Medallion from NFL’s first champions

History Published on : 9/30/2010

Next February one of the 32 NFL teams will win Super Bowl XLV. With that, each player will receive a grandiose Super Bowl ring filled with diamonds. Ninety years ago, the first champions of the NFL (first known as the American Professional Football Association) didn't receive a ring but were given a gold fob, a miniature football shaped medallion.

{GALLERY}Thanks to the grandson of Karl "Pike" Johnson, a member of the Akron Pros who won the league's first title in 1920, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's collection now includes that rare fob.

In June, Karl Steady contacted the Hall of Fame and indicated he wanted to donate the piece to the football museum. He visited the Hall of Fame this past weekend and hand-delivered the treasured piece of history.

Prior to 1933 and the introduction of a scheduled championship game each year, the NFL title was awarded to the club with the best win-loss record in the regular season. The Pros were the league's first champs after posting an 8-0-3 mark in the NFL's inaugural season.

The Hall of Fame possesses other championship fobs but before Saturday, the earliest version in the collection was one given to a member of the 1922 Canton Bulldogs.

"This is truly a unique piece for our collection," commented Jason Aikens, the Hall of Fame's Collections Curator. "It's not often anymore that we receive something as old as this fob. To have something connected to the first year of the NFL arrive in Canton in 2010 is tremendous."

Not only did Steady donate the family heirloom but he also helped the Hall of Fame correct history. Records regarding Pike Johnson were inaccurate according to his grandson. The Hall's research staff quickly went to work to verify the claim and track down the truth.

The Hall of Fame reached out to noted football historian David Neft, one of the driving forces behind the comprehensive all-time roster that was compiled after years of research and finally published in the book Total Football in the 1990s.

As it turns out, the league's all-time roster, that also appears on, had a player listed as Pike Johnson. But, it was the wrong "Pike" Johnson, one who never played with the Akron Pros. That wasn't the only mistake regarding Johnson's football career. The jeweler who inscribed his name on the fob got it wrong as well when the first initial of "C" rather than "K" was etched onto the back of the gold piece.

For the (final) record, Karl Hilmer Johnson was born May 2, 1896 in Boston, Massachusetts. The 5'11", 185-pound tackle, a World I Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, attended Washington and Lee University. He played 22 games in the NFL over two seasons (1920-21) with the Akron Pros. He died on Nov. 8, 1985 at the age of 89.

1920 Akron Pros. Karl "Pike" Johnson, front row left, was a member of the NFL's first championship team.

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