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My Dayton Triangles Project

The following post originally appeared on thisbrucesmith.com. I moved it here to consolidate all Dayton Triangles-related content on one site.

I grew up within walking distance of American professional sports history, but didn’t know about it until much later. North of downtown Dayton, Ohio on an October afternoon in 1920, the first game between members of what would become the National Football League was played. That day, the Columbus Panhandles visited the home-standing Dayton Triangles at Triangle Park. The Triangles won the game 14-0. There was another game played that day in Illinois, but in the Central time zone, so the Triangles-Pan Handles game was almost certainly the first to kick off.

The more I looked into it, the more I wondered who these people were, how they got to this point and what their legacy was. I found a great resource online, www.daytontriangles.com, created and maintained by Steve Presar. There’s also information about the Triangles at the Professional Football Researchers Association web site.

As I went through all of these threads, I decided I wanted to try and weave them together into book form. After all, there’s a book about the Columbus Panhandles; why not one about the Triangles?

So, over the past few months I’ve been going through the archives of the Dayton Daily News and other sources, doing a deep dive on the history and background of the team and some of the key people involved. I’m interested in not just facts and figures, but some of the stories behind them. For example, a century ago:

  • There was no Internet, no television and radio was in its infancy. Newspapers were the media, social or otherwise.
  • “Cable news” meant telegraph cable.
  • In the papers, racist language was used as a matter of routine.
  • “Dope” meant information, and “crack” meant a person or team was very skillful.
  • Affordable mass air transportation was still years away: teams travelled by train.

As for the game itself:

  • When you threw a forward pass, several things could happen and almost all of them were bad.
  • There was no “end zone”.
  • There were no hash marks; when a play went out of bounds, the next play was run as close to the out of bounds line as possible.
  • Not only did the quarterback call all the plays, communication from the sideline was illegal.
  • There was precious little grass on the field. Games were played in the dirt; when it rained they were played in the mud.
  • There was no such thing as “concussion protocol”.
  • The college game was paramount; professionals were considered mercenaries, hacks or both.

Thus far, I’ve researched how the Triangles came to be, including their prehistory, the pre-NFL years, including the war years or 1917-18, and the early years of the league. My sense is that that’s going to be the bulk of the story, because the latter years were pretty depressing. By about 1926 or so, the Triangles had become what used to be called “breathers”, teams the stronger teams beat up on to get an easy break in their schedule. As they played more games on the road, the local papers stopped covering them, and they had all but disappeared from the city’s consciousness be the time the team was finally sold in 1929.

This is just a whiff of what I’ve found out, and as I continue in this project, I anticipate I’ll be posting tidbits here from time to time. I might also blog a bit about the process I go through as I look to try and get this thing published, which I hope will be in time for the 100th anniversary of that first game, in 2020.

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Draft Excerpt: A Wild Finish

The following post originally appeared at thisbrucesmith.com. I moved it here to consolidate all Dayton Triangles-related content at this site.

The following short excerpt is from my Dayton Triangles book project. It describes a key moment in the prehistory of the Triangles: the second Dayton city independent football championship game between the Saint Mary’s Cadets and the Olt-Superba Oakwoods, played on November 27, 1913. The description of the game is summarized from reporting by Robert Husted of the Dayton Journal. The Dayton Daily News account of the game is apparently lost along with several other pages missing from both the online ProQuest archive and the microfilm archive at the Dayton Public Library. I plan to go through the Dayton Herald and will add any additional information from there in a later draft.

The game was a rematch of the first championship game played between the same two teams on November 16, and won by the Cadets in a 14-9 upset over the defending champion Oakwoods. Some of the first names are omitted; it was common practice in the day for the sports writers to refer to players by last name unless they had brothers playing in the same game (as was often the case with the Sacksteder and Kinderdine brothers, among others). I hope to have first names for everyone by the time I begin submitting this for consideration to publishers sometime next year.

The excerpt follows:

The return match between the Cadets and Oakwoods proved to be one of the most exciting and controversial football games played in Dayton in many years. The Oakwoods opened the scoring off an early Cadets turnover, fullback Dolan throwing a touchdown pass to Munk. Following the ensuing kickoff, however, it didn’t take Al Mahrt long to get the Cadets’ quick strike pass offense in gear.

Starting from the Cadets’ 25-yard line, Mahrt rushed around end for five yards. On the following play he found a wide-open Zimmerman, who had streaked behind the Oakwoods’ defense. Mahrt delivered the ball forty yards in the air to Zimmerman, who outran the Oakwood defenders the final yards to the goal line, capping off a spectacular 70-yard touchdown play. Clark’s touchdown goal kick (extra point) tied the score at 7. Babe Zimmerman threw a touchdown pass to Billy Zile before the end of the quarter to give the Cadets a 13-7 lead. The extra point was missed.

