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On This Date in Sports November 12, 1892: Turning Pro

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William “Pudge” Heffelfinger becomes the first professional football player when the Allegheny Athletic Association pays him $500 in a game against the rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The AAA got what they paid for as he scored the game-winning touchdown on a fumble recovery. While at Yale, Heffelfinger, a three-time All-American, was playing with the Chicago Athletic Association before being offered a bonus and travel expenses to play with Allegheny.

As American Football developed, mainly on college campuses, several amateur club teams began to spring up. Many former college players would join the club teams and continue their careers on the gridiron. When the Allegheny Athletic Association paid William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, it was not widely known. It was not until 70 years later that an account ledger detailing the payment was discovered while Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney researched football history in Pittsburgh. The AAA added a second professional player a week later when Ben Donnelly was paid $250 in a game against William and Jefferson College, a game that Allegheny lost 8-0 despite having two professionals on the team.

In 1895, John Brallier was the first player to be openly paid to play football when he received $10 from Latrobe Athletic Association. Soon the entire Latrobe team was receiving money to play football, as the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club was the first team to have a formal owner, as William Chase Tempe bankrolled the team’s salary in 1898. With so many players being paid, the Western Pennsylvania Football Circuit was the closest thing to an actual professional football league before the turn of the century. While Professional football slowly began elsewhere, a club in Chicago called the Morgan Athletic Club started to play in 1898. The team would go through several incarnations over the next two decades but was a charter member of the NFL in 1920, playing as the Chicago Cardinals. The team would later move to St. Louis and Arizona but remains the oldest active professional football franchise.