The Super Bowl is this month, so I present to you a football legend, Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard.
He was born Jan. 27, 1894, and was the first African American head coach in the National Football League. Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first two Black players in the NFL in 1920.
Walter Camp, the football pioneer, called Pollard “one of the greatest runners eyes have ever seen.”
Pollard attended Lane Tech High School in Chicago, where he played football, baseball and ran track. He went to college at Brown University, majoring in chemistry, and played halfback on the football team. He was the first African American football player at Brown University and his team went to the 1916 Rose Bowl. He also became the first African American running back to be named to Walter Camp’s All-America team.
He later played pro football with the Akron Pros, a team he would lead to the NFL championship in 1920. In 1921, he became co-head coach of the Akron Pros while still being the team’s running back. He also played for the Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros and other NFL teams, and became the Pros’ head coach in 1923 and 1924.
At the end of the 1926 football season, Pollard and other African American players were removed from the league. A few of the teams had disbanded and there were a lot of White football players available to be signed by the teams that were left. Pollard spent time organizing all-Black football teams, like the Chicago Black Hawks and the Harlem Brown Bombers, just as the Negro Baseball League was organized. But the Black football league never materialized.
In 2005, Pollard was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in 2015 he was also posthumously inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. His grandson, Steven Towns, spoke at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions and said, “He had the speed of Tony Dorsett, the elusiveness of Barry Sanders, and the tenacity of Walter Payton.”
Fritz Pollard died May 11, 1986, after a short illness in Silver Springs, Md.