Portsmouth Spartans
Founded1930, 92 years ago
Relocated1934 to Detroit
Based inPortsmouth, Ohio
LeagueNational Football League
(as of 1930 season)
Team historyPortsmouth Spartans
Detroit Lions
Team colorsPurple, gold, white
Head coachesHal Griffen (1930)
George "Potsy" Clark
Owner(s)Portsmouth, Ohio
Home field(s)Universal Stadium

The professional American football team now known as the Detroit Lions previously played in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Portsmouth Spartans, from its founding in 1928 to its relocation to Detroit in 1934. Originally drawing players from defunct independent professional and semi-professional teams, they joined the fledgling National Football League in 1930. Their home stadium was Universal Stadium (known today as Spartan Municipal Stadium).


The Spartans' home field in 2008, now known as Spartan Municipal Stadium.
The Spartans' home field in 2008, now known as Spartan Municipal Stadium.

The Spartans formed in 1928 when the team began importing players from defunct independent professional and semi-professional teams.[1] The following year, Portsmouth residents agreed to fund the construction of a football stadium that was comparable to those in neighboring communities along the Ohio River.[2] That approval prompted the National Football League to grant the city a franchise on July 12, 1930.[3] The Spartans played their first NFL game at Universal Stadium on September 14.[1][2] With fewer than 43,000 residents in 1930, Portsmouth became the NFL's second smallest city, ahead of only Green Bay, which had a population of under 38,000.[1] During the team's first year in the league, the Spartans compiled a record of 5–6–3, tying for seventh place in the eleven-team league in 1930.[1]

Early highlights as the Portsmouth Spartans include the "iron man" game against Green Bay in 1932. In that game, Spartans coach Potsy Clark refused to make even a single substitution against the defending NFL champion Packers. Portsmouth won 19–0 and used only 11 players all game.[4] At the end of the 1932 season, the Spartans were tied for first place in the league with the Chicago Bears.[5] That prompted what in retrospect became known as the first NFL playoff game. Blizzard conditions in Chicago meant the game was moved from Wrigley Field's outdoor field to the indoor field at Chicago Stadium, which allowed for only an 80-yard field. The game was won 9–0 by the Bears, on a touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange.[5] The resulting interest led to the establishment of Eastern and Western conferences and a regular championship game beginning in 1933.[4]

Despite success on the field, the Spartans were fighting to survive off of it. The team was in so much debt that the players received shares in the team in lieu of their salaries. In 1934, a group led by George A. Richards, the owner of Detroit radio station WJR, was announced as having bought the Spartans and moved them to Detroit for the 1934 season.[1] Richards renamed the team the Detroit Lions. He not only wanted to offer a nod to the Detroit Tigers, but also wanted to signal his goal of building a team that would be the "king of the NFL."[6]

List of seasons

One-Game Playoff Berth
NFL season Team's season League Conference Division Regular season Postseason results Awards
Finish Wins Losses Ties
Portsmouth Spartans
1930 1930 NFL T-7th 5 6 3 The NFL did not hold playoff games until 1932
1931 1931 NFL 2nd 11 3 0
1932 1932 NFL 3rd 6 2 4 Lost Playoff Game12 (Bears) (9–0)
1933 1933 NFL Western 2nd 6 5 0
1934 Relocated to become the Detroit Lions
Totals 28 16 7 (1930–1933)

1 The result of the 1932 NFL Playoff Game to determine the NFL champion between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans counted in the standings.
2 Prior to the 1972 season, ties did not count in the NFL standings. Therefore, the Bears (6–1–6) and the Spartans (6–1–4) were considered to be tied atop the standings ahead of the Packers (10–3–1).


  1. ^ a b c d e Barnett, C. Robert (1980). "THE PORTSMOUTH SPARTANS" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Spartan Municipal Stadium". Ballparks.com. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  3. ^ "Detroit Lions Team Facts". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Spartans History". Portsmouth Spartans Historical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Greene, Bob (February 6, 2011). "What if the NFL had stayed in town?". CNN. Retrieved May 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Holmes, Dan (March 13, 2015). "How the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons got their names". Vintage Detroit. Retrieved February 28, 2020.