The Birth of the NFL Spartans at the Hotel Hurth
On August 20th, 1928, Portsmouth, Ohio football fans and civic leaders gathered at the Hotel Hurth for a dinner meeting and the launch of a new professional football venture. The meeting came just five weeks after the tragic death of Jack Creasy, who had been the leading force behind the Portsmouth Shoe-Steels team, which had been led by the legendary Jim Thorpe, as player and coach. The success of the Shoe-Steels had demonstrated the possibilities of a professional football team in Portsmouth. But, without Creasy to take the lead, a new organization was needed.
Behind the scenes Howard Graf, the recently elected President of Portsmouth’s First National Bank, worked with Coleman Grimes and the Portsmouth Daily Times to promote the meeting at the Hotel Hurth: “It is a foregone conclusion that Portsmouth will support one of the greatest professional teams in history this year. …. Eighteen of the best players in the country, practically the same team that lined up against Ashland Armco [in] the last game of the last season, have been tentatively signed up. .... Walter Jean, who so successfully took charge of the Shoe-Steels last year after Thorpe left and who had charge of a great deal of coaching during the time Thorpe was here, will again coach the Portsmouth team.” Grimes concluded that “the citizens want a good football team in Portsmouth this year and are willing to support it.”
With fifty businessmen in attendance, the city’s diverse commercial interests stepped forward, more united than ever. Upon the suggestion of Howard Graf, it was agreed to organize a “stock company” with a regular board of directors and elected officers who would oversee the management of the new team’s affairs.
Ultimately, Dr. George B. Brown was elected president; William N. Gableman, vice-president; H. Coleman Grimes, secretary; and Howard Graf, treasurer and business manager. The organization would take the name of the Portsmouth Football Association. The board also announced its support for a $80,000 bond referendum to construct a modern stadium and public sports complex at the site of Labold Field.
It was also determined that a new team name should be selected, one that did not reference a local business or manufacturer, a name that all supporters could rally behind — the Portsmouth Spartans. On September 6th, following a public contest, over one-hundred names were considered. The Times reported: "Spartans was chosen as the handle for the professional eleven of 1928, pending approval of the president and board of directors. ... The author of the name is Bert Hurth, son of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Hurth, of Second street. If this name is finally chosen, young Hurth will be presented with a season ticket as a prize. Another fan suggested a name similar to the Spartans; it was ‘Peerless Spartans,’ but was not selected because of the fact that it carried two names and the committee decided to narrow it to one name."
While a mere coincidence, Bert Hurth was the son of the owner of the Hotel Hurth and his last name and the hotel itself will long be associated with the history of the Spartans and pro football in Portsmouth. The Times explained that "a number of reasons entered into choosing Spartans as the name for the team. One of the reasons was that it corresponded with the name Trojans, given the High School teams. It is suggestive of no organization or business house, and is suggestive of 'fight,' with a capital F."