Pro Football's Birthday: The Oh-So-Manly Hupmobile, A Star Named "Pudge" And Drafting Off Baseball's Heat
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.
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.
4. The first paid player was a dude named...."Pudge" Heffelfinger
No terrible towels in Pittsburgh for Pudge
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.