Ironton Tanks

The Ironton Tanks were a semi-professional football team organized in 1919 in Ironton, Ohio.

Ironton Tanks
Founded1919
Folded1930
Based inIronton, Ohio, United States
LeagueIndependent
Team historyIronton Tanks (1919–1930)
Team colorsScarlet Red, Gold, White      
Nickname(s)Big Red
The Big Red Machine
Head coachesEarle Louis "Greasy" Neale (1930)
Home field(s)Beechwood Stadium (1919–1926)
Tank Stadium (1926–1930)

Their historical marker gives the story of the Tanks origin: "Semi-professional football began in Ironton in 1893 with a team known as the Irontonians. The Ironton Tanks, founded in 1919, was a combination of two Ironton cross-town rival football clubs known as the Irish Town Rags and the Lombards."[1] Their name reflected both the town's deep roots in the iron industry and the desire of returning soldiers from World War I to run over their opponents.[2]

Historical significanceEdit

Based on their outstanding record of 85 wins, 19 losses, 14 ties, an undefeated season in 1922, a state championship in 1926 and dual victories in 1930 over National Football League (NFL) powerhouses the Chicago Bears and New York Giants,[2] the Tanks have a strong claim to being the best team to not play in the NFL. This motto is reinforced on the wall of Tank Stadium, where the story of the stadium opening proclaims "When the Tanks Were Tops" (2nd picture in photo gallery below). Their unmatched achievements in 1930 are recorded in a Professional Football Researchers Association's report on the 1930 season[3] when talking about non-NFL teams: "None, however, matched the Ironton (Ohio) Tanks' 1930 achievements."[4]

Although the Ironton Tanks ceased operations after the 1930 season, they lived on. Over half of the Tanks moved on to other NFL teams, the most, including Glenn Presnel stayed in Ironton and played for the Portsmouth Spartans (only 30 miles away) until they too folded in 1933. The combined team strength from the Tank infusion and the addition of rookie Dutch Clark, a future Hall of Famer, turned the Spartans into a power to be reckoned with. In 1932 the Spartans were among the best in the league but lost to the Chicago Bears in the first NFL playoff game, but after the next year in the depths of the depression, the Spartans too folded. Their assets were purchased to pay off debt and the team became the Detroit Lions in 1934. Without presence of the Tanks on the roster the Spartan record would have been less successful and likely not worth being bought and moved to become the Detroit Lions. So the forerunners of today's Lions were both the Tanks and Spartans.

NFL Thanksgiving Day Game Tradition and transfer to the Detroit LionsEdit

As with most football teams of the era, the Tanks regularly played games over Thanksgiving weekend. The Tanks played a game the day after Thanksgiving with the Lombards, a crosstown rival on Friday Nov 26, 1920 winning 26-0 when many people were off due to the holiday. They began the actual string of Thanksgiving Day Games by defeating the Huntington Boosters 12–0 on Thursday Nov 30, 1922. The Tanks continued playing on this national holiday each year through 1930, which was the Tanks final season. Several Tank players (including Glenn Presnell) continued their football careers by joining the nearby Portsmouth Spartans. They did not continue the annual tradition through their demise after the 1933 season. The Spartans assets were acquired and moved to Detroit where they were renamed the Lions. Asked by their new owner (G.A. Richards) about ways to improve ticket sales, the former Tanks players (led by Presnell) indicated that in the past (as Tanks) that they always got a good turnout on Thanksgiving Day. This led him to schedule the first Thanksgiving Day Game in Detroit (actually the 10th game of the series). One thing that made the first game in Detroit so notable was arranging NBC to broadcast the game nationally, reaching a larger audience and developing a national clamor for repeats in following years.

Local rivalriesEdit

Perhaps more important to Ironton residents at the time were the local rivalries with other cities in the Ohio area, particularly Portsmouth, where the local sentiment was summed up by this quote “ancient and hereditary foes”.[5] Despite being a small town, only about 1/3 the size of Portsmouth, the Tanks are referred to by Carl Becker refers as the dominant team of the era, "In the 1920s, the "famous" Ironton Tanks were the sovereigns of semi-professional football in the upper Ohio Valley, indeed even in the state of Ohio".[2] Other rivals were the Ashland Armcos, from across the river in Kentucky, Dayton Koors, several teams from Cincinnati, Columbus and Akron,[6] but none appeared to have stirred the fans' passion as did the different Portsmouth teams that appeared between 1920 and 1930.

