The first professional football game, a matchup between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles, kicked off at Dayton's Triangle Park Oct. 3, 1920.

Happy Birthday, NFL! The story behind Dayton hosting the first-ever NFL game

The first game of what would become the National Football League, a matchup between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles, kicked off at Dayton’s Triangle Park Oct. 3, 1920.

Four thousand people paid $1.75 for admission, according to a 2005 Dayton Daily News story. Each player was paid $50.

Lou Partlow, a halfback for the Dayton Triangles, scored the first touchdown in NFL play. The Triangles beat the Columbus Panhandles on October 3, 1920. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Three factories founded by Dayton industrialists Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering sponsored the team first.

A story in the morning newspaper at the time touted the gridiron skills of the hometown team before the game: “Everyone knows that the passing game is one of the strong points of the Triangle team.”

 

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But “the Triangles do not need to rely on the passing game alone,” the story went on, “for they have backs who can circle ends and they have Louie Partlow, the demon plunger, who can puncture most any line with his terrific smashes.”

Lou Partlow, the Triangles running back, scored the first touchdown in that game and was known for his unusual and intense conditioning methods.

To stay fit he ran through the woods bordering the Great Miami River leaping over roots and occasionally ramming his shoulder into a tree, a primitive and immovable form of blocking sled.

The front page of the Oct. 3, 1920 Dayton Daily News gave a preview of the first professional football game held between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles. The story featured photos of some of the players.

His timber training earned him the nickname “the West Carrollton battering ram,” according to the 2005 story.

 

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The spectators at Triangle Park, “the biggest crowd that ever witnessed the opening of the professional grid season in this city,” glimpsed a shutout by the home team that fall day. The Dayton Triangles won 14-0.

The Oct. 4, 1920 edition of the Dayton Daily News summed up the players contributions on the field.

The Dayton Triangles football team (1920-1929) played in the first game for what is now known as the National Football League (NFL). The Triangles beat the Columbus Panhandles 14-0 on Oct. 3, 1920 in Dayton s Triangle Park.
Photo: HANDOUT

“The old favorites were on the job every minute. The spectacular work of Bacon, the usual ground gaining of Partlow, the squirming of Norb Sacksteder, the generalship of Mahrt, the speed and tackling of Fenner, Thiele and Reese, the defense of Kinderdine and the sturdy holding of the various athletes who were in at guard and tackle made the opening play of the season something nifty for the fans to watch.

“But it was more than a victory which tickled the folks, Sunday. The all-around work of the Triangles was excellent.”

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