A little more than a year ago, I drove across the country looking for adventure and discovery. While in Ohio, I stumbled upon a ginormous high school stadium, much larger than what I am used to in California. Standing in front of Tiger Stadium resides a statue depicting Paul Brown, the legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns who had singlehandedly modernized the NFL. Since then, I've often. wondered just how good his teams were in high school. After all, Massillon built that huge 21,000 seat stadium just for him.
Building a Winner
Massillon High School had always been good at football. Despite a lack of playoffs, they won state titles in 1909, 1916 and 1922. But after winning it all in 1922 with a young player named Paul Brown, they hit a bit of a dry spell and failed to win another championship the rest of the decade.
By 1931, the school had grown tired of coach Elmer McGrew, finding that year's 2-6-2 record unacceptable. They didn't have to look far for their next coach, hiring alumnus Paul Brown away from his first coaching gig at the Severn School.
He immediately began to win, winning the first five games of 1932 before the team bottomed out with a tie and four straight losses. What's worse, they failed to score any points in their last three games.
Inspired by the quick turnaround and even more by the disappointing finish, the Tigers started 1933 hot, not giving up a single point until the fifth game of the season, a 6-0 loss to Barberton. But that year would prove to be different than 1932. Instead of wallowing in despair and letting victory slip through their fingers again and again, Paul Brown's boys fought back, beating Alliance 19-0 the next week and dominating the next three opponents as well.
But a familiar foe loomed. Once again, Canton McKinley ended a promising season by shutting out the Tigers 21-0, this time in front of a massive 10,000-spectator crowd. But that loss was overshadowed the following year.
Here they were, for the first time ever two teams would face off against each other undefeated. What's more, the Tigers came into the game having yet to allow a single point all season long. That would quickly change as Massillon lost in front of their home crowd 21-6, losing to the national champs in heartbreaking fashion. As the Bulldogs danced and celebrated their triumph, Paul Brown seethed. He knew that his time was coming.
The Massillon Tigers entered the 1935 season brimming with confidence, having allowed just 21 points all year just the year before and returning many of their starters. Every time they closed their eyes, they could see their arch-rivals dancing in the middle of their home field, having clinched the national championship. Since becoming the head coach at his alma mater, Paul Brown had never beaten Canton McKinley with his teams having scored a measly six points in three previous contests. Nothing else mattered that year. All that mattered was beating Canton McKinley at season's end.
While that mindset might sound distracting, for Massillon it motivated them all year long. In the season's opening weeks, they pummeled Akron East 70-0, Cleveland Shaw 66-0, Portsmouth 46-0 and Youngstown South 64-0 in front of 10,000 people. The rest of the season played out much the same, with no one coming less than four touchdowns from victory.
No one, that is, but the Canton McKinley Bulldogs. The season finale was a defensive slugfest from start to finish, with neither team willing to give any quarter. Bob Glass broke a scoreless tie by leaping from the three-yard line and into the endzone in the third quarter. That was all the points that the Tigers needed to secure the league, state and national titles over their hated foes. When the clock struck zero, Massillon fans were delirious in exuberance and stormed the field. Their rabid fans followed them for the next eight miles, honking their horns all the way from Canton back to Massillon.
After going undefeated for the first time since 1922, Paul Brown and his Massillon Tigers set out to rewrite the history books. They were even better in 1936, giving up just 14 points the whole year and managed to shutout McKinley 21-0 in the season finale before a sellout crowd of 20,000. At season's end, Massillon had won the national title for the second year in a row.
They stumbled a bit in 1937, tying Mansfield and losing to New Castle (Pennsylvania) to end a 21-game winning streak. But the Tigers regrouped when it mattered most and beat undefeated McKinley for the state title in front of 14,000.
By 1938, it was quickly becoming obvious that Massillon was going to need to upgrade its facilities. Every Friday night, tens of thousands would jam into their cramped stands to watch the state's best team make history. After defeating McKinley 12-0 in front of 18,000 to finish another season undefeated and claim another state title, construction began on Tiger Stadium, a venue that was scheduled to open at the beginning of 1939.
Seeing the crowds that consistently gathered at their games, the Massillon High School administration decided to build a new football stadium to hold the masses. Utilizing the Works Project Administration that was popular in the Great Depression, Massillon erected its new monument to the sport by the start of the 1939 season. At the time, Tiger Stadium could hold more than 21,000 people, hopefully enough to hold the swelling crowds.
In their first game at Tiger Stadium, 15,000 gathered to watch their Tigers end Cleveland Cathedral Latin's 17-game winning streak in a 40-13 pasting. Massillon would give up just 12 more points the rest of the year. They pounded Mansfield 73-0, stifled Warren Harding 33-0, beat Erie East (Pennsylvania) 66-0, dominated Alliance 47-0 in front of 16,000 and humbled Steubenville 50-0. After shutting out New Castle 46-0 in front of 17,000 at Tiger Stadium, Massillon gave up its first points since Week 1 in a 47-6 victory over Canton Lehman.
Their 38-0 win over Youngstown Chaney the next week drew the smallest crowd of the season at Tiger Stadium, attracting just 8,000 fans. That game was just a warmup for their annual rumble with Canton McKinley. In front of 22,000 fans at Canton's recently opened Faucet Stadium, Massillon won 20-6, earning another national championship. and setting up one of the greatest seasons in high school football history.
With World War II beginning to rage overseas, Massillon wreaked havoc on high school football fields all over Ohio. The dominance began in the spring, with an impressive 47-0 win over Kent State in a scrimmage. From then on, everyone knew that no high school in the land would stand a chance against the mighty Massillon Tigers.
Amazingly, everyone on their starting defense was named first-team all-state and they didn't give up a single point until the season's final week. In the meantime, their offense scored at will against the competition. In the season's opening weeks, they hung 64, 48 and 59 points against Cleveland Cathedral Latin, Weirton (West Virginia) Warren Harding, respectively.
In consecutive weeks, the Tigers played in front of crowds north of 22,000 and 33,000 against Erie East and Alliance. Their game against Alliance was the first high school game ever played at Akron's recently opened Rubber Bowl. The game itself was no contest with the Tigers winning by 40 points, just a week after destroying Erie East by 74. The 1940 Massillon Tigers were a rampaging machine, destroying all that was in their path and unwilling to take any prisoners.
From there, they continued their dominant ways, albeit with a lower-scoring offense than earlier in the season, possibly due to Ohio's usual inclement winter weather. Instead of scoring more than 60 points, the Tigers had to adjust to scores of 38-0 (Mansfield), 28-0 (Toledo Waite) and 26-0 (Youngstown East).
In the last game of the season, they returned home to Tiger Stadium to battle against Canton McKinley. While some may have suspected that this would be Paul Brown's last game as a Tiger, others elected to live in the moment. That includes his players. As they pummeled their hated rivals 34-6 in front of 22,000 adoring fans, many began to sense that the platform had gotten too small for their beloved coach.
Sure enough, after having given up just six points and winning another national championship in his last year at the helm, Paul Brown left to coach the Ohio State Buckeyes. He left his alma mater having won four national titles, six straight state championships and 80 games in just 90 contests. By 1942, he proved that those years at Massillon were not just a gimmick when he led the Buckeyes to the national championship.
Massillon continued to be a tremendous program long after Paul Brown left, winning mythical state titles in 1941 and 1943 before winning seven straight between 1948 through 1954. All told, they've won 24 state titles but none since the playoffs were implemented in the early 1970's.
That was right around the time when Paul Brown began to think about retiring from the sidelines. He was the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals by then, having left a lasting impression wherever he coached, whether it was in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati or Massillon.