Earle Louis "Greasy" NealeEdit

The most colorful figure to be associated with the Ironton Tanks was their legendary coach Earle Louis Neale, known as Greasy Neale. He is the only person to have coached in the Rose Bowl (1922),[7] won the World Series (Reds vs White Sox, 1919) and won an NFL title (Philadelphia Eagles back to back 1948-49). Greasy insisted his Reds won the scandal-plagued 1919 "Black Sox" Series because of better pitching.[8]

Glenn PresnellEdit

The best player for the Tanks was Glenn Presnell. Besides leading the Tanks to victories over the Giants and Bears, guiding the Portsmouth Spartans to third place in the NFL regular season championship in 1932, he helped the Detroit Lions to their first NFL championship in 1935. Not only did he play both sides of the ball, Glenn Presnell held the NFL longest field goal record for 19 years, with a 54 yarder that beat the Green Bay Packers 3–0. He led the NFL in scoring in 1933 with 64 points from TDs, field goals and points after TDs.[9] He graduated from the University of Nebraska as an All-American in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in Education and was honored with an Alumni award in 2003 at the age of 97.[10] Glenn was inducted into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame, citing his three Letters as a Cornhusker, leading the nation in total yards as a senior, All-Missouri Valley two times, and twice being NFL All-pro.[11] He was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame[12] in 1973 and named 34th out of Nebraska's top 100 athletes.[13] Interesting trivia is that his wife helped choose the famous powder blue uniforms for the Detroit Lions when the team moved from Portsmouth, Ohio.[9][14] However, Glenn's memory is challenged by the Lions official site[15] Outside this minor controversy, Glenn and the Lions seemed to have gotten along well. He posed with a football from "Your Friends at the Detroit Lions" crowning him the "LionKing".[14] Many feel his NFL career itself deserved entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,[16] while others have said he was unfairly discriminated against because of his years with the Tanks. An online petition to support his entry to the Football Hall of Fame, in nearby Canton, Ohio, has also attracted attention,[17] Note: Glen has been referenced in several publications as being named an All-American while at Nebraska. In studying the Nebraska football media guide, no individual records other than participantion and team win-loss is recorded for that time frame. The Nebraska media guide does show All-American award winners, and Glenn is not shown as on that list. No effort has been made to confirm directly with any sports officials at the University of Nebraska if this is correct. Also the Wikipedia reference for All-American awards for Glenn's years at Nebraska does not show him being awarded the honor. Again, the total evidence confirming his status in unclear. As evidence of Glenn's outstanding career, it can be shown that his on the field performance both as a Tank, Spartan and Lion were exemplary and several other teams had shown interest in signing him upon the Tanks demise. Indeed, Glenns contributions and performance as a starting halfback and safety in his years with the Detroit Lions were key in their becoming 1935 World Champions. Glenn Presnell was honored by the Lions in 1995 at halftime against the Packers as a member of the 60th anniversary of the 1935 championship by being driven to the 50 yard line in a Ford Model T.

UniformsEdit

The Tanks uniform was also noteworthy, a distinctive blend of khaki pants and red jerseys, reminiscent of the 49ers today. They were nicknamed Big Red and the Big Red Machine[18] and appear to be the first team to sport this intimidating moniker.

Reasons for successEdit

  • Recruiting: The Tanks found success against teams from much larger markets and the NFL primarily thanks to the leader of the early years Charlton "Shorty" Davies and Bill Brooks, his teammate at Ohio State.[19] The early Tanks typically played without helmets and made fifty dollars a game but sometimes were not paid (F.C. "Dutch" McCarthy, private conversation). However, they were able to attract top players by providing coaching and teaching jobs in the surrounding areas. Charlton "Shorty" Davies coached at Ironton High School.[19] Glenn Presnell taught science at Ironton High School and coached at Russel. Other Tanks taught or coached at Hanging Rock, Pedro, Blackfork, South Point, Chesapeake, Coal Grove, Proctorville, Rome and Raceland.[20]
  • Offensive strategy: Although the Tanks operated out of the standard formation of the day, the single wing, they were able to use the pass, in part because of Presnell's threat to run from the tailback position. He credited his superior speed more than quick cuts. The ball was more round than today, which made a passing game even more difficult.[20] Still the Tanks were able to innovate with "looping and angle charges still being used today by teams of the National Football League".[1]

