Pro Football's Birthday: The Oh-So-Manly Hupmobile, A Star Named "Pudge" And Drafting Off Baseball's Heat

For an incredibly high-profile operation like the NFL, the league's beginnings are somewhat murky.

A loose collection of teams, players, schedules and shifting alliances, the early days of the league bear almost no resemblance to the streamlined corporate machine that dominates the current sports landscape.

Most scholars peg August 20 as being as good a day as any to mark the birth of professional football and, eventually, the NFL.

It all happened in 1920, and between odd names, weird circumstances and desperate attempts to seem relevant, things did not look very promising indeed.

Take, for instance, these five factors:

5. The birthplace: A showroom for the über-macho Hupmobile showroom The Edsel hadn't been created yet, so pioneer footballers had to look hard to find a more obscure symbol of abject automotive failure as their birthplace.

They came up with the Hupmobile:

You can almost see the gunsels standing on the running boards, shooting back at the cops on their trail.

The Hupmobile people were damn proud of their vehicle, if this ad copy is any indication, and it was meant only for the most manliest of men:

There's something about Hupp's faithfulness that gets to a man. A feeling that hasn't a name. But it's the same as the feeling a seaman gets for his ship, an engineer for his engine, or a woman for her home.

He's got as much use for an adjective as a cowboy for a powder puff. He's rough on claims. Promises of what a car can do. He's the old-time Hupmobile owner. He's seen cars come, seen 'em go. Only he won't talk. He'll act! Give you fact after fact, not in words but in deeds, in bullet speeds and 'Big Bertha' power."

Remember: NO ADJECTIVES, powder puff!! And be sure to throw in stuff like "bullet speeds" and World War I howitzers. Keeps the sissies away.

No terrible towels in Pittsburgh for Pudge
No terrible towels in Pittsburgh for Pudge

4. The first paid player was a dude named...."Pudge" Heffelfinger Forget Rainier Wolfcastle singing "My bologna has a first name, it's F-R-I-T-Z, my bologna has a second name, it's S-C-H-N-A-C-K-E-N-P-F-E-F-F-E-R-H-A-U-S-E-N."

"My player has a first name, it's P-U-D-G-E. My player has a second name, it's _H-E-F-F-E-L...." You get the drift.

Hey, it's no worse than the campaign run by Yale students urging the dude to take advantage of college football's ridiculously elastic eligibility rules of the time: "Linger, oh linger, Heffelfinger," they (actually) implored. (Yalies.)

Hef got $500 for his first game; in the second, he teamed with another paid player with the much more appropriate, if generic, name of Ben "Sport" Donnelly.

There's a plaque in Pittsburgh marking the location of his debut game, which became by default the first (not under the table) pro football game.  

The Dallas Texans couldn't make it
The Dallas Texans couldn't make it

3. What? There's a baseball team with that name? Do tell Baseball ruled the sporting world back in the Roaring Twenties, and pro football could only hope to get a fraction of the love and attention that went to such things as boxing and horse racing.

What to do? Draft off that Major League Baseball heat.

As we say, the teams tend to come and go in the early days of professional football, but among the squads that played were outfits named the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Washington Senators.

Not to be confused, of course, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Washington Senators that everyone actually knew and cared about.

2. Still, the names could have been worse So mimicking existing team names isn't exactly the most original way to go. Evidence survives that proves it probably was better than leaving owners to come up with names out of the blue.

Among the franchises you could root your heart out for: the Dayton Triangles and the Decatur Staleys.

The Triangles were named after a section of Dayton featuring three related industrial plants, but we're sure calculus fans everywhere came up with hypotenuse-related cheers that would put to shame any "Linger, oh linger Heffelfinger" Ivy Leaguer.

As for the Staleys, contrary to rumor, they were not named by a prophet who was a big Duce Staley fan; instead, they were named after a company that specialized in cornstarch.

That company is now known as Tate & Lyle (They brought the sugar cube to America! They make Splenda!), and they make only a passing mention of their place in gridiron genesis in their corporate history.

When the team moved to Chicago, they changed their name to the Bears in order to avoid any confusion that they may have some connection with the more popular Cubs.

1. The last NFL team to fold was in...Dallas From its shaky start, of course, the NFL has grown into a model business with only a few hiccups along the way. A team hasn't folded in 60 years.

And that team was -- the Dallas Texans. Our brothers to the north endured a single season of 1-11 in 1952. The team didn't even make it through the season before the owner gave it back to the league; in fact, the franchise's lone win came in a "home game" in Akron, Ohio.

Way to shine brightly, Big D.

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