Spartans football was so popular that the city supported a bond issue to construct Universal Stadium, a modern stadium for the team, in 1929. Scheduling rules were lax, and many NFL teams played teams from outside the league. Such was the case with the Portsmouth Spartans who played the Green Bay Packers in 1929.1 The Packers won the game, but Portsmouth’s success and following led to them being invited to join the NFL in 1930. The Green Bay Packers sponsored Portsmouth’s invitation.
Upon joining the NFL, the Spartans added players from other teams, including other semi-pro teams. Future Hall of Fame coach George “Potsy” Clark led the team. Top players included Earl “Dutch” Clark, also a Hall of Fame member, and Glen Presnell, George Christiansen, and Roy “Father” Lumpkin. Presnell led the NFL in scoring in 1933.3 The Spartans finished near the top of league standings in 1931 and 1932.
The Portsmouth Spartans would participate in one of the NFL’s most storied games in 1932. For the first time, a playoff game was needed to determine the league championship after the Portsmouth Spartans and the Chicago Bears tied for first place. A game was scheduled to determine the champion. Because of a blizzard that hit Chicago, the game was moved indoors, to Chicago Stadium. The Bears and Cardinals had previously played a game in the stadium and that experience aided officials to negotiate special rules that accommodated a smaller field. Chicago won the game 9-0 on a disputed play.4
Eventually, financial concerns would lead the community stockholders to sell the team to a group from Detroit in March of 1934.5 The Spartans elusive title would come to the Detroit Lions in 1935. Universal Stadium, later renamed Spartan Memorial Stadium, continued to host high school games. The stadium was designated as an Ohio Historical Site on October 5, 2003.6