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.
It was a special Sunday afternoon for the Watt family last week when the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Houston Texans.
J.J., Derek and T.J. Watt became the fourth trio of brothers in National Football League history to play at least one game on the same field.
Remarkably, it was the second consecutive season a trio of brothers shared the same field on the same day. In Week 15 of 2019, the Steelers hosted the Buffalo Bills, with Tremaine, Terrell and Trey Edmunds squaring off.
The Rooney brothers — Bill, Cobb and Joe — played together for the Duluth Kelleys during the 1924 season and shared the same field three other times throughout their careers.
The first brothers to share the same NFL field were the Nessers, during the league’s inaugural season of 1920. That year, the Columbus Panhandles joined the American Professional Football Association, which later would become the NFL. The first game between two league member teams was played in Dayton, Ohio, on Oct. 3, 1920. In that game, the Dayton Triangles defeated the Panhandles 14-0.
The following week, on Oct. 10, Frank and Ted Nesser of the Panhandles played against their sibling Al of the Akron Pros. Brother Fred eventually would join the Panhandles and take part in the same matchup the following season, on Nov. 6, 1921, for the only game to feature four brothers.
Then, on Dec. 2, 1921, brothers John and Phil rejoined Fred, Frank and Ted on the Panhandles to play against the Louisville Brecks. Not since have five brothers played together in an NFL game.
The Panhandles also would become the only NFL team in history with a father and son on the same roster when Charles Nesser joined his father, Ted, for a few games in 1921.
The Nessers were no strangers to making pro football history throughout the careers. During the pre-NFL years, the Panhandles featured all six Nesser brothers (Frank, Phil, Ted, John, Al, and Fred) on the same team.
The oldest of the six brothers to play in the NFL was John, who was born in 1876. He also was one of the oldest men to play in the NFL, appearing in two games as a tackle and guard for the 1921 Columbus Panhandles at age 45. Before playing football for the Panhandles, John competed in Pennsylvania Railroad athletic competitions at the turn of the century.
Al Nesser played the longest. He began his professional football career in 1909, playing with his older brothers on the pre-NFL Panhandles team as an end and guard. He continued to play with his brothers on the Panhandles until 1916. Al then played in the NFL for 10 seasons as a lineman, beginning with the 1920 NFL champion Pros of Akron. He ended his career in 1931 with the Cleveland Indians at age 39.
The Nessers are among 393 sets of brothers to play in the NFL. Their impact on the game of football is undeniable, and their legacy will live forever in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.