Dec. 1, 2011 - There was a time when the Dallas Cowboys, now called "America's Team" to the point of annoyance, wasn't even Dallas' team. The old Dallas Texans of the American Football League had that distinction, but they weren't the first Dallas Texans pro football team or the first pro team in Dallas. That distinction belongs to the Dallas Texans of 1952.
The Dallas Texans that most football fans know today, the one that begat the current Kansas City Chiefs, was started by Lamar Hunt, son of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, in 1960 after the NFL declined to let him start a team in Dallas. In typical Texas fashion, Hunt started his own league, the AFL, to compete with the NFL for fans. More significantly, he signed a television contract with ABC.
Two years later the Texans beat the Houston Oilers for the AFL championship. A year after that, Hunt moved the team to Kansas City. In the interim, the NFL, in an attempt to thwart Hunt and the AFL, had awarded a franchise to the Dallas Cowboys in 1960. The Texans left for Kansas City, the Cowboys stayed in Dallas, and the rest if NFL history.
The first Dallas Texans, that 1952 bunch, ended up homeless, but not quite winless. Prior to coming to Dallas, the team was known variously as the New York Yanks, the Boston Yanks and the Bulldogs. A Dallas-based group headed by Giles Miller bought the team from Ted Collins and set up shop in the Cotton Bowl.
Some thought putting a pro team in Texas was a good idea because of the way the state responded to the college game, but the fans stayed away in droves while filling high school stadiums on Friday night and college football stadiums on Saturday. The '52 Texans have been called the worst team in the history of the NFL, and the case can be made.
The Texans' first game was against the New York Giants, and 17,000 people failed to fill the 75,000 seat Cotton Bowl to see it. Dallas jumped to an early lead when a Giants defensive back fumbled a punt. Houston recovered and punched in a touchdown two plays later. The Giants player who set up the score with his fumble was a young defensive back from Mission, Texas named Tom Landry. The Texans went on to lose that game and every other game they played except for one.
Dallas continued to slog along but the team was such a lost cause that Miller returned the team to the league late in the season. The league moved the franchise to Hershey, Pennsylvania but oddly kept the name Dallas Texans. They were a traveling team by that point, with no home field to call their own. Forlorn, destitute and homeless, their last two "home" games were rescheduled for the opponents' field.
The Texans' last scheduled road game was against George Halas' Chicago Bears at the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio and drew just 3,000 fans, which was about half of what the high school game that preceded it drew. Texans coach Jim Phelan suggested to Halas that the two teams just skip the pregame introductions. "We can go just go into the stands and shake hands with every fan," he said.
Halas was so put out with the game and the paltry attendance that he decided to play his second string and rest his starters. The Texans responded with their only win of the season, 27-24. Without that win, the Texans would have been the first team since 1944 to go winless in a season.
Saved from that ignominy, the Texans could not be saved from oblivion. Phelan summed up the season and the history got the NFL's Dallas Texans by saying, "We got all the breaks, and they were all bad."
The team was sold the next season to Carol Rosenbloom, who started the Baltimore Colts franchise. The lineage ends there because the NFL does not recognize the Indianapolis Colts as a direct descendant of the Baltimore Colts. No one's claiming those old Dallas Texans, either, especially not any fans of the current Houston Texans.