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Issue Date: September 2013

Why We Love Football: It Started Here

Two rivals helped fuel our love of the game.
by Matt Tullis

Canton vs. Massillon.

While professional football was born in Pittsburgh, Northeast Ohio became the cradle thanks to a rivalry that began in 1905, when Massillon beat Canton, 14-4, for the Ohio League championship.

Then things got ugly. Before the 1906 season, Canton’s Bulldogs signed the entire backfield away from Massillon’s Tigers. Massillon responded, becoming the first professional team to use the forward pass when George “Peggy” Parratt threw a completion to Dan “Bullet” Riley in the team’s Oct. 25 win over Benwood-Moundsville.

Massillon outscored its opponents 438-0 over the eight-game 1906 season; Canton a mere 285-0.

The distaste between the two clubs inspired legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice of the Cleveland News to write: “The coming conflict between Massillon and Canton furnishes a climax of a rivalry as full of romance and interest as the pipe dreams of the old troubadours, or the epics which the late Mr. Homer dumped upon an unsuspecting public.”

When they finally met at season’s end, the Bulldogs won the first of the potential three-game series. Eight-days later, Massillon returned the favor. Then allegations swirled that the Bulldogs coach and a Massillon player conspired to fix the series so there would be a third game and big payout.

The scandal rocked the fledgling pro sport. The third game was a flop, a 5-5 tie with about 500 in attendance. With the rivals competing for players, the escalating salaries left both teams in near financial ruin at the end of the season.

It took a decade for the professional game to recover, when the Akron Pros won the first American Professional Football Association championship in 1920. The Canton Bulldogs won in 1922 and ‘23, before moving to Cleveland for a championship in 1924.

The Canton Bulldogs won the American Professional Football Association championship in 1922 and '23 »

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