearby Columbus either. The Panhandles and Tigers were constantly overshadowed by The Ohio State University.

There was an economic aspect as well. When the Triangles played against Red Grange’s New York Yankees in 1927 at Triangle Park, a large number of fans tried to catch a glimpse of the legendary “Galloping Ghost” from afar — without paying for the privilege. Generally, I think, people simply didn’t want to pay a premium price for a product they didn’t see as that much better than high school or college alternatives.

It’s no wonder, then, that one of Storck’s priorities when he became president of the NFL in 1939 was for pro teams to beat college teams when they played exhibition games together. Storck’s drive to establish the pro league as the elite of gridiron football doubtless played a key early role leading to its current position at the top of American sports.

Episode Transcript

The 1925 National Football League season brought an ending of sorts for Dayton Triangles’ owner and coach, Carl Storck. That year, the league introduced a new rule prohibiting NFL executives from having direct financial control over league teams. In order to comply with the new rule, league secretary Storck had to step down as Triangles’ business manager, ending an eight-year stint in that role.

To handle the team’s day-to-day business operations, Storck turned to old friend (and the only other person who had ever held the position) Mike Redelle. Redelle was the original business manager of the team before leaving to serve in the military in 1917. He also managed Triangle Park, a role he resumed after returning from service.

By 1925, Carl Storck had had enough. He must have felt he had done everything he could do to build local interest in the Triangles, but to no avail. Market forces were against him. Half or more of the seats at Triangle Park were empty when the team did play there. It didn’t help that the Triangles had been an NFL also-ran for the last few seasons. Local fans weren’t interested in seeing the home team lose. Neither would they come out for teams like the Frankford Yellow Jackets; they wanted top teams like Chicago’s Bears and Cardinals. Those teams, though, had little to gain from coming to Dayton for a share of a small market box office when they could regularly pull big crowds to their ballparks at home. Therefore, Storck decided, the Dayton Triangles would henceforth be a road team.

It was Redelle, though, not Storck, who delivered the news to the local press and public. Local sports fans, he told the Dayton Daily News, seemed interested in seeing only one game a week and that would most likely be a high school or college match. Redelle held out a carrot for the city however. “If Gem City fans show they really miss the pro grid sport,” he said, “we will bring it back in 1926.” Redelle even dangled the possibility of a home game on November 22, one of the team’s open dates for the upcoming 1925 season.

The National Football League of 1925 was a crowded gaggle of 19 teams, including new franchises in Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; and for the first time, New York City. The year also marked the return of the Canton Bulldogs. Sam Deutsch, who had bought the Canton franchise in 1924, sold it back to a local investor group. Deutsch kept his Cleveland franchise, though, and there were now two NFL teams called the Bulldogs.

As for the Triangles, Redelle worked hard to try to upgrade the team’s talent. Perhaps the most notable signing was end Gene Mayl, whom teammates would elect captain. Other newcomers included backfield man Dick Dobeleit, guard Al “Pup” Graham, and yet another Mahrt – Al’s brother and former University of Dayton end Johnny. The numerous holdovers included Hack Abbott, Lou Partlow, Elliott Bonowitz, Lee Fenner, Ken Huffine, Francis Bacon, Ed Sauer and Kinderdine brothers Hobby and Babe. Gus Redman, after playing baseball into the fall, decided he was finished with the gridiron. Longtime lineman Russell Hathaway moved to Pennsylvania and the Triangles sold his contract to Pottsville. He went on to play two seasons there and part of 1927 in Buffalo before calling it a career,

Going into the season, Coach Storck boasted that his team would feature a “wide-open” offense. It was anything but that.

The Triangles opened with a scoreless tie at Rock Island on September 27. Despite sweltering heat, the game was played at a fast pace. Neither team seriously threatened until the end when an Abbott 30-yard punt return and pass to Babe Kinderdine brought the ball to the Rock Island 20-yard line as time expired.

