The CLEVELAND TIGERS, often referred to as the Cleveland Indians, were the first Cleveland franchise in what became the National Football League. Owned by local sports promoter JIMMIE O'DONNELL, the team began in 1919 as an experiment in the so-called Ohio League; in 1920, when owners of professional teams organized a more structured league, O'Donnell obtained the Cleveland franchise. O'Donnell, also the owner of a semipro baseball team called the Tigers, was aided in his football venture by STANLEY B. "STAN" COFALL, a football star at East Technical and later East High schools, then at Notre Dame (1914-16), and professionally with the Massillon Tigers. Cofall helped organize the Cleveland team in 1919 and, along with O'Donnell attended the Sept. 1920 meeting in Canton that founded the American Professional Football Assn., which became the NFL the following year. For the first half of the 1920 season, Cofall was the Tigers' player/coach; he was also elected vice-president of the new league.
In their first season, the Cleveland Tigers scored only 2 touchdowns and lost 3 games by 7-0 scores, compiling a record of 1-4-2. In 1921 the Tigers returned with 2 future Hall of Famers, Joe Guyon and player/coach Jim Thorpe. The team won its first 2 games, but in the second game Thorpe injured his ribs and was lost for the season; the Tigers narrowly lost the next 4 games. When Thorpe returned to action in a postseason game against the Giants in December, the Tigers were again victorious. Early in 1922, O'Donnell received league permission to suspend operations for a year, but when he was unable to post the $1,000 annual guarantee the NFL required, his franchise was canceled. The franchise was later purchased by SAMUEL DEUTSCH (see CLEVELAND BULLDOGS), who operated the team as the Cleveland Indians in 1923.