Ironton Tanks 47, Cleveland Indians 0
— When the Tanks Were Tops —
November 30, 1930, was a classic Indian summer day in southern Ohio. Balmy, shirt-sleeve temperatures greeted the 10,000 football fans who flocked into old Redland Field in Cincinnati to watch the upstart, small-town Ironton Tanks battle the "Monsters of the Midway," the Chicago Bears. That it was a glorious day for the semi-professional Tanks is perhaps an understatement. And victory coming just two weeks after the Tanks destroyed the New York Giants, another NFL power! Were the Tanks for real?
All too real, it seemed to other semi-pro and profesional teams, as the Tanks stalked 85 victims in 12 years and tasted defeat only 19 times. The Tanks, a combination of ex-college athletes and local boys, provided a much-needed source of pride to Irontonians.
The Ironton Tanks were Founded in 1919, and many legends have developed about how the team started and picked up the nickname of the Tanks.
Some say the Team started when a group of veterans "just wanted to play football." They likened themselves to the battlefield tanks because they rolled over their opponents without mercy, and the name stuck. Perhaps they got their name from a headline of that first season, which read" Ironton Runs Over Portsmouth Like Tanks.
However, the name arrived is of little consequence, but it aptly describes the teams [sic] play. In 12 seasons, the Tank's [sic] rumbled to a record 85 wins, 14 ties and 19 losses against strong semi-professional and NFL teams.
After a series of games in 1919 between some Ironton teams, an all-star team was picked to play a four-game schedule. All of the players were hometown boys who agreed to share any of the gate receipts. The team got a late start compared with other area teams and amassed a 1-1-1 record going into the hightlight [sic] game of the season: A Thanksgiving clash with Portsmouth.
The Portsmouth team, which had been playing all fall, was accompanied to Ironton by 300 confident fans. Ironton fans were confident also, because they had an ace up their sleeve: T.C. "Shorty" Davies, a former Ironton High School star and a running back at Ohio State and West Virginia universities, returned home to play for the Tanks in the big game. (Davies refused his share of the gate receipts so he could retain his college eligibility)
Davies proved to be an early problem for Portsmouth when three minutes into the game he carried the ball around right end and down the sideline for a spectacular 50-yard touchdown run. Portsmouth could never seem to get going against the strong Tank defense, and the game [sic] ended. Ironton 12, Portsmouth 0.
Portsmouth again fielded a semi-pro team, and as usual, the Ironton-Portsmouth game aroused a lot of interest. Stimulating much of the excitement was heavy betting on the game by the teams' supporters. It was becoming a common practice by that time for a number of them to bet on the game by the teams' supporters. It was becoming a common practice by that time for "local sports" in Ironton to get some money together and then send a representative to Portsmouth to see if they could get the bet covered. They usually could.
The game itself proved secondary to the betting as the Tanks officially crushed the Spartans at Portsmouth, 40-0. Unofficially? Two minutes before the end of the game, at the strong urging of the Portsmouth fans, the head official stepped forward and called the game [sic] declaring it a mismatch. His final pronouncement: "All bets off." From that point on, all Tanks-Spartans games were for blood.
It is ironic that just as the Tanks reached their time of greatest glory they were forced to disband. Many of the Tanks went on to play for the Portsmouth Spartans until 1934. In 1934 a franchise called the Detroit Lions purchased the Spartans for $16,500.
Pushed by the depression, professional football became a "big city-money game." No longer would small towns, with a lot of pride and heart, be able to challenge the big cities on the gridiron. A golden era of small town semi-pro football ended.
Sometimes this fall, preferably on a crisp Sunday afternoon, visit Tanks Memorial Stadium, renamed to honor the town's team. Listen closely and you can harken back to an earlier time. If you're lucky, you can hear the faint echoes of football played on the same green field over seventy five years ago, and visualize a packed stadium and sidelines jammed with Tanks faithful, cheering on their beloved Ironton Tanks