Gridiron Legacy

Gridiron Legacy

Pro Football's Missing Origin Story

By Gregg FiceryFranco Harris,

Publisher: The Story Plant

Imprint: The Story Plant

Professional football's backstory was lost, until now. In the beginning, in 1892, pro football was born. Then it effectively died in infamy in 1906. It was resurrected nearly a decade later and soon became the American Professional Football Association in 1920 (renamed the National Football League in 1922). Few are even familiar with the basics of the historical narrative: the star players, the rivalries, and the game's brutality.

After its infancy in Pennsylvania, fanatic passion and media hype started exploding around the country for the greatest teams ever assembled in what became known as the Ohio League. More suddenly, the league died because of a gambling scandal. Nobody has ever been sure who was behind it or who were the heroes who saved the game. Careers and lives were ruined, and the game's legacy was left suspended in time without resolution. As of the NFL's 100th anniversary, nobody knows the true narrative that led up to its founding. Gridiron Legacy brings the story to light for the first time with a treasure trove of new research and never-before-published photographs from the career of one of the game's early champions. It is the greatest sports story never told.

Author Gregg Ficery is the great-grandson of the 1906 professional football world champion Massillon Tigers captain Bob Shiring, who was regarded by many as the greatest center of the pre-NFL professional era. Ficery grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb and learned stories about Shiring's football career from his grandmother. In the 1970s, she showed him that one of the pictures of her father's Tigers that hung in her home was featured in Robert Leckie's 1965 book The Story of Football. So Ficery knew from a young age that Shiring and his teams were vital to the game's history and that “one day” there would be much more to be learned. He could not imagine where the journey of discovery would lead and how magical it would be.

In 2007, while cleaning out his grandmother's house after her death, Ficery unearthed a gold mine of pro football history by way of Shiring's photo collection, which had been hidden in storage for almost exactly a century. With help and encouragement from late Pro Football Researchers Association head Bob Carroll, he began the research process to identify its significance. With spirited diligence, Ficery learned that the images included the greatest professional teams and players at the turn of the twentieth century preceding the founding of the NFL. With improbable luck, he added rare newfound pieces to the collection and pieced together their dramatic narrative.

In 2012, Ficery met with executives at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to share his family stories and initial research. HOF exec- utive vice president Joe Horrigan stated, “To us, this is like finding an original Constitution.”

Later that year, Ficery made another important find. After learning that the club in Homestead, Pennsylvania, for which Shiring had played in 1901 on its “world championship” team, still stands under a different name, he toured the facility. Unbeknownst to its staff, gathering dust on a shelf in its storage closet was a treasure that some call the Holy Grail of American professional football.

The odyssey then led to Massillon, Ohio, where pro football moved west after Homestead and most other pro teams folded in Pennsylvania. There, Ficery found a town full of passionate citizens holding on to glorious football memories of Massillon Tigers high school football state championships, with a vague recollection that their beloved team's nickname came from one of pro football's first great teams. Their historians guided him to a small group of elderly Massillon boosters who keep the Tigers' flame and preserve their treasures. Through them, more hidden pieces to pro football's creation story were unveiled.

Now, Ficery is introducing the dramatic story of the pre-NFL era to the world, including solving the mystery of the 1906 Canton Bulldogs–Massillon Tigers championship series game-fixing scandal that nearly killed pro football. Discover for yourself the historical revelations, fascinating characters, corruption, and intrigue, along with the blood, guts, and glory that defined the first great rivalry in pro football history and the heroes who saved what would become the country's favorite sport. Filled with hundreds of photos, so many never seen before, Gridiron Legacy is a story for the ages.


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