Facts about Fawcett


11:15 a.m. ET

Here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the important aspects of our mission is “to educate the public regarding the origin, development and growth of professional football as an important part of American culture” The same undertaking is set in the Archives and Information Center of the Hall of Fame.

When we received permission from Canton City Schools to begin a special tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium, we felt it was necessary to be able to teach the public about the past of the historic stadium. We were already aware of certain details which pertained to the stadium’s beginnings. For example, the stadium was named after former Canton Board of Education member and athlete John A. Fawcett who died a few years before the completion of the stadium. We also knew the stadium was built between 1937-1939 and the first game was played sometime during that time period. We also knew Hall of Famers Marion Motley and Paul Brown played and coached on the field in its early years.

{GALLERY}However, there were some facts that were sketchy. Did Brown coach against Motley? Who scored the first touchdown? When exactly was the first game played? These are questions which we felt were important to research in order to educate the visitors of the Hall of Fame. We also go to great lengths to confirm facts. One such piece of information that was continually repeated around here was that Motley scored the first TD in the stadium history. We went through our files and couldn’t confirm that. As it turned out that was a bit of “local folklore” but not too far off. Motley didn’t actually score the stadium’s first touchdown but was involved on the play (more on that later).

These were questions that could only be answered by referring to the best primary sources present during the earlier part of the 20th century, the newspapers. We headed over to the Stark County Public Library and began to research information on Fawcett Stadium. We started by using the book, 103 Days in November as a guide. It was written by a local man Charles E. Bowersox about the history of Canton McKinley High School football. From there, we began to look through the library’s archived (Canton) Repository files.

Hidden in the growing news stories about Adolf Hitler and the years immediately prior to the beginning of World War II were sports stories about the Canton high school McKinley Bulldogs and their new stadium known as “Fawcett Stadium.” The Repository illustrated the beginning of the stadium. We found out that the construction of the stadium was in fact begun in 1937 and not completed until 1939 as part of a WPA works project and cost nearly $500,000. The Canton McKinley Bulldogs had previously played its games at Canton Lehman High School. However, in 1938, one year before its completion, Fawcett Stadium housed the Bulldogs in its regular season games.

The first game was played on September 17, 1938 before a crowd of nearly 10,000 spectators. The stadium had only completed the north stands and temporary west stand were constructed while people overflowed onto a nearby hill. The Bulldogs faced Lehman High School and were victorious 48-6 on a spectacular performance by a future star. Marion Motley was a very large player for his day. In 1937, he had been a lineman, but in 1938 he had the opportunity to play running back and he was not a disappointment. In that first inaugural game, he ran for four touchdowns and kicked three extra points. He also helped score the first ever touchdown at Fawcett Stadium on a halfback pass to wide receiver Nick Roman. As you may know, Marion went on to help reintegrate professional football in 1946 when he signed with the Cleveland Browns and began his Hall of Fame career.

Although Fawcett Stadium’s first year of seeing action was in 1938, it was not officially dedicated until September 23, 1939. This was the second week of the 1939 campaign and the McKinley Bulldogs defeated Lehman again by a score of 31-0. A near capacity crowd of 13,000 fans (the original stadium held 15,000) witnessed the dedication and the game.
The other piece of information that we had conflicting information about was whether Brown coached against Motley at Fawcett Stadium. Through our research we can now say that did not happen.

Paul Brown played high school football in Massillon, which is a town that borders Canton.  Brown later went on to be head coach of his high school Alma Mater better known in these parts as the Massillon Tigers. The annual McKinley Bulldogs-Massillon Tigers game played in Canton in 1937 and Coach Brown did face Motley; however, that game was still played at Lehman High School. In Motley’s final high school year, 1938, the game was played in Massillon.

Nevertheless, it is fascinating that Coach Brown is the only man to coach at Fawcett Stadium in high school and the National Football League. He coached his Tigers in 1939 in the year following Motley’s departure and was victorious against the Bulldogs at Fawcett Stadium and nearly 40 years later, in 1975, he coached the Cincinnati Bengals in the Hall of Fame Game but lost to the Washington Redskins 17-9.

The new information we have obtained has helped to add correct historical facts to our promotional information on Fawcett Stadium and the Pro Football Hall of Fame game series. This research fulfills part of our mission to educate the public and we believe the history of Fawcett Stadium is an important piece to the history of American football.

I’d like to end by thanking our Pro Football Collections Intern, Andrew Linden, who contributed greatly to this piece.

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