In the second quarter, Oakwood regrouped and struck back. Captain Herb Allen intercepted Mahrt at the Oakwood 45 and the former champs drove relentlessly downfield by way of the ground game to within a few feet of the Cadet goal line. When the Cadets’ goal line defense stiffened, quarterback Roy Burton threw a touchdown pass to right halfback “Minnie” Black to tie the score. A successful extra point inched the Oakwoods back in front, 14-13. Another Cadet turnover deep in their own territory led to a third Oakwood touchdown, scored on a shortrush by Allen. Following another successful point after, the Oakwoods went to halftime up 21-13.

The third quarter went back and forth until Zimmerman intercepted a pass to stop an Oakwood drive at the Cadets’ 20-yard line. Two Mahrt passes, one to Zimmerman, covered more than 50 yards. The quarter ended with the Cadets driving in Oakwood territory. The Cadets completed their touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter on a Mahrt pass to Dungan, in at left end for Weaver. “Foos” Clark kicked the extra point to bring the Cadets to within a point at 21-20.

With time (and daylight) now waning, a critical kicking error by the Oakwoods turned the game in the Cadets’ favor. The Oakwood offense stalled at their own 20 and they were forced to punt. Munk shanked the punt out of bounds giving the Cadets excellent field position at the Oakwoods’ 40. A short Mahrt run and incompletion left the Cadets in a do-or-die third down. Mahrt then uncorked a pass to Dungan, who ran to the Oakwoods’ 10, setting up first down and goal to go. When Mahrt foundNorb Sacksteder behind the goal line, the touchdown pass put the Cadets back on top 26-21.

Following the play, the Oakwood players protested that Mahrt’s pass had touched end Johnny Devereaux, in at end for Zile, prior to Sacksteder catching it. Under the rules of the day, this would have been an illegal forward pass (illegal touching) and negated the touchdown. After conferring, Referee Castleman from Colgate and Umpire Eckstrom from Dartmouth ruled that only Sacksteder had touched the ball and let the touchdown stand.

Bedlam ensued. Many people from the large crowd that had come to take in the game became excited and rushed onto the field, preventing the Cadets from attempting the extra point. Police tried to clear the crowd from the field so that the game could continue, but were unable to do so. With the teams unable to play on, and darkness falling, Referee Castleman ruled the game over and declared the Cadets to be the winners by a final score of 26-21. The game ended with the crowd still on the field.

Robert Husted, writing for the Dayton Journal, heaped specific praise on Mahrt, Zimmerman, Zile and Dungan for their high level of play in the victory. He also credited halfback Carl Storck for excellent blocking and kick returning. For the defeated Oakwoods, Husted tipped his cap in particular to Black and quarterback Barton.

With the city and southern Ohio championships now secure, the Cadets turned again to basketball for the winter season.

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Dayton Triangles 1918 Championship Year

The following post first appeared on thisbrucesmith.com to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Dayton Triangles team that won the Ohio League football championship. I’ve moved the post here to consolidate all Dayton Triangles-related content on this site.

As I continue my research with the goal of writing a history of the Dayton Triangles football team, I’m struck by 1918. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangles’ “championship year” that saw them acclaimed by consensus as the best team in the Ohio League. But it was also a strange, and in some respects tragic, season. I’ve taken to calling it “the year of the asterisk”.

As summer wore on, it wasn’t clear that there would even be a season in 1918. The war in Europe still raged, and many of the best players were either “over there” or in training to go. That meant a shortage of talented players. Making matters worse, to conserve fuel for the war effort, the Federal Government had mandated cuts in long-distance travel and local driving on Sundays. The restrictions would crimp attendance at Sunday games.

It was not just players who were in short supply. Triangles coach Nelson “Bud” Talbott was serving as an artillery commander. Fortunately, Triangles business manager Carl Storck did not have to look far for a replacement. Cincinnati Reds outfielder and multi-sport star Earle “Greasy” Neale had signed a short-term contract to play some games in the Triangle company baseball league. Neale had played and coached football and so was the perfect choice for the job. He also played fullback and handled the kicking duties for the Triangles that year.

Storck had also faced an uphill battle to find and schedule teams. The three companies that bankrolled the Triangles team were willing to operate at a loss, as they reportedly had in 1917, but they didn’t want to go to the trouble unless they could have competitive games. As October rolled around, though, more teams were making the decision to play.