The following week saw Dayton invade Canton to take on the rebuilt Bulldogs. After a scoreless first half, the Triangles wore down, giving up a rushing touchdown in the third quarter and a 10-yard touchdown pass in the fourth, losing 14-0. Not only did Dayton lose the game, they were mauled in the box score, too: Lou Partlow’s last name was spelled “h-a-r-t-l-o-w” and Gene Mayl’s “m-a-h-l.”

After a week off, the Triangles travelled to Michigan to face the Detroit Panthers on October 18. Detroit beat the Triangles 6-0 on two field goals by Gus Sonnenberg. Dayton’s defense played well, but the offense was ineffective, completing only one pass for their only first down on a long Abbott to Bacon hookup. All their other passes were intercepted, broken up, or fell incomplete. Elliott Bonowitz had to leave the game with two broken ribs. Detroit dominated the line of scrimmage on defense, never allowing the Dayton offense to find a rhythm.

The Triangles’ offensive problems continued unabated on October 24 in Philadelphia, where the Frankford Yellow Jackets beat them in the mud, 3-0, on a fourth quarter field goal. The score might have been more lopsided, but Frankford’s offense was almost as inept as Dayton’s that day. Rain washed out the next day’s scheduled game at nearby Pottsville, sparing the Triangles from having to play twice in two days.

In Akron to play the Pros on November 1, things started well for Dayton. Armin Mahrt’s early 60-yard run put the Triangles in position for Abbott’s field goal that gave Dayton it’s only lead – and only points – of the entire season. Akron rallied in the second half behind long-time Triangles nemesis Fritz Pollard and won 17-3.

Within a few days, the Triangles lost two stalwarts. Lou Partlow, who wasn’t getting that much playing time anyway, left the Triangles and signed with the nearby semi-pro Armco Blues team. Partlow would eventually return to the Triangles; Francis Bacon, however, was another story. Bacon accepted an executive position with the Marion Steam Shovel Company of Indiana, where he had grown up. It was the end of Bacon’s pro football career.

In a testament to how far the once-mighty Triangles were falling, they had to make a goal line stand at their own one-yard line, and dodge a fourth quarter field goal attempt by the home team that went wide, to preserve a scoreless tie against non-league opponent Steubenville on November 8.

Dayton followed up that forgettable performance with perhaps their best effort of the season the following Sunday, November 15, in their first ever visit to Green Bay. The Packers had won sixteen consecutive home games spanning a two-year period, but the Triangles were on the verge of holding them to a scoreless tie coming down to the last minute of play. A lightning-quick drive, keyed by three passes and capped off by Verne Lewellen’s short touchdown run gave Green Bay a 7-0 victory at the end. Although the Triangles were able to generate some offense for a change, they never seriously threatened to score.

Instead of a home game on November 22, Dayton scheduled a road contest in Chicago against the Cardinals. The home team scored two first quarter touchdowns, then cruised to a 14-0 win over the Triangles. Paddy Driscoll, who had given Dayton fits over the years, only played into the second quarter after banging his nose on the icy field. Cardinals coach Norm Barry substituted freely in the second half to keep his men fresh for their upcoming Thanksgiving Day matchup against the rival Bears. The Triangles never threatened the Chicago goal line.

The following Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, found the Triangles without a scheduled game. Armin Mahrt and Ed Sauer took advantage of the open date, signing one-game contracts to play for Pottsville that day. Gene Mayl had an opportunity to play for the Chicago Cardinals against the Bears, but had to decline because the travel time involved would have interfered with his responsibilities as an attorney in Dayton.

The Triangles wrapped up the 1925 season with their first, and only, visit to the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on November 29. In front of 18,000 fans there, New York bounded to a 17-0 lead on the strength of two touchdown passes and a field goal by Jack McBride. Dayton threatened twice on deep passes from Abbott to Mayl, but the Giants held on downs each time on their way to a 23-0 win. Dayton failed to register a win in a season for the first time in team history.

The following month, December, brought the sad news of the passing of former coach Frank Hinkey, from tuberculosis, in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

The run-up to the 1926 season found Storck and Redelle reconsidering the decision to schedule all games on the road. They decided to float a “trial balloon” of sorts, an October 17 home matchup against the Buffalo Rangers (formerly the Bisons, formerly the All-Americans), with more dates possible if attendance was good. The only problem was the Triangles were no longer guaranteed of being able to play at the park that shared their name. They might have to play the game at the University of Dayton’s stadium instead.

