Friday, September 09, 2016

The Day Akron had an NFL Team

When you think of Akron and football on Thanksgiving, you automatically think of the old tradition of “Turkey Day” games, when the City Series Championship would inevitably be decided at the Akron Rubber Bowl. But in 1952, Akron was treated to something extra—a double-header that not only included the high school championship, but an NFL game as well, featuring George Halas’ Chicago Bears vs Akron’s home team—The Dallas Texans.

Never heard of the Texans? Maybe you have – but those Texans are probably the 1960 AFL Team that later moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs.

No, these Dallas Texans were the only NFL franchise to ever go belly up.

In this story, it’s important to point out that the post-WWII NFL was not the incredibly popular money machine it is today. The league was still struggling for fans and respect. So, after an unsuccessful 1951 season, New York Yanks owner Ted Collins decided that—after eight years of losing money—he’d sell his team back to the NFL. In January of 1952, a Dallas-based group led by a pair of young millionaires, Giles Miller and his brother, Connell, bought what was ostensibly a new franchise from the NFL—the first-ever major league team based in Texas.

At the time, Texas was totally dominated by college football, so there were a lot of skeptics when the team scheduled their first game in the 75,000 seat Cotton Bowl. As it turned out, the skeptics were right; in their brief stay in Dallas, the largest crowd the Texans managed to draw was 17,499 curious spectators on opening day.

1952 Texans uniform guide - courtesy NFL
Things got worse with each following week. With five games remaining and the Texans unable to meet their payroll, Miller was forced to return the franchise to the league. The NFL operated the team for the remainder of the season. Of the final three games, two were hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions—this got the league off the hook as far as finding a place to play for the vagabond team. But what to do about the third and last game?

So the NFL decided that Akron would play host for Dallas’ last “home” game, serving as the second half of a special Thanksgiving double-header.

Can’t miss, right? The first game, a traditional high school matchup played between East and South was certainly a success, with East winning 26-19. NFL legend Art Donovan, who with fellow Texan team member Gino Marchetti would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame as Baltimore Colts, remembered the day well:

“In the morning they had a high school football game and they must have had about 20,000 people in the stands. When we went to warm up, there must have been about 3,000 people in the stands.”

In fact, Texans coach Jimmy Phelan thought there were so few fans in the stadium that he laughingly suggested the team should just “dispense with the usual introductions and just go into the stands and shake hands with each fan.”

As bad as it sounds, it wasn’t all bad.

In fact, the game at the Rubber Bowl turned out to be the only victory in franchise history. Chicago coach George Halas was so sure of winning, he started his second stringers. As a result, the Texans jumped out to a quick 20–2 lead and then managed to hang on for a 27–23 victory.

The Texans went on to lose their final game. The NFL was unable to find a buyer for them and folded the team right after the season ended.

Just a few months later, the league granted a new franchise—and all the remaining assets of the Texans (including the players)—to Baltimore-based group headed by Carroll Rosenbloom. Though it makes sense to argue that Rosenbloom just bought the Texans and moved them to Baltimore to become the Colts, that’s not how the Colts (who are now in Indianapolis) or the NFL see it.

Both see the 1953 Colts as an all-new expansion team. Because of this, the Texans officially remain the last NFL team to permanently cease operations and not be included in the lineage of any current team.

But they were Akron’s team—for a day.


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