Just before the season-ending series between the Canton Bulldogs and the arch-rival Massillon Tigers in 1915, Bulldogs general manager Jack Cusack signed the most famous athlete of the age, Jim Thorpe, for the princely sum of $250 a game.
Thorpe was everything Cusack expected him to be – an exceptional talent and an unparalleled gate attraction. With Thorpe as star and coach, the Bulldogs claimed unofficial world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. His mere presence moved pro football a giant step forward in the public’s estimation.
In 1920, when the National Football League was organized, the charter members named Thorpe league president. While Thorpe's exploits tend to be exaggerated with the passing years, there is no question he was superb in every way. He could run with speed as well as bruising power. He could pass and catch passes with the best, punt long distances and kick field goals either by dropkick or placekick.
Often he would demonstrate his kicking prowess during halftimes by placekicking field goals from the 50-yard line, then turning and dropkicking through the opposite goal post. He blocked with authority and, on defense, was a bone-jarring tackler.
Of mixed French, Irish, and Sac and Fox Indian heritage, Thorpe was born in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma, but when he was sixteen his father sent him to the Carlisle Institute, a school for Indian youth. His Native-American name was Wa-Tho-Huk, meaning "Bright Path," something he was destined to follow in the sports world.
Excellent at every sport he tried, he gained his greatest fame by winning the decathlon and pentathlon events at the 1912 Olympics, only to have his medals taken away because he had once been paid to play minor-league baseball (the medals were restored posthumously in 1982). Although he played six seasons of major-league baseball, football always remained his favorite sport.