No sooner had the Triangle Athletic association made the decision to move ahead with games, than the influenza pandemic of 1918 hit.

The viral infection we call “the flu” had been been around for some time, and people called it by different names. Some people used the French name grippe. The name that eventually stuck came from the Italians, who blamed the disease on astrological factors – “the influence of the stars” or l’influenza delle stelle.

By late 1918, a very bad strain of flu that had been prevalent in Spain was spreading around the world. Reaching America that fall, it set off a major public health crisis. Cities around the country moved to ban public gatherings in the hope of limiting the spread of the disease. In Dayton, for example, public health authorities closed schools, churches, saloons, pool halls, reading rooms – virtually any indoor place where people might congregate. The flu also wiped out much of the fall boxing schedule that year.

The Triangles’ season might have ended then and there, except that local authorities exempted outdoor sporting events from the ban, believing that the virus could not survive in open air. However, other cities extended their bans to all public gatherings, indoors or out. Several college and semi-pro teams in Illinois and Michigan had to cancel or postpone games that year.

Between the war and the flu, several of the top teams in the Ohio region did not play the 1918 season. This actually worked to the Triangles’ advantage, as they were able to pick up players who would otherwise have played for rivals, such as the Cincinnati Celts and Pine Village, Indiana. The powerful Canton Bulldogs were also sidelined that year. The Triangles attempted to sign Canton’s top star, the legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, but were unsuccessful.

Even with the personnel advantages the Triangles enjoyed, Manager Storck and Coach Neale found it difficult to keep a stable lineup at times. Starting right end Dave Reese, a dentist by training, was called to medical duty with the military in Georgia. Reese’s backup “Piggy” Collins was ready to step in, but his wife suddenly passed away three days before the Triangles were to play against a team from Wabash, Indiana. Pearl May Collins was only 22 years old. It seems likely that she succumbed to the flu or pneumonia caused by the flu. Storck scrambled and was able to sign Chuck Helvie the night before the Wabash game. Helvie played well that Sunday and became a mainstay of the Triangles for some years after that.

The Triangles posted an 8-0 record in the 1918 season, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 188-9. The closest game they played all season was a hard-fought 13-6 win over a team from Hammond, Indiana that was rumored to have a number of “ringers” – highly-skilled college players who were playing semi-pro ball for money on the side. The Triangles played, and easily won, a rematch with Hammond late in the season. Other teams the Triangles defeated that year included the Toledo Maroons, Detroit Heralds (twice) and the Columbus Panhandles.

Although the Triangles were – for the first and only time – the consensus Ohio League champions, circumstances in 1918 left a cloud over their achievement. The Cincinnati Celts, Canton Bulldogs and other major teams did not play that season, and the competition that did come to play was not very strong. This is why I’ve taken to calling 1918 the “year of the asterisk”.

For Earle Neale, this was neither his last championship nor his last asterisk. The following year, he hit .357 for the Reds in the 1919 World Series, winning another championship that was tainted – this time by the infamous “Black Sox” scandal. It took 30 more years, but Coach Neale eventually proved his mettle, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to two NFL titles – fair and square.

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The NFL’s First Replay Controversy

The following article originally appeared on thisbrucesmith.com. I’ve moved it here to consolidate all Dayton Triangles-related content on this site.

The research for my Dayton Triangles podcast project took me into the period when Triangles player/coach/manager/owner Carl Storck continued to serve as an NFL executive after the sale of the Triangle franchise. This post discusses the first of two major controversies in Storck’s brief, stormy tenure as league president. My focus here is less on Storck’s role than on the historical significance of what I argue was “the birth of replay” — eighty years ago.

Time was running down at the Polo Grounds on December 3, 1939. The Washington Redskins and New York Giants were locked in a nail-biter. With a berth in the NFL Championship game on the line, the Giants clung to a 9-7 lead, but Washington was driving. With under a minute to go, the Redskins’ drive stalled at the New York 16-yard line. Kicker Torrance “Bo” Russell lined up for a relative chip-shot field goal to give Washington a 10-9 lead and probably the win. The snap came back, and Russell struck the ball. It sailed high toward the right upright as thousands of fans held their collective breath.

Referee Bill Halloran had the call. A well-respected veteran of gridiron officiating going all the way back to pre-NFL sandlot days, Halloran always called them as he saw them. This time, some observers thought he hesitated ever so slightly, while others thought he did not hesitate at all. Halloran waved his arms at his waist, a gesture known at the time as a “wigwag,” signifying that the attempt was no good. New York ran out the clock to win the game, and the division championship.

