American Football Database


Columbus Panhandles-Tigers
Founded 1901
Folded 1926
Based in Columbus, Ohio, United States
Home field Indianola Park
Traveling Team
League "Ohio League" (1901-20)
National Football League (1920-26)
Team History Columbus Panhandles (1907-22)
Columbus Tigers (1922-26)
Team Colors Burgundy, Gold, White (Panhandles)

Black, Gold, White (Tigers)

Nickname(s) the "Handles"
Owner(s) Joseph F. Carr (1907-22)
Various Businessmen (1922-26)

The Columbus Panhandles were a professional football team from Columbus, Ohio who played in the "Ohio League" and later the American Professional Football Association, later renamed the National Football League. The origin of the name "Panhandles" was the Pennsylvania Railroad route from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Columbus called the "Panhandle Division," once owned by the Panhandle Railroad (formally the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad) in the late 19th century. The team often went by the nickname the "Handles" and are historically considered charter members of the National Football League because of their membership in the American Professional Football Association in September 1920, playing in the league's very first game against the Dayton Triangles in Dayton, Ohio.


Joseph Carr

In 1901 workers at the Panhandle shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Columbus, Ohio formed a professional football team called the Columbus Panhandles. The railroad workers, mainly European immigrants, learned the game of football not at a college, but on the sandlots of the Panhandle railroad yards during their lunch breaks. At first, the Panhandles struggled to learn the game of football, both on and off the field. During their first four seasons, the team had five different team managers. The Panhandles fought to keep a team on the field. In 1905 and 1906, the team didn’t even field a team. After sitting out two seasons it looked as if the Panhandles would never play another game.

Joe Carr

In 1904, Joseph F. Carr, who was a sports writer for the Ohio State Journal and manager of the railroad's baseball team the Famous Panhandle White Sox, first took over the football team. However the Panhandles didn’t take off and the team played just two games. Carr tried again three years later in 1907 and the team finally took off. Carr saw the potential for professional football not only to be a great spectator sport but also to become a successful business venture. Carr envisioned pro football being just as popular as Major League Baseball.

1907 Columbus Panhandles

One of the first things Carr did when he became the owner of the Panhandles was to exploit one the railroad's policies. Since most of the team’s players were employed by the railroad, they could ride the train free of charge. Because of this perk, Carr was able to schedule mostly road games, eliminating the expenses of stadium rental, game promotion, and security for the field. The players also often slept in haylofts on overnight trips to keep expenses even lower. Each week the Panhandles would just jump on the train Saturday night, play on Sunday, and ride back all night just in time for work on Monday morning. However while the team did play the majority of their games on the road as a traveling team, several of their home games were played at Indianola Park.

The Panhandles adopted an amateur sandlot mentality for their playing style. Since the team was composed mainly of railroad workers, the scenario gave the players limited time to practice and prepare for games. The Panhandles did the majority of their preparation during their lunch breaks. Workers had a one-hour break during a normal workday, and the players on the team usually took the first 15 minutes to eat lunch and used the remaining 45 minutes to practice football skills. An athletic field behind the railroad shops in Columbus became the team's practice field.

The Nessers

However Carr knew that if his team was to succeed, he needed an attraction, so Carr built his team around pro football’s most famous family, the Nesser Brothers, who were already drawing crowds throughout the country. Carr used the seven Nesser brothers as the backbone of the Panhandles, and the football-playing family remained in that role for nearly twenty years. None of the Nessers attended college, despite many offers. The seven Nesser brothers, who worked as boilermakers for the Pennsylvania Railroad, were exceptionally large and strong for people living in the early 20th century. Frank Nesser alone was 6-foot 3-inches tall and weighed 235 pounds. They all were exceptionally great athletes for their time. Carr would take out ads by describing his Panhandles as the toughest professional team in football, led by the famous Nesser brothers. In 1921 the Panhandles line-up included player-coach Ted Nesser and his son Charlie. It was the only time in NFL history a father and son played together on the same team. The Nesser brothers nephew, Ted Hopkins and brother-in-law, John Schneider, also played on the team.

The Columbus Panhandles playing a game during the 1910's at Indianola Park

The Panhandles’ rosters didn’t include many former college players or All-Americans, so the athletic field in the railroad yards became the place where the team would find out who could play the game. The team’s reputation of “dirty” play was learned and developed right on the railroad yards, not in college stadiums. The press sometime criticized the railroaders for their rough play, however the fans who paid the gate money to attend the games loved it.

Columbus city champs era

Over a span of twenty years, the Panhandles were also the best pro team in the city of Columbus. The team would compile a 33–5 record against opponents from Columbus, including an amazing 32–1 record over their last thirty-three games. The Panhandles were the best professional football team to ever come out of the capital city.

Between 1914 and 1916, which were seen as best years of the franchise, the Nesser-led team went a combined 22–10–1. The majority of the early pro teams would go out of their way to schedule the Panhandles, as they knew it would be easy to advertise a game featuring the famous Nessers. In 1915, The Panhandles were rumoured to have played against the legendary Knute Rockne six times in 1915. According to the team, each time they played Rockne, he was on a different team.


In 1920 the Columbus Panhandles joined the newly formed American Professional Football Association (now called the NFL). While Carr was involved in the formation of the new league from the beginning, he turned down being president of the league so they could hire Jim Thorpe because the new league needed a big name for publicity.

1921 Columbus Panhandles of the National Football League

First AFPA/NFL game

The Panhandles may have played in the first AFPA/NFL game. However due to not having the games start at a standardized time, and the failure of the NFL of recording the start times, historians can not determine for sure which two team played in the first league match-up. What is known for a fact is that the first contests between teams listed as APFA members occurred on October 3, 1920. On that date, the Panhandles were defeated by the Dayton Triangles, 14-0, at Triangle Park, and the Rock Island Independents beat the Muncie Flyers, 45-0, in Rock Island. One of these two games marked the first league game.

Columbus Tigers

Following the 1921 season, Carr became the league's new president and renamed the AFPA, the NFL. He then discontinued the Panhandles after the 1922 season. Because of cost and salary demands, the team simply couldn't compete in the league. Columbus remained basically a semi-pro team made up almost entirely of hometown players, and the three Nesser brothers still with the team were past their prime.

Following the 1922 season, the Panhandles became the Columbus Tigers. This new team was purchased by local businessmen, as a traveling team, and played in the NFL from 1923 to 1926 seasons before disbanding. In 1923, the Tigers attained their best ranking in the NFL, finishing eighth. The next season, the squad finished tenth, and then ended their final two seasons twentieth and nineteenth respectively.

Hall of Famers

Other notable players