New England’s First NFL Champion

PROVIDENCE STEAM ROLLER

NEW ENGLAND’S 1ST CHAMPION

Providence-steamrollers

The Providence Steam Roller was an NFL franchise from 1925-1931 that won the 1928 NFL Championship (they are the last non-surviving franchise to win an NFL title).

You mean Providence had its own football team – really?  The 1920 Census lists Providence as the nation’s 27th largest city – ahead at that time of current NFL cities such as Oakland (31), Atlanta (33), Dallas (42), Houston (45), Nashville (56) and Jacksonville (79) to name a few.  Even today, the Providence metropolitan area is larger than current NFL markets such as Buffalo, Jacksonville, Milwaukee-Green Bay and New Orleans.

The Steam Roller hosted the first NFL night game and became the first team to play four regulation games in six days. Another Steam Roller NFL first was they were the first (and possibly the only) NFL team to play at a bicycle racing stadium – the Cycledrome.

THEN+AND+NOW+23A+1020+thumb+620x299+71768

From Rhode Island Art in Ruins

The Cycledrome was built strategically on the Providence—Pawtucket city line. . . .  Adapting the Cycledrome for football engendered some very unusual playing circumstances. The 100-yard field just fit inside the track, but there was not enough room for the now-familiar 10-yard end zones. Each end zone was cut off by the steeply banked portions of the track at the turns. Thus, one end zone was 10 yards, but the other was only five. Games were regularly packed; Providence set an early NFL attendance record of 13,000 fans for a game against the New York Giants. 

The Providence Steam Roller drew large crowds throughout the 1920s. . . . One of the team’s most famous firsts was playing a night game; to help players the ball was even painted white. However, this game was played at Providence’s Kinsley Park. Still, the success of this experiment led . . .  to the permanent floodlights at the Cycledrome in 1930.

From Wikipedia:

The Steam Roller was established in 1916 by members of the Providence Journal . . . The team soon became a regional power and by the mid-1920s was known as the best independent team in the country. By 1919 the team was drawing in more spectators than Brown University by a margin of 2–1, due to newspaper reports at the time.  . . .

In 1924, Providence’s schedule featured several NFL teams. The Steam Roller posted a 3–2–1 record against those teams,  . .. Providence joined the NFL in time for the 1925 season. By that time only three players from the 1924 team were still in the line-up when the team’s first practice of 1925 was held on September 17. In fact, only about a dozen of them wore Steam Roller colors for the team’s debut in the NFL.  The Steam Roller had played mediocre football in their first two NFL seasons, but posted a strong 8–5–1 record in 1927 . ….

1928 Championship Season

Date Opponent Location Providence Opponent
9-30

New York Yankees
 Providence Cycledrome
(4,000)
 20  7
Yankees featured Red Grange.
10-7

Frankford Yellow Jackets
 Providence Cycledrome
(6,000)
 6  10
A fake field goal gave Providence a 6-0 lead over the 1926 NFL champs, but Frankford rallied to score 10 in the fourth quarter.  It would be their first and only loss for the season.
 10-14

Dayton Triangles

 Providence Cycledrome

(7,000)

 28  0
Dayton was a charter member of the NFL but had been reduced to playing all their games on the road.They finished 0-7 for the season.  The team moved to Brooklyn in 1930.
 10-21  

Yankee Stadium

(7,000)

 12  6
 Providence scored all their points in the 4th quarter, with a 50-yard interception return putting them on top.
 10-28

Pottsvile Maroons

 Providence Cycledrome

(8,000)

 13  6
Providence built a 13-0 lead, but needed a goal-line stand in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
 11-4  Detroit Wolverines

 Providence Cycledrome

(8,500)

 7  0
The Detroit Wolverines came to Providence with the league’s premier passer, but were shut down by the Steam Roller defense.  It was the Wolverines only season in the NFL.
 11-11  Pere Marquette 

 Braves Field Boston

 14  7
 11-12  Pere Marquette  

 Providence Cycledrome

(6,000)

 20  0
 With no league game schedule, Providence played a double-header exhibition against Boston’s Pere Marquette football club in what was touted as the “New England Championship”.
 11-18    Frankford Stadium
(9,000)
 6  6
Frankford took the lead on a blocked punt.  A poor fourth quarter punt by Frankford gave Providence the ball at the 25 and the Steam Rollers converted the opportunity to tie the game.  They narrowly missed the extra point, so the game was a tie.

Both teams boarded sleeping trains to Providence where they played the next day.

 11-19  

 Providence Cycledrome

(12,000)

 6  0
Providence struck early in the battle for first place, with a 46-yard touchdown pass and that was all they needed.The Yellow Jackets folded after the 1931 season.
 11-25  

Providence Cycledrome

(13,000)

 16  0
 Providence dominated the defending champions on a snowy day.
 11-29    Minersville Park  7  0
Providence held on to first place with this Thanksgiving win over Pottsville.

Pottsville became the Boston Bulldogs in 1929 before folding.

 12-2  

Providence Cycledrome

(9,000)

7  7
Providence needed only a tie to clinch the NFL title.  Green Bay took the lead in the 3rd Quarter, but Providence responded with a 72 year drive to tie it.
YEAR Rollers 8

WINS

1

LOSS

1

TIE

Prior to the 1932 season, the NFL team with the best winning percentage was named the NFL Champions. Despite the Yellow Jackets winning 3 more games than the Steam Roller and posting an 11–3–2 record, Providence was awarded the title due to having a better winning percentage.

Tm W L T W-L% PF PA PD MoV
Providence Steam Roller* 8 1 2 .889 128 42 86 7.8
Frankford Yellow Jackets 11 3 2 .786 175 84 91 5.7
Detroit Wolverines 7 2 1 .778 189 76 113 11.3
Green Bay Packers 6 4 3 .600 120 92 28 2.2
Chicago Bears 7 5 1 .583 182 85 97 7.5
New York Giants 4 7 2 .364 79 136 -57 -4.4
New York Yankees 4 8 1 .333 103 179 -76 -5.8
Pottsville Maroons 2 8 0 .200 74 134 -60 -6.0
Chicago Cardinals 1 5 0 .167 7 107 -100 -16.7
Dayton Triangles 0 7 0 .000 9 131 -122 -17.4

Despite their 1928 championship, the team experienced troubles in 1929. . . . The 1929 Steam Roller struggled to a 4–6–2 record, resulting in a 7th place league finish. This caused the fans, who attended each game during the championship season, to stay home.

The team posted a 6–4–1 record in 1930 and a 4–4–3 record in 1931. The lack of interest, coupled with the Great Depression in 1930, caused [the owners] to suspend operations after the 1931 season. The three owners then gave up and turned the franchise back over to the NFL in 1933.

 

Year Lg Tm W L T Playoffs Pts PtsO PtDif Coaches
1931 NFL Providence Steam Roller 4 4 3 78 127 -49 Robinson
1930 NFL Providence Steam Roller 6 4 1 90 125 -35 Conzelman
1929 NFL Providence Steam Roller 4 6 2 107 117 -10 Conzelman
1928 NFL Providence Steam Roller 8 1 2 Won Champ 128 42 86 Conzelman
1927 NFL Providence Steam Roller 8 5 1 105 88 17 Conzelman
1926 NFL Providence Steam Roller 5 7 1 89 103 -14 Laird
1925 NFL Providence Steam Roller 6 5 1 111 101 10 Golembeski
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/22/2014.

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