NFL 1: The 1920 Akron Pros
The 1920 Akron Pros Season
If we’re going to do a review about the 1920 AFPA season, then we may as well start with its Champions the Akron Pros, that was not without some controversy however. They were formed in 1908 in Akron, Ohio as the Akron Indians and Joined the Ohio League as a semi-pro team and immediately started off dominating the Akron football scene and the Ohio league winning championships in 1908, 1909, 1913 and 1914.
The team was bought by Ohio Football legend George “Peggy” Parratt in 1912 who took over as owner, quarterback, coach and general manager. Like most people who like to leave a legacy on their team he renamed the team after himself and for 4 years the team was known as Parratt’s Indians. It’s a curious part of American sport that was so much more acceptable at the turn of the century than it would be nowadays. Can you imagine if Snooker legend John Parrott somehow managed to find the money to buy the New England Patriots and renamed them Parrott’s Patriots?
Peggy built his team from in the way that was of the time, he had moved to the Indians from the Massillon Tigers, and set about assembling an expensively acquired roster. They got off to a flyer in 1912 but were eventually beaten to the Ohio league title by the little-known Elyria Athletics, who were made up largely of Tigers who formed their own ball club upon Parratt’s departure. Parratt acquired the best of the Elyria Athletics roster and they proceeded to win the 1913 championship, while adding further to the roster with former Notre Dame and Ohio college players romping to the 1914 championship.
For the 1915 seasons the Akron roster was pillaged in a brutal fashion by the Massillon Tigers and the Canton Bulldogs so Parratt picked up his ball and moved to Cleveland. The Team was sold to the Burkhardt brewery who renamed it the Akron Burkhardts, snazzy! They spont most of this period,merely getting by but financial losses continued to mount. The team had been losing money since 1912 so the Brewery sold up to local businessman Art Ranney and Frank Nied who changed the name to Pros to try and improve attendances and the image of the team. They made a point of befriending the team’s best player, running back Fritz Pollard who would be one of the first two black players to play in the NFL when it was formed in 1920 and who would go on become the first black coach in the NFL when appointed 1921.
1920 Akron Pros Season
The Akron Pros where the AFPA’s (NFL’s) first champions they played 11 games in their 13-week schedule finishing with a record of 8-0-3. This is counted by the NFL as an undefeated season, the NFL’s first in its very first season. Ties were not counted into a team’s winning percentage until 1972 and playoffs were not introduced until 1932 so in modern terms the ’72 dolphins are the only team to complete a winning season but in the old rules the Akron Pros completed one of 3 winning seasons along with the 1922 Canton Bulldogs and the 1929 Green Bay Packers.
Their season opened in league week 2 on October 3rd 1920 with a game against the fantastically named Wheeling Stogies. They weren’t affiliated with the NFL but 4000 people turned up at league park to watch the Pros waltz out to a 43-0 win. Al Nesser who played end for the Pros scored the first 3 touchdowns after the pros opened the scoring with a safety. Pollard would add two more Touchdowns in as one sided a game as you can imagine. It would be a familiar theme over the early part of the season. Seven Days later the Pros played the NFL affiliated Columbus Panhandles and roundly thrashed them 37-0 in front of only 1500 fans.
League week 4 saw the Cincinnati Celts come to league park. They too weren’t affiliated with the AFPA at the time but games like this counted as some teams often had pre-agreed games in their schedule. The Pros ran out 13-0 winners and while the score line was nowhere near as dominant the 0 suggests. The Youngstown Vindicator the local paper is quoted as saying “The defence stood firm, holding the Celts without a first down”. They held the Celts for an entire game without a single first down!!
In week 5 (October 24th 1920) the Cleveland Tigers came to league park were considered Akron’s first real test and league park was packed to the rafters. The game was a bit of a damp squib, the Pros scored on a blocked punt in the first quarter but after that neither team failed to score. The game was described as the most bruising and gruelling affair played by professional football teams so far that season but the Pros had passed their first test.
In week 6 the Pros paid a visit to the Canton Bulldogs, who had won the 1919 Ohio Championship and were widely regarded as the world’s best team coming into the season. The Pros however came through winning 10-0 with a field goal and a sensational play returning an Interception by Bulldogs quarterback Johnny Gilroy for 50 yards. The Pros were sitting pretty at 5-0. Their week 7 game against the Detroit Heralds was cancelled due to rain.
After the rain affected game the Pros went to Cleveland in a return match against the Cleveland Tigers at Dunn Park in Cleveland. An estimated 8000 turned out to watch the Pros take the lead on a second quarter touchdown from Fritz Pollard. Cleveland struck back in the 3rd with a 50-yard touchdown pass. The game ended 7-7 sending the Pros to 5-0-1. What’s remarkable about this game in particular is that 50-yard TD would be the only points the Pros would concede all season.
The Dayton Triangles were the next team to visit League Park and were one of the few remaining undefeated teams so this game was another test for the Pros. After conceding their first points of the season the week previous you’d be forgiven for thinking the Pros were starting to come unstuck, even slightly but that proved not to be the case as 3700 came to watch the Pros run out 13-0 winners, inflicting the Triangles first loss of the season.
In Week 10 the first NFL games were played on Thanksgiving Day. The Bulldogs were the visitors to Akron this time and the Pros continued to demonstrate their defensive dominance winning the game 7-0 with a first quarter touchdown from Bob Nash. 6500 fans crammed into League Park which was almost certainly over capacity to watch the game.
3 Days after the visit of the Bulldogs the Pros had to play a second week 10 game against the Dayton Triangles. The Pros had taken the Triangles undefeated record in their first encounter but this time the Pros had to travel to Triangle Park. After two wins against the Bulldogs and the Tigers the Pros were rightly now considered the best team in the state of Ohio and they went on to prove this in front of 5000 fans. They ran out 69-0 winners against the triangles a truly impressive feat for their second game in a week pushing their record to 8-0-1.
The Pros were sitting pretty, their nearest rivals the Decatur Staleys had lost in week 10 Chicago Cardinals, and the Buffalo all Americans in week 9 to the Bulldogs. Their final two contests were against the All Americans and the Staleys in weeks 11 and 12 respectively. The All Americans game contained 2 points of note, Bob Nash was traded to the All-Americans for $300 and 5% of the gate receipts of the game in the first deal in AFPA/NFL history. The second point of note is that this game took place 1 day after the All Americans beat the Canton Bulldogs 7-3. The game finished 0-0 which given the offensive power of the Pros and the All Americans fixture pile up was pretty impressive. A further game against the Decatur Staleys also finished 0-0.
Playoffs weren’t introduced until the 1932 championships so the title was decided by committee on 4th April 1921 and you’d think given the fact the Pros conceded 7 points all year that the title would have been awarded to them with ease, though that turned out not to be the case, the Staleys claimed that as they had more wins and the fact the Pros had failed to beat them they deserved the title, similarly the Buffalo All Americans claimed that because they had more wins and fewer ties i.e. a better win percentage they deserved the title. The Pros however had also won more games against AFPA teams finishing 6-0-3, 1 more than the Staleys 5-1-2. However, ties were not counted at this time so with a perfect season the Pros were awarded the title.
This would be their only title and despite a 3rd place finish the following year, results started to dwindle and the 1926 season would be their last. Only one Pros player would ever make the hall of fame, half back and legend Fritz Pollard would be posthumously entered in the year 2005, 19 years after his death.