Ask someone if they remember the Dallas Texans, and they’ll likely tell you they were one of the charter members of the American Football League.
They’d be right.
But eight years before that team hit the gridiron, the NFL had its own versions of Dallas Texans.
A success story, it was not.
While the AFL Texans ultimately moved to Kansas City and now boast a pair of Super Bowl titles, the NFL Texans struggled through a one-and-done 1952 season – and finished the year as a road team.
The franchise actually had a long history before arriving in Dallas; its lineage can be traced back to the Dayton Triangles of 1920. But after the NFL originals morphed into the Brooklyn Dodgers (1930-43), they were rebranded as the Brooklyn Tigers (1944), merged with the Boston Yanks (1945), moved to New York in 1949 and became the New York Bulldogs, and then remarketed as the New York Yanks in 1950.
They couldn’t make a go of it in the Big Apple and were sold back to the league, opening the door for Dallas textile millionaire Giles E. Miller to buy them on January 29, 1952. Part of the deal meant that Miller paid $100,000 to relocate the Yanks franchise and underwrote an agreement to pay off that club’s $200,000 in debts. Miller’s brother, Connell Miller, and 12 other Dallas businessmen were part of the ownership group.
According to the Associated Press, the team was expected to be called the Texas Rangers but Giles Miller christened the franchise Dallas Texans instead. Saying he was a “rabid football fan,” Giles Miller admitted owning a team was a new experience for him and “I’ll need plenty of advice.”
However, the smiles displayed at the opening press conference didn’t last long.
Not only were the Texans – who finished 1-9-2 a year earlier as the Yanks – unable to figure out how to win games under coach Jimmy Phelan, they never managed to win the hearts of Dallas fans. Their largest crowd at the Cotton Bowl was 17,499, which came in an opening day loss to the New York Giants.
But while starting the season with nine consecutive losses, they played only four games in Dallas. On November 14, the league took control of the team again, with NFL Commissioner Bert Bell releasing a lengthy statement on the matter:
I have determined that the Dallas Texans Football Club, Inc., is guilty of acts detrimental to the National Football League, namely a refusal to continue to operate the club and field a team throughout the balance of the 1952 season. The franchise of the Dallas Texans’ Football Club, Inc., is hereby canceled and forfeited and the player contracts, including the reserve player list, are hereby taken over by the National Football League acting on behalf of the remaining clubs in the league. The National Football League, acting for its remaining members and for the benefit of the players employed by the Dallas club, will continue to field the team with the approval of the Dallas club, under the name of Dallas Texans, for the balance of the 1952 playing season.
The club spent the rest of its 12-game slate as a road team, winning its only game in Akron with a 27-23 upset of the Chicago Bears. The traveling Texans closed out an 1-11 season with a 41-6 thrashing at the hands of the Detroit Lions at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.
So, what went wrong?
Pretty much everything.
Although they featured sensational running back Buddy Young (who would later have his number retired by the Baltimore Colts) and all-purpose standout George Taliaferro (the first African-American drafted by the NFL and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame), the Texans were overmatched game in and game out. They were last in the 12-team league in scoring offense, 11th in overall offense, 11th in passing offense, 10th in rushing offense, and last in both team defense and rushing defense.
And the fact that Dallas was a segregated city and made sure to stay that way on game day did the team no favors at the box office.
Rhett Miller, grandson of Giles Miller (and lead singer of alt-country band Old 97’s), wrote about the situation in the January 12, 2015, edition of Sports Illustrated:
In the opening game, Taliaferro connected with Young for the new team’s first touchdown. (It came after the Texans’ defense forced a New York Giants fumble by, of all people, Tom Landry.) Despite initial enthusiasm within Dallas’s African-American community for the team’s two black stars, very few black fans were on hand to see Young score. Cotton Bowl officials had coerced Pop (Giles Miller) into denying black fans access to the $3.60 grandstand seats, allowing them access only to the $1.80 end zone areas. The first preseason game was marred by overcrowding in these sections, and much of the local black community boycotted subsequent games.
Art Donovan, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee as a defensive tackle who gained additional fame in later life as a popular talk show guest, was also a member of the Texans. He said by the time the squad left Dallas behind, players just wanted to make it to the end of the season.
“Hershey, Pennsylvania, was our headquarters for the last four games of the season, and the league paid our salary,” Donovan said during an NFL Films interview. “When we were in Hershey, we were running out the string. We didn’t have any bed check, we were trying to get the season over … it was a disaster.
“We practiced maybe for about an hour and we used to play volleyball with the football over the crossbar. That was a big thing, and the best thing in Hershey was the night life. Man, we stood Hershey on its ear.”
In the end, the remnants of the Texans would provide the bones to build the Colts; the 1953 Baltimore team is considered an expansion franchise, but owner Carroll Rosenbloom was awarded the assets of the Texans and retained many of their players.
Thus, the ill-fated Dallas Texans hold the distinction of being the last NFL franchise to fold.