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Latrobe Athletic Association

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Latrobe Athletic Association
Founded 1895
Folded 1909
Based in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, United States
Home field Latrobe YMCA
League Independent
Team History Latrobe Athletic Association
(1895–1907)
Team Colors Orange, Maroon[1] (1895–1898)
         
Red and Blue (1898–1903)
         
Red, Green (1903–1909)
         
Nickname(s) "Latrobers"
Head coaches Russell Aukerman (1895–1896)
John Brallier (1896)
Walter Okeson (1897)
Alfred E. Bull (1898)
Russell Knight (1899–1900)
John Brallier (1902–1907)
General managers David J. Berry (1895–1904)
John Brallier (1904–1907)
Owner(s) Latrobe YMCA
Undefeated seasons (4) 1898, 1903, 1904, 1905

The Latrobe Athletic Association was a professional football team located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1895 until 1909. The team is most famous for being the first team made up of professional players to play a full season of football. Also the team's quarterback, John Brallier, became the first football player to openly turn pro, accepting $10 and expenses to play for Latrobe against the Jeannette Athletic Club.[2]

HistoryEdit

OriginsEdit

In 1895 the local Latrobe YMCA decided to organize a local football team and play a formal schedule. With the decision, Russell Aukerman, an instructor at the YMCA and a former Gettysburg College halfback, was named as a player-coach. Meanwhile, David Berry, an editor-publisher of the local newspaper, was chosen as the team's manager. Harry Ryan was elected captain.

The team began daily practice in early August. Since many of the players held jobs unrelated to football, those men working different mill shifts were accommodated with evening drills when they could not attend regular sessions in the afternoon. Their practices were held on a street-lighted vacant Pennsylvania Railroad lot at the corner of Depot and Alexandria Streets.

First openly professional football playerEdit

John Brallier 1895 W&J uniform cropped

John Brallier: The First Openly Professional Football Player

Just before the start of the season, Latrobe quarterback Eddie Blair found himself in a scheduling conflict. Blair, who also played baseball in nearby Greensburg, discovered that the team's first football game against Jeannette conflicted with a prior baseball commitment. Manager Berry, who was now seeking a replacement for Blair, had heard of a Indiana Normal quarterback named John Brallier. He contacted the youth at his home in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and offered him expenses to play for Latrobe. However Brallier was not particularly anxious to play, anticipating his entrance into Washington & Jefferson College in a few weeks. Finally, Berry offered $10 a game plus expenses, while promising several other games. This offer made Brallier the first openly paid football player. The quarterback arrived in Latrobe the night before the game and practiced with the team under a street light.

The 1895 seasonEdit

1895 Latrobe team

Latrobe's 1895 Team

The first game of the season was played on September 3, 1895 a Tuesday afternoon. Before the game, a parade formed on the paved street, the newly finished Ligonier Street between Main and Depot Streets. The parade was led by Billy Showalter’s Cornet Band, while the Latrobe and Jeannette teams followed in full uniforms. The Latrobe team colors of Orange and Maroon were displayed in store windows, hotels, and on street corner poles. Stores closed, and steel mines and coal and coke works declared a half-holiday for the occasion. The game began at 4:00 pm with Latrobe coming out the victor over the [Jeannette Athletic Association. Auckerman scored two touchdowns, while Brallier kicked two field goals for a final score of 12–0.

After the game, Brallier played with the Latrobe squad against a squad from Altoona, Pennsylvania, before traveling to Washington & Jefferson for college. While at Washington and Jefferson, Braillier became the college's varsity quarterback. Meanwhile the 1895 Latrobe YMCA team ended up playing 11 games, for a record of 7–4 with two losses to the Greensburg Athletic Association, with single losses to Altoona and West Virginia University.

1896Edit

The Latrobers took to the field again in 1896. Many of the players were those who had performed for the YMCA the year before. Brallier accepted an offer to return to the team and served as quarterback and coach. The team started off with wins against the Pittsburgh Imperials, the renamed Jeannette Indians, Altoona, and Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh) before finally losing to the rival Greensburg Athletic Association. The team later split a series against West Virginia University and won against Braillier's former Normal Indiana team, before once again losing to Greensburg for a 7–3 record.

First All-Pro teamEdit

1897 Latrobe

1897 Latrobe Team: The First All Professional Team to Play an Entire Season

The Latrobe team went all-professional in 1897, by signing a number of college players from the east coast, and as far west as Iowa, to the team. Walter Okeson, an All-American end from Lehigh University who later headed the Eastern Intercollegiate Football Officials and the NCAA Collegiate Rules Committee, was signed as coach. Also joining the team was George Shelafo of the Carlisle Indian School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Shelafo had just about completed arrangements to play for the University of Chicago before he was lured to Latrobe by David Berry. After the team's game against Western University of Pennsylvania, Doggie Trenchard and Eddie Blair, the team's original quarterback joined the team.

