|Based in||Detroit, Michigan, United States|
|League||Ohio League (1911–1919)|
American Professional Football Association (1920–1921)
National Football League (1925–1926, 1928)
|Team history||Detroit Heralds (1905–1920)|
Detroit Tigers (1921)
Detroit Panthers (1925–1926)
Detroit Wolverines (1928)
|Team colors||Red, White (Heralds)|
Orange, Black, White (Tigers)
Blue, Gold, White (Panthers)
Blue, White (Wolverines)
|Home field(s)||Navin Field (Heralds, Tigers, Panthers)|
Dinan Field (Wolverines)
Detroit, Michigan had four early teams in the National Football League before the Detroit Lions. The Heralds played in 1920, and had played as an independent as far back as 1905. The Tigers, a continuation of the Heralds, played in 1921, folding midseason and sending their players to the Buffalo All-Americans. The Panthers competed from 1925 to 1926 and the Wolverines in 1928.
In 1905, several University of Detroit football players, led by Bill Marshall, organized the Heralds as an amateur team after the university did not field a squad. While the university's football team resumed play in 1906, the Heralds continued to play as an amateur team. In 1911, the team dropped its amateur status and became semi-professional. In 1916, several out-of-town players were brought in to replace some of the older players, several of whom had been with the Heralds since 1905.
Despite not being based in Ohio, the Heralds played many of their games against teams in the Ohio League. In 1917, the team recorded an 8–2 record, their only losses coming at the hands of the Ohio League champion Canton Bulldogs and a military team from Battle Creek. The Heralds were a rarity in 1918; while most teams either stopped play or reduced their schedules to only local teams because of World War I and the flu pandemic, the Heralds continued to play a full schedule and even travel to other cities, accruing a 6–2 record with both losses coming to the Ohio League champion Dayton Triangles. In 1919, as the suspended teams resumed play and travel restrictions eased significantly, the Heralds went 1–4–2, including losses to Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers.
In 1920, the American Professional Football Association, predecessor to the National Football League, was established. While the Heralds did not officially join the association, they are listed in league standings for the season. Overall, the Heralds went 2–3–3.
The Heralds were reorganized into the Detroit Tigers, after the city's major league baseball team, for the 1921 season. However, after a tie and a win in their first two games, the Tigers lost the next five. Several players complained about not getting paid and left the team during the season. The team officially folded at the end of the season in mid-November. Its remaining players were given to the Buffalo All-Americans.
In 1925, Detroit fielded its second NFL franchise, the Detroit Panthers. The team was organized by future Hall of Famer, Jimmy Conzelman. Conzelman was a quarterback who had recently played with the Decatur Staleys, Rock Island Independents and the Milwaukee Badgers. Conzelman served as the team's owner, coach, and starting quarterback. The Panthers started the season 8–1. However, a 6–3 upset loss to the Independents on Thanksgiving Day knocked them out of first place and they ended the season in third.
The Panthers hoped to build on their 1925 season, but they opened the 1926 season with an 0–3 record. After rallying to a 4–0–2 record in their next six games, they lost their last three. Conzelman gave up the franchise and joined the Providence Steam Roller as player-coach.
Following the 1927 season, the Cleveland Bulldogs were sold to a group of investors, who moved the team to Detroit. Coached by LeRoy Andrews, the team was renamed the Detroit Wolverines. They were named after quarterback Benny Friedman's alma mater, the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines finished their 1928 season in third place with a 7–2-1 record, losing only to the Providence Steam Roller and the Frankford Yellow Jackets, the NFL's first and second place teams.
During the offseason, Tim Mara, the owner of the New York Giants, was interested in acquiring Friedman. Rather than simply trade for Friedman, Mara bought the entire Wolverines franchise and promptly deactivated it, delivering Friedman and other star Wolverines players to New York. The NFL would not return to the Motor City for six years, until the Portsmouth Spartans became the Detroit Lions in 1934.
Past Thanksgiving Day games
While the Lions are well known for playing on Thanksgiving Day, the other Detroit teams had a history of playing on Thanksgiving Day as well:
- 1917 Heralds vs. Canton Bulldogs (lost 7–0)
- 1920 Heralds at Dayton Triangles (lost 28–0)
- 1921 Tigers, merged with the Buffalo All-Americans, at Chicago Staleys (won 7–6)
- 1925 Panthers vs. Rock Island Independents (lost 6–3)
- 1926 Panthers vs. Los Angeles Buccaneers (lost 9–6)
- 1928 Wolverines vs. Dayton Triangles (won 33–0)
Pro Football Hall of Famers
|Detroit Heralds / Tigers / Panthers / Wolverines Hall of Famers|
- Bak, Richard (January 6, 2012). "Pro football struggled in Detroit during the Roaring '20s". Vintage Detroit. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
- "Detroit Titans Year by Year Football History" (PDF). Detroit Titans. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
- Griffith, R. D. (2012). To the NFL: You Sure Started Somethin' A Historical Guide of All 32 NFL Teams and the Cities They've Played In. Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc. p. 138. ISBN 978-1434916815.
- Maxymuk, John (2012). NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920-2011. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 383. ISBN 978-0786465576.
- "'Pro' Champs Are Beaten by Officers". Detroit Free Press. November 12, 1917. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
- "1919 Detroit Heralds". The Pro Football Archives. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
- "Detroit Heralds 1920 Game Log". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- "Detroit Tigers 1921 Game Log". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
- Bak, Richard (January 7, 2012). "Pro football struggled in Detroit during the Roaring 20s (Part II)". Vintage Detroit. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
- Schubert, Bill (1997). "JIMMY CONZELMAN" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- Rozendaal, Neal (2012). Duke Slater: Pioneering Black NFL Player and Judge. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 100. ISBN 978-0786469574.
- "Detroit Panthers 1925 Game Log". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- "1925 NFL Standings & Team Stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- "Detroit Panthers 1926 Game Log". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- "Detroit Wolverines 1928 Game Log". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- "1928 NFL Standings & Team Stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- "Benny Friedman To Lead Giants". Detroit Free Press. July 18, 1929. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- Barnett, C. Robert (1980). "THE PORTSMOUTH SPARTANS" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- Cook, William A. (2011). Jim Thorpe: A Biography. McFarland & Company Inc. pp. 134–135. ISBN 978-0786463558.
- "Thanksgiving Day Games". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- Payton, Mike (November 25, 2015). "Thanksgiving football in Detroit goes back farther than you think". SideLion Report. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- "Jimmy Conzelman". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- "Benny Friedman". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 2, 2020.