Pro Football in Portsmouth, Ohio

Explore the history of Spartan-Municipal Stadium and its origins in professional football in Portsmouth, Ohio. Learn how the legendary Jim Thorpe and the forgotten Jacque Creasy helped build the team and organization that would become the NFL Spartans, and in time, (after being sold) were reborn as the Detroit Lions.

Visit sites across the city where key moments in local football history happened and return to the scene of the Spartans’ greatest triumphs in what was originally known as Universal Stadium. Complete the tour in person or virtually using the Scioto Historical mobile app and website.

Travel back in time to the 1920s and start your tour at the former site of George McMahon’s Smoke House on Chillicothe Street, opposite Government Square (today’s Roy Roger’s Esplanade). Learn about the earliest days of football in the city, when McMahon sponsored the Portsmouth Smoke House, a semi-professional traveling football team, which was named for his popular cigar and tobacco store that doubled as a sports news center, providing local fans and bookies the latest scores by telegraph and radio.

Visit Labold Field, where Jim Thorpe, as player and coach for the Portsmouth Shoe-Steels (the city’s first fully professional team) demonstrated the possibilities of Portsmouth joining the National Football League. Learn why and how the Shoe-Steels were reorganized at a meeting in the Hotel Hurth and given the name of the Spartans and how this organization, led by Harry Snyder, secured an NFL franchise.

Relive the drama of the Iron Man Game of 1932, when Coach Potsy Clark and the Spartans defeated the world champion Green Bay Packers without making a single substitution. Look behind the scenes at the business of pro football and consider why the Spartans never turned a profit and were unable to complete the construction of their stadium. Learn how the Portsmouth Daily Times boosted professional football and backed local efforts to save the team before the franchise was sold to Detroit.

Finish your tour with a virtual or in-person visit to Spartan-Municipal Stadium and learn about the Spartan players who went onto Detroit and won the NFL Championship for the Lions in 1935. Lastly, consider the role of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) in completing the construction of the stadium as part of a larger city-owned recreational center.

Jim Thorpe and the Shoe-Steels

In the region’s smaller industrial towns, as well as its larger cities, former high school stars (now making a living in their hometown factories and businesses) joined with recent college graduates to form the first semi-professional teams. They…

The Iron Man Game of 1932

Packers coach Curly Lambeau entered the game with the NFL’s best record, 10-1-1, with only two games left in the season. If the Packers defeated the Spartans they would clench their fourth league championship. The Spartans sat at 5-1-4 in the…