The Latrobe squad began the season 7–0–1 with wins over Jeannette, Pittsburgh Emeralds, Pittsburgh College, Pitt, and a tough team from Youngstown, Ohio. The team remained undefeated before facing the Duquesne Athletic Club for a 12–6 loss at Exhibition Park. However the team did rebound to defeat the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, and Youngstown. The championship of western Pennsylvania was expected to be a battle between Duquesne AC and Pittsburgh AC. But both Greensburg and Youngstown defeated Duquesne. This led to talk of a championship game between Greensburg and Latrobe. However with the season still incomplete, a regular season game between the two clubs took place in Greensburg on November 20, 1897. The game was a hard fought 12–6 victory for Latrobe in what locals called “one of the greatest games ever played in western Pennsylvania.” However after a 18–0 defeat of West Virginia, Latrobe lost the final game of the season to Greensburg. Disputes over officials, players, and the game arrangements preceded the 6–0 loss to Greensburg, which ended the season on a sour and argumentative note for Latrobe partisans. However some solace was salvaged when a Pittsburgh expert picked an all-western Pennsylvania team from among amateur, pro, and college teams, and three of the 11 players were from Latrobe end Walter Okeson, offensive tackle Harry Ryan, and fullback Ed Abbaticchio.

Down yearsEdit

The Latrobe squad remained a strong competitor for next several season. However the team hardly challenged for the western Pennsylvania championship. In 1898 the team started off to a 7–0 record, before losing three games to Pittsburgh AC, Duquesne AC and Greensburg to finish 7–3. The very next season marked the first undefeated season for the team, despite only playing four games. The 1898, 1899 and 1900 seasons showcased is considered to be the Latrobe's most colorful player, Charles L. Barney. Barney would entertain fans and fellow players by lifting and holding a piano while a man played it.

The 1901 Latrobe season was another low-profile year, the team playing only three games. But the stage was set for a later resurgence with development of some squad members. The team lost, 12–0, to a squad from Derry and won two games over teams picked up from men working at Latrobe Steel.

RebuildingEdit

Brallier rejoined the Latrobe football team as player-coach for 1902. The team played only four games that fall. Scoreless ties with Indiana Normal and the Wilkinsburg Sterling Athletic Club were followed by a 22–2 triumph over the Indiana First Regiment team, in which brother faced brother, John’s brother playing right tackle for the Indianans. In the season finale, Latrobe bested the Steel Works aggregation, 17–0. Most of coach Brallier’s players were between the ages of 17–18 years. However the players expressed a desire to learn, and drilled for long hours in fundamentals. Coach Brallier correctly, as it turned out, anticipated what was reflected in street conversation, “wait until next year.”

Undefeated seasonsEdit

1903Edit

For 1903, a YMCA was organized under Latrobe Steel leadership, and its members included the boys of the 1902 team. A football organization was formed with Brallier. A fence was built around the Latrobe Steel athletic grounds with money subscribed by merchants, and new uniforms were ordered. Further experience was added when several former players of the ‘90s rejoined the team. In local quarters, Latrobe was acclaimed western Pennsylvania champion after the undefeated season. Franklin was generally considered the U.S. pro champion that year, and had refused to play Latrobe. Ironically for a team that made history by fielding an all-professional line-up for a complete season, the 1903 Latrobers were all amateurs. Brallier wrote in retrospect in 1934 that the 1903 Latrobe backfield “was the best I had ever played with and the best I have ever seen.”

However, despite their winning season, the Latrobers were losing money. Crowds for the games were small, and that led to a drop in revenue.

1904Edit

The 1904 Latrobers got off to an early start with a June 4 team organization, at which Brallier was elected coach and manager, and Harry Ryan captain. With momentum from the successful 1903 season, a number of new players were added. Among new rules was the field goal reduction from five points to four. 1904 marked a repeat Latrobe squad's undefeated season. The Latrobe team reported using just nine footballs during the 1904 campaign, helping to keep costs down. After all debts and expenses were paid, the 16 players divided about $500 in profits. A big post-season event was a chicken and waffle benefit supper at Mozart Hall, at which over 5,000 waffles “rolled in pools of chicken gravy” were consumed. The Hotel Mahaney held a banquet for the team.

1905Edit

With three years having passed without a defeat, and the team scored on only once, enthusiasm continued high for 1905. One player, Paul Blair, was killed by a train shortly after the 1904 season, but several new college players were obtained. Jobs were secured to bring some to town and keep others. Scheduling was difficult, many teams either refusing to play Latrobe or asking overly high financial guarantees.

This year, however, Latrobe played the Canton Bulldogs from Canton, Ohio. The Bulldogs were a pro team of wide repute which later became a founding member of the National Football League. Canton was a particularly strong team that scored over 100 points in many of its games. A game was arranged November 18, 1905 at Latrobe between the two clubs. Despite injuries to several of the Latrobe players, the team went on to defeat the Bulldogs 6–0.

