Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The great game of football teaches the incredible concept of “TEAM,” which at the Pro Football Hall of Fame we believe stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More.” In the sanctity of the huddle, we learn, that despite our differences, there isn’t anything we can’t work through together if we “huddle up” with respect for each other, listen to the call and execute the designed play.
The huddle is a magical and special place of trust. Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. is credited with the formation of the football huddle in the 1890s. Gallaudet is devoted to providing higher education to both deaf and mute students. Because their opponents were often schools for the hearing-impaired, Gallaudet quarterback Paul Hubbard was concerned they were watching his hands to see his team’s intentions. Hubbard’s solution was to huddle up so their opponents couldn’t read their signs as the quarterback signaled the plays.
Gallaudet College was still developing young men and women through education and athletics when the Goodyear company came calling in the early 1900s. The Ohio State Labor Department contacted Goodyear about utilizing individuals with hearing impairments in its factory operations. The potential partnership was met with skepticism at first because many Goodyear officials believed this was creating excessive liability.
However, the Goodyear Company hired its first hearing-impaired employee in 1913. Three years later that numbered had swelled to over 100 and by 1920, because of a strong work ethic and the fact that they weren’t distracted by the loudness of the factory, the number of deaf employees working at the Goodyear factory rose to around 800. Due to the fact that so many of Goodyear’s hearing-impaired employees were competing in athletics such as basketball, baseball, track, swimming, bowling, boxing, wrestling and, of course, football, the company established the Goodyear Silent Athletic Club at 1233 East Market Street. While this was wasn’t the company’s only athletic club, it was solely dedicated to the personal and professional welfare through athletics of its deaf employees.
The football club had little success during those early years (1915-17). However, by 1918 the Goodyear Company began beefing up its football squad when it recruited recent Gallaudet College graduates Ed Foltz, Fred Moore, Charles Marshall, Scott Cuscaden and Dewey Deer. Armed with their new recruits the Wingfoot Clan, as they were known, competed at the highest level of semi-professional football at the time.
Surprisingly, the Silents weren’t just good compared to the best semi-pro teams. They competed extremely well against fully professional clubs such as the Akron Pros, the first NFL champions in 1920. Although they never beat the Pros, the games were always highly contested and the scores never wildly lopsided. Even including the losses to the Pros, the Silents outscored their opponents 1,514 to 257, compiled a 60-9-6 record and won three Ohio semi-pro championships during a span from 1917 to 1923. The Wingfoot Clan played their final game in 1927 when they defeated the Ohio School for the Deaf 18-7.
The Hall of Fame promotes the many values learned from the game like commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence. These values not only make someone a great football player, but are also the same values that make someone a great businessperson, soldier, or, a great parent. The silent men from the Wingfoot Clan were not defined by the differences between them and their opponents. They used collective talents alongside their determination and perseverance to yield not just a great football team, but, ultimately, helped build a great corporate asset in Northeast Ohio.