Today's Tidbit...100 Years Of Football: The Pros
This is the sixteenth in a series looking back at “100 Years of Football,” syndicated cartoons published by Jerry Brondfield and Charles Beck in 1969. Today's version covers the development of pro football until the 1960s.
Planned for New Brunswick, the College Football Hall of Fame was never built there and eventually found a home outside Cincinnati, then South Bend, and has since moved to Atlanta. Hopefully, this current location will be its last.
While the cartoon from 1969 indicated that John Brailler was the first professional football player, the evidence now shows that Pudge Heffelfinger received $500 in 1892 to play a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association, making him the first professional football player.
Pro football remained a constellation of loosely affiliated small-town teams until the late 1920s or early 1930s. Franchises came and went, teams played a mix of Ieague and non-league games, and drew limited crowds and media attention. College football remained the king, but that began changing with some key signings of top college players.
College football officials opposed the pro game. They barred officials from working pro games and cut ties with former players who went pro. But when young college coaches played pro ball on Sundays, the college accepted a truce. Soon, the signing of major college stars such as Red Grange and Ernie Nevers increased the NFL’s legitimacy. The franchises began consolidating and moving to bigger cities with the stadiums and populations needed to achieve the attendance needed to pay for it all.
The NFL introduced a draft in 1935 to better distribute talent, though franchises like Washington failed to take advantage, showing from early on that the draft does not make up for poor management. Starting in the 1940s, the arrival of the modern T formation, superstar quarterbacks, and unlimited substitution allowed the NFL to produce a more exciting product with more passing than the colleges.
Don Hutson became the prototypical wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, while the top post-war franchise was the Cleveland Browns under Paul Brown. First playing in the AAFC and then absorbed into the NFL, Otto Graham and Jim Brown kept the Browns dominant until the mid-1960s.
Click the appropriate link for other stories in the series:
1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900-1905 | 1905-1910 | 1910-1915 | 1916-1922 | 1923-1926 | 1927-1930 | 1931-1935 | 1935-1939 | 1940-1946 | 1946-1952 | 1953-1963 | The Pros | Modern NFL and Post-1906 All-Stars
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