The Nessers, and many more men just like them, circulated throughout the Midwest now, an affront to amateur ideals but pretty damn fun to watch. They popped up for a game and then moved on, their transience almost adding to their violent appeal. Who were these characters? They just came, arriving on one train or another.
Canton and Massillon had been frantic in assembling as many of these heroes as possible for their 1906 season. It was a two-team competition, everybody else left to watch this wrangling. Massillon signed Maxwell and Parratt before the season began, as well as those three running backs from Wisconsin. The Tigers retained Ted Nesser too, and then outbid Canton for Walter East, the end who, it was reported, "ran like the wind." Canton's coach and manager, Blondy Wallace, smarting over a perception that he'd been outcoached in 1905, was not standing pat either. In a new kind of move that demonstrated just how fluid hometown rosters could be in this era, Wallace signed four of Massillon's starters. The reason, the Canton Morning News explained, was that the Tigers "cannot bring forth the proper amount of lucre."
A showdown between the two teams not only was expected but had become a financial necessity, their massive payrolls demanding a big-gate bonanza. Each new roster move—STEVENSON HERE! a headline might proclaim, or BOB SHIRING ARRIVES!—was a pointed reminder of the season-ending clash.
Through the first eight games of 1906, neither team allowed so much as a single point. Those matches were meaningless, almost incidental to the betting action. It was observed that a suspicious number of Canton plungers had peculiar access to the Massillon sideline ("a courtesy heretofore shown only to newspaper men," the Canton Daily News sniffed, its scribes elbowed out by gamblers), mingling with the players as if they were part of the team. It was rumored that the plungers planned to back Massillon against their home team, which might be prudent, but it still seemed brazen of them to flaunt it. Surely civic devotion should trump all.
The huge amount of money involved was creating some concern. The impermanence of the players—which was the idea when Massillon began this vendetta—was now causing alarm. "It looks to the average fan as though it was a question only of money regardless of principle and contracts," the Daily News admitted after yet another Tiger had defected to Canton. Coupled with the gambling (one Cantonian was reported to have bet $1,500 on the Red and White), a lack of built-in loyalty among the players was enough to drive any number of conspiracy theories.
One rumor, that the two teams might arrange to split their two games to force a third payday, had enough circulation that none other than Stewart, the Tigers booster and Gleaner city editor, was forced to address it in his own paper. "It would be impossible to 'fix' the coming football game," he wrote. "It would mean that the [Massillon] management was rotten to the core, that the Canton management was hand-in-hand with such dishonesty, and that the forty or more players under contract to the two managements must be dishonest and minus all sense of honor."
Even with that assurance, there was no lack of intrigue. Wallace did his part to heighten it, whisking his Bulldogs off to Penn State for two weeks of clandestine (and expensive—another $2,300 on the Canton tab) training.
Massillon practiced at home, with somewhat more transparency but not without mystery. East was given his release without explanation, although the Canton papers suspected he had become a morale problem on a team riven by "factions" of "college stars and the graduates of the sandlots." But replacements seemed to be arriving on trains daily. Doc McChesney, who'd left the Tigers earlier in the season for his job at the steel mill, was back. Red Salmon, who'd been so effective for Massillon in the 1905 Canton game, was rumored to be returning. And Lansom, the Penn All-America, was coming back too. But reports that Kerchoffe, the 235-pound Boilermaker (the Purdue kind), was returning were false; heeding the call of lucre, he was practicing with the Canton squad at Penn State.
Meanwhile, Massillon manager Sherb Wightman had traveled to Chicago, where, according to reports, he unsuccessfully attempted to buy Alonzo Stagg's playbook.
There was nothing immediately suspicious about the outcome of the Nov. 16 game. It was certainly hard-fought, although perhaps not that entertaining—"Sensational in parts," reported the Cleveland News, "in others a pure farce." Canton's quarterback, little Jack Hayden, ran the team faultlessly, even drop-kicking a 33-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 4--0 lead at the half. Canton halfback Marshall Reynolds proved a clever runner, scoring his team's only touchdown ("an indescribable uproar" ensued), and his punting (at Penn he once booted an 80-yarder) kept the Tigers on their heels. Massillon mustered little offense and was often penalized (unfairly, the Massillon papers thought); several of its players, including Shiring, the captain, were put out of the game for "slugging." Mighty Massillon's only score in the 10--5 loss was a fumble return for a touchdown by the lumbering Maxwell (Canton players had thought the whistle had blown and just smiled at the play), after which the game was briefly delayed while players searched for the ball in the growing dusk. Referee Big Bill Edwards (who'd provided the game's most interesting action when he threw one of Wallace's water boys 10 yards, bucket and all, after he illegally tried to bring in a play) called the game just when, according to a headline in the next day's Massillon Independent, THE TIGERS WERE PLAYING THE CANTONS TO A STANDSTILL.