It is no coincidence that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio.
When the American Professional Football Association (APFA) — the immediate precursor of the National Football League — was formed in 1920, northeastern Ohio squads located in Canton, Massillon and Akron were recognized as the premier pro teams in America.
On April 30, 1921, the Akron Pros, who had compiled a 8-0-3 record, were presented the inaugural Brunswick-Balke Collender loving cup, emblematic of the “world’s professional football championship.”
Among the premier players in the league that year — and for several years thereafter — was Russell Grant Hathaway, a Vigo County native.
The son of John and Laura Hathaway was born in Ehrmanndale, a now extinct mining community in Nevins Township, on Jan. 14, 1896. John Hathaway was a miner.
Ehrmanndale was platted by Charles Ehrmann, brother of poet Max Ehrmann and president of the Ehrmann Coal Co., owner of several mines in the area.
When the Ehrmann mines closed, the Hathaway family relocated to Greene County. Grant, as he was identified in the 1900 census, attended high schools in Dugger and Linton.
It is unclear whether he played football at Dugger but he was a member of the unbeaten, untied and unscored on 1914 Linton High School team.
By the time he enrolled at Indiana University, Hathaway was known as “Russ,” a 200-pound lineman. He was the starting center and team captain of the 1917 Hoosier team that finished 5-2 in the Western Conference under Coach Ewald O. “Jumbo” Stiehm and winner of IU’s coveted Gimbel Award.
He also was selected to the 1917 first All-Big Ten team by the Chicago Daily Journal.
The 1917 Hoosiers outscored its four non-conference opponents, 176 to 0, and beat Purdue, 37-0. They lost to Minnesota, 33-9, and Ohio State, 26-3, the best teams in the conference. Hathaway’s 27-yard field goal against Ohio State was the first three of only six points scored against the undefeated Buckeyes that season.
Upon graduating from IU in 1918, Hathaway joined the Navy. After World War I, he began his pro football career with Pine Village, a small community in Warren County, Indiana, sponsored by the Pine Village Athletic Club.
Pine Village, believe it or not, nurtured a strong football tradition under the guidance of Claire Rhode, playing their home games in Lafayette. In 1915, Pine Village outscored its opponents, 271 to 0. Jim Thorpe, Olympic gold medal decathlete, the world’s premier athlete and America’s greatest football player, played his first pro game for Pine Village.
Next to Ohio, Indiana may have had the highest quality pro and semi-pro teams in the U.S. during the first two decades of the 20th Century. The Hammond All-Stars, which produced George Halas and John “Paddy” Driscoll, attracted 10,000 for a game in Wrigley Field against the Canton Bulldogs. The Fort Wayne Friars, Fort Wayne Vets, Wabash Athletic Association, Muncie Tigers, Gas City Tigers and the Evansville Crimson Giants also were competitive.
In 1920, Hathaway began the season playing for the Muncie Flyers in what initially was called the APFA. Former Rose Polytechnic center Owen G. Floyd (Class of 1919), a native of Marshall, Ind., was one of his teammates. But the Flyers folded after the first game, so he joined the Dayton Triangles, which finished the season 4-2-2.
Hathaway remained with the Triangles in 1921 and 1922.
Three teams contended for the 1921 title: the defending champion Akron Pros with Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson, the NFL’s pioneer black players; the Buffalo All Americans, led by Elmer Oliphant, another Linton High School product who was an All American at Purdue and the U.S. Military Academy; and George Halas’s Chicago Staleys, who began the 1921 season in Decatur, Ill.
Hathaway scored 24 points for Dayton in 1921 and his third quarter field goal upset Akron, 3-0. The Staleys beat Buffalo for the 1921 title, 10-7.
The next year Russ, now weighing 238 pounds, played for Canton, the undefeated 1922 NFL champion, and led the league in points after touchdowns. He was named a tackle on Halas’s 1922 second team All-NFL. He returned to Dayton in 1923 and 1924 and was chosen first team 1923 All-NFL by the Canton Daily News and second team by the Green Bay Press Gazette.
His kicking skills earned him the nickname “Three-Point Hathaway.”
Hathaway was acquired by the Pottsville Maroons for $350, one of several premier players signed by owner Dr. John G. Striegel in 1925. The Maroons were clearly the best team in the NFL, defeating runner-up Chicago Cardinals, 21-7. However, in a controversial directive, their title was stripped from them for playing an exhibition game against the Notre Dame All-Stars, featuring “The Four Horsemen,” in Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia was off limits to Pottsville, situated in a territory belonging to the Frankford (sic) Yellow Jackets, another NFL team. After hearing the evidence, Commissioner Joseph L. Carr dethroned Pottsville and ousted the team from the league. The people in Pottsville have been complaining ever since. Carr reinstated the Maroons early in 1926 so another league could not claim them.
Hathaway played the 1926 season for Pottsville and then joined the Buffalo Bison in 1927. In 1930, he played and coached the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans of the NFL. Portsmouth later became the Detroit Lions.
After he turned in his cleats, Hathaway engaged in a successful grocery business.
Hathaway married Clara Evelyn Flack of Greene County on Feb. 23, 1920 and the couple had one daughter, Mary Margaret. He was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on June 28, 1980.
Russ died in Clay City, at age 92, on Aug. 20, 1888. He is interred, with his wife, at Miami Cemetery in Warren County, Ohio. Daughter Mary Margaret, who married Herbert Ellis Woollard, died on Nov. 26, 1986.