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THE FIRST SUPER BOWL
RICHARD HOFFER
February 06, 2012
A century ago two Ohio powers, Canton and Massillon, battled for supremacy of professional football. Back then the game was a cross between a three-ring circus and trench warfare, and the players were team-switching mercenaries. The championship series might even have been fixed
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February 06, 2012

The First Super Bowl

A century ago two Ohio powers, Canton and Massillon, battled for supremacy of professional football. Back then the game was a cross between a three-ring circus and trench warfare, and the players were team-switching mercenaries. The championship series might even have been fixed

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But here is what we know for sure: The scandal, heard far and wide (if not completely understood or investigated), killed professional football for a time. The Tigers and the Bulldogs organized a third game not to see who'd win but to raise funds for the players' train tickets out of town. It was a disaster; only 500 people showed up, and the match ended in a 5--5 tie. The teams were broke and, without any credibility, would remain so. Wallace, who had been promised a share of the receipts to coach, was left without a dollar, according to newspapers. The players were once more on their own, the appetite for their services severely diminished. They bummed passage back to factory jobs, still popping up at games here and there, of course, although athletic opportunity would never again present itself so generously during their careers.

The scandal was hard to prove and just as impossible to ignore. But, given enough time, it could be forgotten, maybe even forgiven. Anyway, how can you hold anybody responsible for a headlong rush into modernity, the idealization of vigor, the determination to be bigger and better and, of course, to have more fun?

In 1920 a group of enthusiasts got together and agreed to form something called the National Football League. It was an idea they hatched to graduate the game into a new era of professionalism and produce a satisfying spectacle or two. It was an idea whose time had come. They met in a Hupmobile showroom in Canton, not that far from Mahaffey Park. Just around the corner, really.

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