If you love football’s history as much as I do, Latrobe has a treat for you. On July 21st, the Latrobe Historical Society will explore the roots of professional football. The group will present a slideshow, “Latrobe: Home of Professional Football…Or Are We?” in an attempt to answer that question.
According to Jeff Hilmer of the Trib, President Mary Lou Townsend said the show “could stir up some controversy, but we’re hoping people come in with an open mind. Part of the problem is trying to separate fact from legend.”
For the longest time, records seemed to indicate pro football began in Latrobe with John Brallier in 1895, reportedly being paid “$10 and cakes” for a game.
Here’s the cliff notes story of how that happened, per this article from the Pro Football Researchers of America, after one Latrobe player backed out of a game at the last minute.
“Then [team manager] Dave Berry remembered hearing of a young quarterback who’d done well with the otherwise undistinguished Indiana Normal team the year before, a boy named John Brallier. He contacted the youngster and magnanimously agreed to pay his expenses if he’d drop by to quarterback the Latrobe team. Brallier told him thanks but no thanks. In desperation, Berry dug down deep and sweetened the offer of expenses with an extra $10 — “$10 and cakes.”
But in the 1960s, a man showed up at the Steelers facilities, met with Art Rooney, and handed him a stack of papers with an outline of the history of the NFL. Those records showed Brallier wasn’t the first player to be paid. In 1892, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was given an exorbitant $500 for a game between the Pennsylvania Athletic Club and Allegheny Athletic Association. Later that year, Ben “Sport” Donnelly was paid $250 for a game, making them football’s first ever professionals.
And though that still keeps the pro game’s roots in Western PA, it does take it out of Latrobe. A fact that angers some locals, who use that debunked story as a reason to move the Hall of Fame to the area. Instead, it’s in Canton, where the NFL was founded in the Hupmobile Dealership in 1920
Football itself derived from rugby and began in New England in the 1870s and 1880s. William Camp is considered the father and architect of the game, designing many of its basic rules that separated the game from its rugby counterpart. Officially, the game began in 1882, though many articles erroneously point to an 1869 game between Princeton and Rutgers as the “first game.”
Admittedly, that’s probably plenty of useless information for many. But with camp only a week away and the Steelers traveling to St. Vincent, a venue that has an “old school” feel and the city of Latrobe having such rich football history, it’s something worth sharing.