The game was over, but the controversy had just begun.

Many observers insisted the kick was actually good. Others insisted just as vehemently that it was well wide to the right. The angle from which the observer viewed the kick had a lot to do with the conclusion drawn. (One’s rooting interest may have played a role, too.)

After the game, fans, writers and photographers looked for visual evidence to either confirm or overrule Halloran’s call. Unfortunately, the available evidence was not very helpful. First, Russell’s kick had sent the ball so high that it might not appear in the photo frames of many shots. (Note 1.) The photo evidence that showed the ball suffered from the same disadvantage as human observers; depending on the camera angle, the ball appeared to be inside or outside the uprights. (Note 2.)

Sportswriter Gene Ward reviewed film of the kick taken at an angle behind the kicker and to right of the goal post. In his opinion, the visual evidence was not conclusive that the ball had actually passed inside the uprights. (Note 3.)

In the language of modern replay officiating, it was a “call stands.”

Part of the problem may have been a misunderstanding about the rules. In the modern NFL, a field goal is “good” if it is ” between the goal posts and above the cross bar, or, if above the goal posts, between the outside edges of the goal posts.” (Note 4.) [Emphasis added.] In 1939, though, you didn’t get the benefit of the outside edge of the goal posts if the ball was above them. Some players, coaches or fans may have thought getting any part of the ball over the upright was sufficient for the kick to be good. It wasn’t.

Dr. B. A. O’Hara, a league official in attendance but not in the officiating crew that day, explained to sportswriter Dan Parker:

The officials of the National League were called to Pittsburgh before the season opened for a rules interpretation meeting. Stress was laid on field goal kicking and it was drilled into us that in professional football all parts of the ball must be inside the plane made by the imaginary lines drawn straight up into the air as an extension of the goal posts.

Parker, Dan. “Dan Parker Says”. Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), Dec. 5, 1939, p. 20 https://www.newspapers.com/image/480447668.

In the weeks after the game, proposals surfaced to assist the on-field official. One idea, similar to horse racing’s “photo finish,” would use a set of synchronized cameras to photograph the ball from different angles. In the event of a review, the film could be developed on the spot to determine if the kick was good. (Note 5.) Another proposal would use an electric eye to automatically rule whether the kick was good or not. (Note 6.)

None of the 1939 proposals gained traction, and it would be decades before the NFL instituted a replay rule, but Bill Halloran’s “wigwag” set events in motion that eventually led to the modern replay regime.

And what of Halloran’s infamous call?

Harry Dayhoff, a college referee who had worked the Holy Cross-Boston College game the day before, was sitting with sportswriter Dan Parker and NFL official Dr. O’Hara behind the opposite end zone — at the perfect angle to judge the kick’s accuracy. After the kick, and before Halloran’s signal, Dayhoff said, “It’s wide, Doc.” O’Hara agreed, adding that in his view no part of the ball was in that imaginary plane required for a good kick. (Note 7.)

And on the field, holder Frank Filchock turned his back to the play and disgustedly snapped his fingers. (Note 8.)

Notes:

(1) “Pictures May Not Help”. Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 1939, p. 23. https://www.newspapers.com/image/168042486.

(2) Hartford Courant, December 6, 1939, p. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/image/367367264.

(3) Ward, Gene. “Redskin Faces Ban For Life, Plus Fine”. New York Daily News, December 5, 1939, p. 352. https://www.newspapers.com/image/430134249.

(4) Goodell, Roger, Commissioner. 2018 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League. https://operations.nfl.com/media/3277/2018-nfl-rulebook_final-version.pdf.

(5) “Foto-finish In Football”. New York Daily News, December 12, 1939, p. 37. https://www.newspapers.com/image/430185633.

(6) United Press. “Plan Electric Eye To Rule On Field Goals”. The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), December 19, 1939, p. 7. https://www.newspapers.com/image/279780142.

(7) Parker, Dan. “Dan Parker Says”. Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), Dec. 5, 1939, p. 20 https://www.newspapers.com/image/480447668.

(8) Menton, Paul. “Important Points”.The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), December 7, 1939, p. 44. https://www.newspapers.com/image/369606012.

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Now on YouTube

With 2019 now ended, I have moved the podcast to YouTube and discontinued it at Buzzsprout. Nothing against Buzzsprout, but the podcast just didn’t draw that much interest and I couldn’t see the point of continuing to pay for continued hosting. You can continue to support the podcast through donations.

If you’d like to skip reading the various articles and just get to the episodes, here’s a playlist with all the episodes in order: