Detroit (1920s NFL teams)

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Detroit (1920s NFL teams era)
Founded1905 (Heralds/Tigers), 1925 (Panthers), 1928 (Wolverines)
Folded1921 (Heralds/Tigers), 1926 (Panthers), 1928 (Wolverines)
Based inDetroit, Michigan, United States
LeagueOhio League (1911–1919)
AFPA (1920–1921)
National Football League (1925–1926, 1928)
Team historyDetroit Heralds (1905–1920)
Detroit Tigers (1921)
Detroit Panthers (1925–1926)
Detroit Wolverines (1928)
Team colorsRed, White (Heralds)
Orange, Black, White (Tigers)
Blue, Gold, White (Panthers)
Unknown (Wolverines)
Home field(s)Navin Field (Heralds, Tigers, Panthers)
Dinan Field (Wolverines)

Detroit, Michigan had four early teams in the National Football League before the Detroit Lions. The Heralds played in 1920, and had played as an independent as far back as 1905. The Tigers, a continuation of the Heralds, played in 1921, folding midseason and sending their players to the Buffalo All-Americans. The Panthers competed from 1925 to 1926 and the Wolverines in 1928.

Team histories[edit]

Detroit Heralds/Tigers[edit]

In 1905, several University of Detroit football players, led by Bill Marshall, organized the Heralds as an amateur team after the University did not field a squad due to financial issues. It was at this time that the team adopted the school's colors, red and white, as their own. While the University's football team resumed play in 1906, the Heralds continued to play as an amateur team. In 1911, the team dropped its amateur status and became semi-professional and left the campus. Admission to the team's games was soon charged and the players were paid a small sum. In 1916, several out-of-town players were brought in to replace some of the older players, several of whom had been with the Heralds since 1905.

Despite not being based in Ohio, the Heralds played many of their games against teams in the Ohio League. In 1917, the team recorded an 8–2 record, their only losses coming at the hands of the Ohio League champion Canton Bulldogs and a military team from Battle Creek. Many of the Heralds' victories were against future NFL teams. The Heralds were a rarity in 1918; while most teams either stopped play or reduced their schedules to only local teams because of World War I and the flu pandemic, the Heralds continued to play a full schedule and even travel to other cities, accruing a 6–2 record with both losses coming to the Ohio League champion Dayton Triangles. In 1919, as the suspended teams resumed play and travel restrictions eased significantly, the Heralds went 2–4–2, including losses to Canton and the Massillon Tigers.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League in 1922) was established. While the Heralds did not officially join the association, they are listed in league standings for the season. In 1920, the Heralds comprised a 1–3 record, while inclement weather eliminated their November schedule, financially devastating the team.

The Heralds were reorganized into the Detroit Tigers, after the city's major league baseball team, for the 1921 season. However, after a win and a tie in their first two games, the Tigers lost the next five. Several players complained about not getting paid and left the team during the season. The team officially folded at the end of the season in mid-November. Its players were given to the Buffalo All-Americans, whose season was still ongoing, to complete their roster after the All-Americans terminated their player-sharing agreement with the Union Quakers of Philadelphia.

Detroit Panthers[edit]

In 1925, Detroit fielded its second NFL franchise, the Detroit Panthers. The team was organized by future Hall of Famer, Jimmy Conzelman. Conzelman was a quarterback who recently played with the Decatur Staleys, Rock Island Independents and the Milwaukee Badgers. Conzelman served as the team's owner, coach, and starting quarterback. He built the team around a strong defense started the season 8–1. However a 6–3 upset loss to Rock Island on Thanksgiving Day knocked the Panthers out of first place and they ended the season in third.

The Panthers hoped to build on their 1925 season, but they opened the 1926 season with an 0–3 record. After rallying to a 4–0–2 record in their next six games, they lost their last three. Conzelman gave up the franchise and joined the Providence Steam Roller as player-coach. He won NFL Championships with Providence in 1928 and the Chicago Cardinals in 1947. The "Panthers" name returned to the NFL in 1995 in the form of the Carolina Panthers.

Detroit Wolverines[edit]

For the 1926 season, the NFL added several smaller-market teams to keep them out of the rival American Football League. However, after the AFL folded in 1927, the league began moving its small-market franchises to the larger cities. Following the 1927 campaign, the Cleveland Bulldogs (despite an 8–4–1 record) were sold to Elliot Fisher and its franchise was canceled. Bulldogs' quarterback Benny Friedman (a Michigan native), coach LeRoy Andrews and several other players then formed a new team, the Detroit Wolverines (presumably taking its name from the Michigan Wolverines football team, Friedman's alma mater), under Fisher's ownership. (Even though the Bulldogs and Wolverines were separate franchises, they are included together in several record books because they had the same coach and most of the same players.) The Wolverines finished their 1928 season in third place with a 7–2-1 record, losing only to the Providence Steam Roller and the Frankford Yellow Jackets -- the NFL's first- and second-place teams (with both games on the road).

However, Tim Mara, the owner of the New York Giants, was interested in acquiring Friedman (especially after Detroit socked the Giants, 28-0 in Detroit and later played them to a 19-all tie at the Polo Grounds). Rather than simply buy or trade for Friedman, Mara bought the entire Wolverines franchise and promptly deactivated it, delivering Friedman (and other star Wolverines players) to New York. The NFL did not return to the Motor City for six years, when the Portsmouth Spartans became the Detroit Lions in 1934.

Past Thanksgiving Day games[edit]

While the Lions are well known for playing on Thanksgiving Day, the other Detroit teams had a history of playing on Thanksgiving Day as well:

Pro Football Hall of Famers[edit]


Year W L T Finish Coach
Heralds 1920 2 3 3 9th Bill Marshall
Tigers 1921 1 5 1 16th Bill Marshall
Panthers 1925 8 2 2 3rd Jimmy Conzelman
1926 4 6 2 12th Jimmy Conzelman
Wolverines 1928 7 2 1 3rd LeRoy Andrews


  • Team colors site
  • Detroit Heralds history
  • Detroit Panthers history
  • Detroit Wolverines history
  • Bak, Richard (1998). A Place For Fummer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2512-2.