Beginning in August of 1928 reports emerged that Portsmouth, Ohio would be gaining ‘another strong football team.’ The team would be directed by Howard Graf of the First National Bank, who previously helped handle the city’s previous football team the Shoe-Steels.1 The announcement was met with much enthusiasm throughout the community. Within the month meetings were made with ‘fifty Portsmouth business men… for the upcoming football season’ and a community driven effort to name the team resulted in the official team name: the Portsmouth Spartans.2

1929 Portsmouth Spartans squad

The team was met with its first taste of victory following their first game on September 17 against the Bobb-Chevrolets of Columbus winning 20-12.3 Throughout the rest of the season, the Spartans were met with more success with wins against the Springfield Bulldogs, Middleton Armco, Columbus Mendel Tailors, among others. By the end of the season they had accumulated a 9-2-3 record.4 In 1929, the Spartans had an even more successful season than their first. While the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers resulted in a 0-14 loss, nearly all of the games henceforth were in the teams favor. With a 12-1-2 record, the Spartans were gaining recognition across the football community and country.5 Because of the success and followers they achieved, the team was encouraged to apply for entry into the National Football League, with the support of the Green Bay Packers.6 A couple months later, the Spartans received the ‘assurance of Joe Carr and other league officials that Portsmouth squad would be admitted’ into the league.7

Upon entering the league, the Spartans enjoyed gradual success. During the 1930 season, they ended in 7th place with a record of 5-6-3. Despite their modest record, the team did have some memorable wins. For instance, their biggest victory of the season against the Minneapolis Redjackets with a score of 42-0.  As time passed the following three seasons were met with great improvement with the team ranking 2nd place in 1931 and 1933, and 3rd place in 1932.8 However, despite the wins they were able to obtain the team wasn’t able to avoid the effects of the Great Depression. News of financial troubles first reached the public domain around early December 1931.  Portsmouth was at risk of losing the Spartans due to a nearly $17,000 deficit that was the result of losing money on 12 of the 14 games played by the team. In February 1932 the Portsmouth Corporation gained 1,000 stockholders whose funds would go towards offsetting the corporations previous debts, and thus allowing the team to move forward with a 1932 season.9

 Over the next two years, financial struggles continued to weave in and out of focus. However, it isn’t until 1933 that fate of the Spartans again become truly questionable. Through the last season, monetary problems were constantly present. The essence of these problems primarily emerged from a lack of ticket sales. While many fans were prone to attend the practice games, many also opted out of purchasing tickets because of financial restraints due to the Depression.10 As a result, in January a ‘swirl of reports that [stated] the Spartans would no longer play in Portsmouth, but the franchise transferred to some larger city’ become public.11 Shortly after in March, serious talks over the transfer emerged when league president, Joe Carr, was reported to be pitching the Portsmouth team to football enthusiasts in Detroit,12 and less than a month later the Spartan stockholders approved for the team to be sold to Detroit for $10,000.13 After merely four seasons in the NFL, the Portsmouth Spartans were disbanded and resurrected as another big city team: the Detroit Lions.14