On December 2, 1905, the Latrobe Bulletin devoted a full page to the three-year Latrobe record of 26 games, all won, and 794 points scored against just five for the opposition. The Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph published two teams of all-stars, and among the 22 western Pennsylvania teams cited were five Latrobe players, tackles Hayes and Van Doren, guards Harry Ryan and Gibson, and quarterback Brallier.

At the end of the year, a Football Association was being planned to include Latrobe, Steelton, Franklin, and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and the Akron Indians, the Canton Bulldogs, the Massillon Tigers, and Shelby Blues in Ohio. The plan was for the teams to settle championships within each state, with the two winners to meet Thanksgiving Day. Salary limits were established, other details were worked out, but the project never materialized.

DeclineEdit

1905 marked the end of a second high plateau in Latrobe professional football history, the 1903–05 and the 1895–98 periods. Many players through the just passed decade were attracted to Latrobe for football, and retained in the community, with industrial, mining, and mercantile positions. The success of the three years through 1905 brought inquiries from prominent players all over the nation who wanted to come to Latrobe in 1906. However, an effort to obtain funds with which to pay players apparently failed when 25 shares at $100 were not subscribed.

On November 29, 1906, the Latrobers were defeated for the first time in four years to Canton 16–0. On top of that, Latrobe had been guaranteed $1,500 for the game, $1,200 of which was to used to pay the players, and $300 for expenses. But the Canton manager was unable to pay, the result of some internal organization problems of the Canton management. The problems had soured Canton's 1,200 fans who turned out for the game, further complicating things. Canton players were not paid as a result, in addition. To help pay for the Latrobe team's expenses a community subscription paper was passed in Latrobe, which raised part of the $300 expense debt, and the balance of the money was borrowed by the YMCA so that it could be paid.

However the events of 1906, and another of 1907, doomed professional football in Latrobe. By October, 1907, sentiment had grown for keeping the football team local and not hiring players from out of town. However, despite the changing atmosphere, the 1907 team was moderately successful with five victories, two losses, and two ties. Ryan was retired; Brallier was semi-retired and served as coach; McDyer played his last year, and Leo Gibson was elected captain.

In a bizarre story, what was labeled as the California (Pennsylvania) YMCA team came to Latrobe for the next game, and was ejected from its rooms at the Parker House for "chasing and frightening a chambermaid," jumping on beds and breaking two of them, and for language "far from what might be asked for from YMCA boys." Latrobe won the game, 38–0, before a small crowd. However, it was later discovered that there wasn't a YMCA in California.

The decrease in community interest and the change to local amateur status in 1907 coincided with John Brallier's last year as a player, although he continued to help coach local town teams. Some of the players continued with the 1908 and 1909 squads, captained by Peck Lawson, but the out of town players and the old rivalries had generally disappeared. An era had passed.

LegacyEdit

Several of the prominent members of the original Latrobe professional football teams, including Brallier, Ryan, Abbaticchio, Flickinger, Saxman, McDyer, and Peck Lawson, were around Latrobe for many years. Abbaticchio played major league baseball for a decade, Brallier practiced dentistry, and the others were generally employed in local industry. Dr. Brallier served the community in several ways, perhaps the most significant being his 20-year tenure as a school director, from which he retired at the end of 1931. In 1979, John Brallier was voted one of the "Best Pros Not in the Hall of Fame" by the Pro Football Researchers Association.

After World War II, the success of baseball's Hall of Fame spawned plans for a similar football hall. At that time, Latrobe was recognized by the National Football league as the birthplace of pro football, and Dr. Brallier was given lifetime passes for NFL games, but the Hall of Fame went to Canton. Homage was paid to Latrobe's status when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers played an exhibition game, August 29, 1952, at Latrobe. The early pro player survivors were honored.

Today Latrobe is home to the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, located at Saint Vincent's College.[3]

Season-by-seasonEdit

Year W L T PCT PtsF PtsA Finish Coach League
1895 7 4 0 .636 140 33 Russell Aukerman Independent
1896 7 3 0 .700 228 28 Russell Aukerman Independent
1897 10 2 1 .769 288 34 Walter Okeson Independent
1898 7 3 0 .700 168 40 Alfred E. Bull Independent
1899 4 0 0 1.000 104 2 Russell Knight Independent
1900 5 3 0 .625 85 40 Russell Knight Independent
1901 2 1 0 .666 0 12 Russell Knight Independent
1902 2 0 2 1.000 39 2 John Brallier Independent
1903 9 0 0 1.000 284 5 John Brallier Independent
1904 9 0 0 1.000 323 0 John Brallier Independent
1905 8 0 0 1.000 187 0 John Brallier Independent
1906 3 1 0 .750 110 16 John Brallier Independent
1907 5 2 2 .555 110 20 John Brallier Independent
1908 Peck Lawson Independent
1909 Peck Lawson Independent
Totals 78 19 5 .764 2086 232 (including playoffs)

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

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