History of the Portsmouth Spartans

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Portsmouth Spartans
Founded1928, 91 years ago
Relocated1934 to Detroit
Based inPortsmouth, Ohio
LeagueNational Football League
(as of 1930 season)
Team historyPortsmouth Spartans
Detroit Lions
Team colorsPurple, Gold, White
Head coachesHal Griffen (1930)
George "Potsy" Clark
Owner(s)Portsmouth, Ohio
Home field(s)Universal Stadium

The professional American football team now known as the Detroit Lions previously played in Portsmouth, Ohio from its founding in 1928 to its relocation to Detroit in 1934; this article chronicles the team's history during their time as the Portsmouth Spartans. Originally drawing players from defunct independent professional and semi-pro teams, they joined the fledgling National Football League in 1930, their home stadium was Universal Stadium (known today as Spartan Municipal Stadium).


The Spartans playing the Chicago Bears (indoors) at Chicago Stadium in 1932.
The Spartans' home field in 2008, now known as Spartan Municipal Stadium.

The Spartans formed in 1928 when the team began importing players from defunct independent professional and semi-pro teams;[1] the following year, Portsmouth residents agreed to fund the construction of a football stadium that was comparable to those in neighboring communities along the Ohio River. That approval prompted the National Football League to offer the city a franchise in July 1930, and led to the construction of Universal Stadium, which opened September 14 with a capacity of 8,200.[2] With less than 43,000 residents in 1930, Portsmouth became the NFL's second smallest city, ahead of only Green Bay, which had a population under 38,000.[1] During the team's first year in the league, the Spartans compiled a record of 5–6–3, tying for seventh place in the eleven-team league in 1930.[1]

Early highlights as the Portsmouth Spartans include the "iron man" game against Green Bay in 1932. In that game, Spartan coach Potsy Clark refused to make even a single substitution against the defending NFL champion Packers. Portsmouth won 19–0 and used only 11 players all game.[3] At the end of the 1932 season, the Spartans were tied for first place in the league with the Chicago Bears;[4] that prompted what in retrospect became known as the first NFL playoff game. Blizzard conditions in Chicago meant the game was moved from Wrigley Field's outdoor field to the indoor field at Chicago Stadium, which allowed for only an 80-yard field; the game was won 9–0 by the Bears, on a touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange.[4] The resulting interest led to the establishment of Eastern and Western conferences and a regular championship game beginning in 1933.[3]

Despite success on the field, low revenue and the Great Depression threatened the Spartans' survival. In 1934, it was announced that a group led by George A. Richards, the owner of Detroit radio station WJR, bought the Spartans and moved them to Detroit for the 1934 season.[1] Richards renamed the team the Lions, as a complement to the Detroit Tigers.[5]

List of seasons[edit]

One-Game Playoff Berth
NFL season Team's season League Conference Division Regular season Postseason results Awards
Finish Wins Losses Ties
Portsmouth Spartans
1930 1930 NFL T-7th 5 6 3 The NFL did not hold playoff games until 1932
1931 1931 NFL 2nd 11 3 0
1932 1932 NFL 3rd 6 2 4 Lost Playoff Game1 (Bears) (9–0)
1933 1933 NFL Western 2nd 6 5 0
1934 Relocated to become the Detroit Lions
Totals 28 16 7 (1930–1933)

1 The result of the 1932 NFL Playoff Game to determine the NFL champion between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans counted in the standings.


  1. ^ a b c d Barnett, C. Robert (1980). "THE PORTSMOUTH SPARTANS" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  2. ^ "Spartan Municipal Stadium". Ballparks.com. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Spartans History". Portsmouth Spartans Historical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Greene, Bob (February 6, 2011). "What if the NFL had stayed in town?". CNN. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  5. ^ Holmes, Dan (March 13, 2015). "How the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons got their names". Detroit Athletic Co. Retrieved May 5, 2019.