Preserving the Tank legendEdit

The town of Ironton has maintained the legend of these proud footballers by designating the stadium with historical status and creating a fund for its maintenance[21] in addition to a Tribute website[22] with their complete schedule and results.[23] Ironton native Dave Berry wrote a song in tribute to the professional football played in the region.[24]

Tank Memorial StadiumEdit

The Ironton Tanks originally played in Beechwood Stadium but following through on local enthusiasm a stadium fund was created and Tank Stadium was built in 1926. This stadium still stands today and is being used by Ironton High School. It is one of the last covered stadiums in use for high school football today.[1] The stadium was later renamed to Tanks Memorial Stadium, the name in use to the present day. In 2009, the field at Tanks Memorial Stadium was given the additional name of Bob Lutz Field in honor of long-time Ironton head coach Bob Lutz. During the summer of 2014, Tank Memorial Stadium's playing surface was upgraded to Field Turf.

Schedule and results by yearEdit

1919Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 November 4 Tuesday New Boston Tigers W 9–0 1–0
2 November 11 Tuesday Ashland Playhouse L 0–7 1–1
3 November 18 Tuesday Ashland Playhouse T 0–0 1–1–1
4 November 25 Tuesday Portsmouth N & W W 12–0 2–1–1

1920Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 October 10 Sunday Morris Harvey L 0–14 0–1
2 October 24 Sunday Smoke House T 6–6 0–1–1
3 November 6 Saturday Marshall W 13–0 1–1–1
4 November 8 Monday New Boston Tigers W 77–0 2–1–1
5 November 15 Monday Nitro W 13–0 3–1–1
6 November 26 Friday Lombards W 26–0 4–1–1
7 November 29 Monday Smoke House W 14–0 5–1–1

1921Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 October 2 Sunday Jackson Bearcats W 6–0 1–0
2 October 16 Sunday Charleston Westside W 34–0 2–0
3 October 23 Sunday Ashland Tigers W 7–0 3–0
4 October 30 Sunday Smoke House T 0–0 3–0–1
5 November 13 Sunday Lombards W 21–7 4–0–1
6 November 20 Sunday Smoke House W 14–0 5–0–1
7 November 27 Sunday Wellston Eagles T 0–0 5–0–2
8 December 4 Sunday Morris Harvey W 19–14 6–0–2
9 December 11 Sunday Wellston Eagles W 7–6 7–0–2

1922Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 October 1 Sunday Columbus Olympians W 13–6 1–0
2 October 8 Sunday Athens W 19–0 2–0
3 October 15 Sunday Huntington Boosters W 18–7 3–0
4 October 22 Sunday Williamson W 76–0 4–0
5 October 29 Sunday Jackson Bearcats W 40–0 5–0
6 November 5 Sunday Huntington Boosters T 7–7 5–0–1
7 November 12 Sunday Lancaster W 38–0 6–0–1
8 November 26 Sunday Washington Ct. House W 45–0 7–0–1
9 November 30 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Huntington Boosters W 12–10 8–0–1

1923Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 30 Sunday Ironton Eagles W 46–0 1–0
2 October 7 Sunday Columbus Seagraves W 18–0 2–0
3 October 14 Sunday Columbus Westside W 7–6 3–0
4 October 21 Sunday Portsmouth Smoke House 40–0 4–0
5 October 28 Sunday Huntington Boosters W 7–0 5–0
6 November 4 Sunday Logan Wildcats W 7–0 6–0
7 November 11 Sunday Huntington Boosters L 6–12 6–1
8 November 18 Sunday Cincinnati Saints W 31–0 7–1
9 November 25 Sunday Portsmouth Smoke House W 21–6[25] 8–1
10 November 29 Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) Cincinnati Harrisons W 20–0 9–1
11 December 9 Sunday Huntington Boosters W 26–0 10–1

