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How American Football’s Rich and Exciting History Began in Ohio

From peewee football to the NFL, football is alive and strong

A missed tackle of the football reciever in an early 1900s Ohio football game.

American Football is back. One of the most popular sports in the world, fans, young and old, are gearing up for an exciting season on the gridiron.

From the early days of the pigskin, Ohio has played a pivotal role in shaping the sport we see today.

Birthplace of Professional Football

In 1920, a meeting was held in Canton, Ohio, which would change the sports world as we know it. The American Professional Football Association (APFA) was established, and two years later, the name was changed to the National Football League (NFL). 

In recognition of Canton’s role in the early days of the league, combined with a passionate rallying call by city residents, the Pro Football of Fame declared Canton their home. Another lure may have been the sport’s early success by Canton Bulldogs with star player Jim Thorpe.

The Ohio League

Before there was the NFL, there was the Ohio League. From the early 1900s until 1919, a loosely organized group of teams played on the gridiron and became the core of the APFA in 1920. 

Ohio NFL Teams

The Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals are Ohio’s two NFL teams today. Yet both teams enjoy passionate fan bases extending beyond the state’s borders and creating an intense rivalry when their schedules cross paths.  

In the days before the NFL, other teams in the state, such as the Canton Bulldogs and the Dayton Triangles, dominated the sport.

College Football

Ohio is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes, one of the most famous programs in college sports history. Having won numerous national championships, they remain a powerhouse in the sport today. It is often said that Ohioans bleed scarlet and grey, the team colors.

I’m not shy about the love I have for this great state. To bring now a national title to the great state of Ohio, it’s almost surreal.   – Urban Meyer

A large banner saying Ohio Against The World being waved at an Ohio State Football game.

Other smaller universities, such as the University of Cincinnati and Miami University, enjoy a solid fan base and contribute to the sport’s popularity in Ohio.

High School Football

Friday night lights are a tradition in big and small cities nationwide. But for cities like Massillon and Canton, high school football is in their DNA. Drawing large crowds and rivalries that go back decades, the games involve whole communities in who wins or loses and is a way of life for these two towns. 

A little boy playing with a small toy football with eye black smudged under his eyes.

The Legend and Innovator

Ohio has been home to many of the game’s early pioneers and legendary figures. For whom the Cleveland Browns were named, Paul Brown is one of football’s great trailblazers. He brought many changes to how football is coached and played. After taking the Cleveland Browns to seven league titles in 11 years, he founded the Cincinnati Bengals in 1967.

Ohio’s long history with the sport can not be understated. From the establishment of professional play to how the games look today, Ohio’s mark on football remains indelible. 

If you enjoy football or tailgating, check out Fall Brings Football, Tailgating, and Excitement. Discover the history and appeal of this pregame pastime. 

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