Upon visiting the Hall of Fame, it becomes immediately apparent that the museum has an extensive collection of artifacts. Not quite as obvious is the fact that the museum is also home to the most comprehensive pro football archive in the world. Housed in the Hall of Fame’s brand new Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football and Research Center are 20 million pages of documents and three million photographic images.
Some, such as the Providence Steam Roller player’s contract featured in this story, are not only archival documents, but also interesting artifacts in their own right.
|The site of the NFL's first ever night game under lights.
The Providence Steam Roller were members of the National Football League for just seven seasons, 1925-1931, but during that time recorded several unusual “firsts.” The team was the first to play its home games in a bicycle-racing stadium (the Cyclodrome); first to play four regular-season games in six days; and first to host an NFL game at night under floodlights.
The Steam Roller’s game under floodlights was actually the second game of a four-games-in-six-days fiasco. Providence had originally scheduled to play the Chicago Cardinals on Sunday, Nov. 3, 1929, but heavy rains made the Cyclodrome field unplayable. Since neither team wanted to lose a payday, the historic night game was hastily scheduled for Nov. 6 at nearby Kinsley Park Stadium, where floodlights recently had been installed.
Although the Steam Roller lost 16-0, the game was declared a success because 6,000 fans attended. The local newspaper reported that the ball, which had been painted white for the night game, "had the appearance of a large egg," and whenever either team passed, "there was a panicky feeling that the player who made the catch would be splattered with yellow yolk." The floodlights, the newspaper concluded were "just as good as daylight for the players.” The next year, floodlights were permanently installed in the Cyclodrome.
While floodlights may not have had an immediate effect on the game of pro football, they did have an immediate effect on at least one Steam Roller player.
According to his 1930 contract, Tony Latone (right) was paid $125 “for all league daylight games and sixty percent of that sum for all league floodlight games.” Former team executive Pearce Johnson once explained to the Hall of Fame that the team’s general manager arranged for the reduction in pay for floodlight games “to help pay the installation costs of the floodlights.” It seems unlikely a general manager could get away with that today.