1924Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 21 Sunday Ironton Panthers W 38–0 1–0
2 September 28 Sunday Columbus JungleImps W 25–6 2–0
3 October 5 Sunday Murray City Tigers W 7–0 3–0
4 October 12 Sunday Louisville Brecks W 31–0 4–0
5 October 19 Sunday Cincinnati Potters W 14–3 5–0
6 October 26 Sunday Akron Silents W 19–0 6–0
7 November 2 Sunday Huntington Boosters W 6–0 7–0
8 November 9 Sunday Smoke House W 44–0 8–0
9 November 16 Sunday Cincinnati Potters W 7–3 9–0
10 November 23 Sunday Covington C.A.C W 12–0 10–0
11 November 27 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Huntington Boosters W 21–0 11–0
12 November 29 Saturday Smoke House T 0–0 11–0–1

1925Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 27 Sunday Chillicothe W 29–0 1–0
2 October 4 Sunday Columbus Bobbs W 35–0 2–0
3 October 11 Sunday Cincinnati Potters W 15–6 3–0
4 October 18 Sunday Ashland Armcos W 21–6 4–0
5 October 25 Sunday Huntington Boosters W 12–0 5–0
6 November 1 Sunday Columbus Wagner Pirates W 19–5 6–0
7 November 8 Sunday Ashland Armcos W 9–0 7–0
8 November 15 Sunday Huntington Boosters T 0–0 7–0–1
9 November 22 Sunday Dayton Koors T 7–7 7–0–2
10 November 26 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Canton Bulldogs L 0–12 7–1–2
11 November 29 Sunday Cincinnati Potters W 9–0 8–1–2
12 December 14 Monday Dayton Koors W 24–6 9–1–2

1926Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 19 Sunday Columbus All Stars W 27–0 1–0
2 September 26 Sunday Middletown Armcos W 27–0 2–0
3 October 3 Sunday Columbus Wagner Pirates W 39–0 3–0
4 October 10 Sunday Dayton Koors W 23–0 4–0
5 October 17 Sunday Cleveland Indians W 47–0 5–0
6 October 24 Sunday Ashland Armcos W 2–0 6–0
7 October 31 Sunday Akron Silents W 27–0 7–0
8 November 7 Sunday Portsmouth Presidents W 9–0 8–0
9 November 14 Sunday Kokomo American Legion W 15–0 9–0
10 November 21 Sunday Ashland Armcos W 7–0 10–0
11 November 25 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Kansas City Cowboys T 0–0 10–0–1
12 October 28 Sunday Cincinnati Potters L 0–28 10–1–1
13 December 5 Sunday Portsmouth Presidents W 33–0 11–1–1

1927Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 18 Sunday Columbus Bobbs W 7–0 1–0
2 September 25 Sunday Middletown Armcos L 0–7 1–1
3 October 2 Sunday Toledo Boosters W 25–7 2–1
4 October 16 Sunday Shelby Blues W 14–0 3–1
5 October 23 Sunday Ashland Armcos T 0–0 3–1–1
6 October 30 Sunday Akron Indians W 27–0 4–1–1
7 November 6 Sunday Portsmouth Shoe Steels W 18–0 5–1–1
8 November 13 Sunday Ashland Armcos T 7–7 5–1–2
9 November 20 Sunday Portsmouth Shoe Steels L 0–7 5–2–2
10 November 24 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Middletown Armcos L 0–8 5–3–2
11 November 27 Sunday Logan Wildcats W 14–0 6–3–2

1928Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 30 Sunday Columbus Bobbs W 52–0 1–0
2 October 7 Sunday Cleveland Panthers W 47–0 2–0
3 October 14 Sunday Akron Awnings T 0–0 2–0–1
4 October 21 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans T 0–0 2–0–2
5 October 28 Sunday Ashland Armcos L 6–7 2–1–2
6 November 4 Sunday Cincinnati Guards W 7–0 3–1–2
7 November 11 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans T 0–0 3–1–3
8 November 18 Sunday Middletown Armcos W 13–0 4–1–3
9 November 25 Sunday Ashland Armcos W 3–0 5–1–3
10 November 29 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Akron Awnings W 19–0 6–1–3
11 December 9 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans W 14–0 7–1–3

