American Professional Football Association

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Columbus Panhandles Football Team.jpg
Group portrait of the Columbus Panhandles Football Team, identified from left to right as: John Nesser, Frank Nesser, Reagan Burton, Andy Kertzinger, Chief Henry, Ed Hughes, Joe Carr (founder and manager), Harry Greenwood, Phil Nesser, Fred Nesser, Baker, and Carlise. The Panhandles were one of the first professional football teams to join the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League, when it formed in 1920. They operated as a professional football franchise from 1920-1922, then again from 1923-1926. Note: Complete name identification and date provided by Chris Willis, former OHS employee now with NFL Films.

During the 1910s, American football became an increasingly popular sport, and professional teams arose. Private businesses or individual communities usually sponsored the teams. They became a source of pride for the businesses and towns. The first major attempt to unify the various professional football teams into a national league occurred in 1920, with the formation of the American Professional Football Association. The league was founded in Canton, Ohio. Illustrating Ohio's important role in early professional football, five of this league's first teams were from the state. The league's original teams included the Canton Bulldogs, the Cleveland Tigers, the Dayton Triangles, the Akron Professionals, the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons, the Rock Island Independents, the Muncie Flyers, the Decatur Staleys, the Chicago Cardinals, the Buffalo All-Americans, the Chicago Tigers, the Columbus Panhandles, the Detroit Heralds, and the Hammond Pros.The American Professional Football Association's first president was Jim Thorpe. He played football for the Canton Bulldogs during the 1910s. He also coached the team. Under Thorpe's leadership, the Bulldogs were the unofficial world champions in 1916, 1917, and 1919. He inspired respect within all those who played against him. His contributions to the game led him to become the highest paid player in the league during its early years. Thorpe retired as a player from professional football in 1928. At that time, he played for the Chicago Cardinals. He made tremendous contributions to the modernization of the game and the professionalization of football during his lifetime, both on the field and off. In 1922, the American Professional Football Association officially changed its name to the National Football League. In the league's early decades, there was a tremendous turnover of teams. Numerous communities tried to sponsor teams but quickly realized that they could not cover the expenses. Teams also commonly moved, lured away by other communities that offered a more lucrative financial deal. During the league's history, numerous teams called Ohio's cities home. These teams include and their dates of existence are:

Canton Bulldogs (1920-1923) (1926-1926)

Cleveland Tigers (1920-1921)

Akron Professionals (1920-1926)

Dayton Triangles (1920-1929)

Columbus Panhandles (1920-1922)

Cincinnati Celts (1921-1921)

Marion Oorang Indians (1922-1923)

Toledo Maroons (1922-1923)

Columbus Tigers (1923-1924) (1926-1926)

Cleveland Indians (1923-1923) (1931-1931)

Cleveland Bulldogs (1924-1925) (1927-1927)

Akron Indians (1926-1926)

Portsmouth Spartans (1930-1934)

Cincinnati Reds (1932-1934)

Cleveland Rams (1937-1943)

Cleveland Browns (1949-1996) (1999–present)

Cincinnati Bengals (1968–present)

Because of Ohio's prominent role in professional football, the National Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, where the league began in 1920.