The new season saw some turnover. Gone were Ken Huffine and Walt “Babe” Kinderdine. New faces included back Art Beckley, tackle John Becker, and yet another of Al Mahrt’s younger brothers, former University of Dayton quarterback Lou. Speaking of “Lous,” Lou Partlow was conspicuously absent from the initial preseason roster, but eventually re-signed with the team. With the arrival of Beckley, Hack Abbott once again shifted to a running back position.

As had been the case many times before, the Triangles’ season opened auspiciously with a win, this one a 3-0 victory at Buffalo on October 3. Art Beckley kicked a field goal that held up. Dayton had chances to widen the lead, but the Triangles were done in by passes that fell past the goal line for touchbacks. An interception at the Dayton 25-yard line stopped a late Buffalo drive to preserve the victory.

The following Sunday, October 10, found Dayton at Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where the Maroons handled the Triangles 24-6. Dayton’s only score came on a late touchdown pass from Lou Mahrt to Gene Mayl.

Then, for the first time since 1924, the Triangles played a home game. The team was able to use Triangle Park after all, and the press hyped the game as best they could. They evoked nostalgia with features on the last remaining Triangles “old-timers:” Hobby Kinderdine, Lou Partlow, Lee Fenner and Ed Sauer. They quoted Redelle as saying that future home games would depend on this one. A headline screamed “LARGE THRONG EXPECTED TO SEE BATTLE.”

On October 17 at Triangle Park, the “large throng” was about 1,500 fans, according to the Dayton Herald. The Daily News estimated it more charitably at about 2,000. Either way, it was a much smaller crowd than the one that came to see the Triangles and Cincinnati Celts in 1917.

As for the game itself, Dayton had chances, but squandered most of them. Lou Mahrt briefly evoked memories of his brother Al early, passing to Gene Mayl for a Triangles’ touchdown, but the extra point attempt failed. Buffalo scored their touchdown when a Jim Kendrick pass slipped through the hands of two Triangles defenders into the arms of Al Swain, who ran for a touchdown. The made extra point gave Buffalo the lead. A field goal attempt that would have given the Triangles the lead back was blocked and the Rangers held on to win 7-6. Dayton played no more games that October, and would not play another home game the rest of the season.

November opened with a non-league game at Redland Field in Cincinnati on the 7th, where the Triangles battled the Potter Tramps to a scoreless tie. Dayton failed to move the line of the Cincinnati team, which was augmented by a couple of former West Virginia players brought in for the occasion.

The following Sunday, November 14 saw a comedy of errors in Detroit where the Triangles played the Panthers to another scoreless tie. The lone Dayton highlight was a goal line stand inside their five-yard line. Art Beckley’s return of a muffed punt by Detroit for a would-be Triangles touchdown was nullified by a penalty, as were the Triangles’ only two good pass plays of the game. Fumbles and loose play were the order of the day.

The weekend of November 20 and 21 saw the Triangles playing two road games to wrap up their NFL season. That Saturday, Dayton fell to the eventual league champion Frankford Yellow Jackets 35-0. Frankford rolled behind three rushing touchdowns from Ben Jones. Then, the Triangles hopped an overnight train for Hartford, Connecticut. There, on Sunday, they lost 16-0. The score could have been much more lopsided as the Triangles played with their backs to the goal line for much of the contest.

Dayton finished the 1926 season victorious in a mud-drenched non-league game on November 28, 3-0 over the Ashland Armcos. Abbott’s 35-yard field goal was the only score on the day. The Triangles wound up with an NFL mark of 1-4-1. Following the season, Gene Mayl announced his retirement to focus his full attention on his legal practice. Storck and Redelle’s “trial balloon” had crashed, and the team relied increasingly on non-league contests to earn extra money. If the Dayton Triangles were to survive much longer, they would have to come up with new ideas to pique fan interest.

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