1929Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 22 Sunday Columbus Medal Tailers W 39–0 1–0
2 September 29 Sunday Chillicothe Eagles W 6–0 2–0
3 October 6 Sunday Toledo Boosters W 78–0 3–0
4 October 13 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans W 3–0 4–0
5 October 20 Sunday Ashland Armcos L 2–7 4–1
6 October 27 Sunday Akron Awnings W 7–5 5–1
7 November 3 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans L 0–20 5–2
8 November 10 Sunday Cincinnati Guards L 0–5 5–3
9 November 17 Sunday Ashland Armcos L 0–7 5–4
10 November 24 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans L 0–38 5–5
11 November 28 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Akron Awnings L 3–7 5–6

1930Edit

Game Date Day Opponent Result Record
1 September 28 Sunday Portsmouth Spartans (NFL) L 6–7 0–1
2 October 5 Sunday Chillicothe Eagles W 14–0 1–1
3 October 12 Sunday Akron Awnings W 3–0 2–1
4 October 15 Wednesday Portsmouth Spartans (NFL) W 16–15 3–1
5 October 26 Sunday Polish-American Athletic Club of Washington W 70–0 4–1
6 November 2 Sunday Memphis Tigers L 0–7 4–2
7 November 11 Tuesday New York Giants (NFL) W 13–12 5–2
8 November 16 Sunday Akron Awnings W 13–0 6–2
9 November 23 Sunday Chicago Bears (NFL) W 26–13 7–2
10 November 27 Thursday (Thanksgiving) Portsmouth Spartans (NFL) L 0–12 7–3

Photo galleryEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c "Ohio Historical Society".
  2. ^ a b c Becker, Carl M. The "Famous" Ironton Tanks The Coffin Corner Volume XIX Professional Football Researchers Association
  3. ^ "PFRA report on the 1930 season".
  4. ^ Carrol, Bob. Nagurski's Debut and Rockne's Lesson Pro Football in 1930 The Coffin Corner Volume XX Professional Football Researchers Association
  5. ^ Becker, Carl M. Ringers Three: The Ironton Tanks versus the Portsmouth Smoke House, 1921 Journal of Sport History Volume 25, Number 3 page 434
  6. ^ The Ironton Tanks Game Results Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine irontonfootball.com Archived 2007-08-15 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Washington & Jefferson versus the University of California 0-0 tie
  8. ^ Mann, Alan. The Unique Career of Greasy Neale Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ a b Dow, Bill. Presnell's Team Made Holiday Game a Classic Archived 2007-08-18 at the Wayback Machine 1999 Portsmouth Spartan's Historical Society
  10. ^ Paquette, Marti. University of Nebraska Alumni Awards Program 2003
  11. ^ Nebraska High School Hall of Fame Newsletter Archived 2003-08-29 at the Wayback Machine 2003
  12. ^ Nebraska Football Hall of Fame
  13. ^ Rodino, John Nebraska's Top 100 Athletes Omaha World Herald 8/22/2005
  14. ^ a b Green, Jerry Motor City Memories NFL's Oldest Former Player Presnell Recalls Early Days in Detroit Archived 2007-08-21 at the Wayback Machine Gannet News Service July 7, 2003
  15. ^ Lions official site and wiki page, which credit Cy Huston, the first GM and VP with the choice of "Honolulu Blue".
  16. ^ DatabaseFootball.Com Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Glenn Presnell...Petition for Induction in the Professional Football Hall of Fame, Canton, OH". www.angelfire.com.
  18. ^ "Ironton Tanks - Ohio History Central". www.ohiohistorycentral.org.
  19. ^ a b Payne, Phillip G. Big Time Football in Ironton Ohio, Small Town Boosterism and the Early Days of Professional Football Buckeye Hill Country: A Journal of Regional History. II (Spring, 1997): 7-23
  20. ^ a b Vaughn, Bob, Ridgeway, Jim Our Interview with Glenn Presnell Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Tank Stadium Fund Archived 2007-08-16 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Tribute website". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-24.
  23. ^ "complete schedule and results". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  24. ^ "Dave Berry Singer Songwriter Men of Iron and Steel Page". tuhker.tripod.com.
  25. ^ "Ringers by the Van: The Ironton Tanks vs. the Portsmouth Smoke House, 1923" (PDF).