O'DONNELL, JAMES M. (3 Nov. 1872-1 Oct. 1946) owner of the first Cleveland franchise in what became the National Football League (NFL), was the son of Mary Murray O'Donnell. O'Donnell served as a deputy sheriff, was associated with Dann Spring Insert Co., and worked for the Bailey Co. as personnel manager 1914-1934, after which he established a real estate business on Cleveland's west side. Active in local Democratic politics, O'Donnell was the party's nominee for state representative when he died shortly before the 1946 election. As a sports promoter, he and pro football player Stanley Cofall established the Cleveland Tigers in 1919, playing in the loosely-organized Ohio League. They both attended the 17 September 1920 meeting in Canton where 10 team leaders created the American Professional Football Association, forerunner of the NFL. At the end of the APFA's first season, the Cleveland Tigers finished 9th in the14- team league. In 1921 the association had 21 teams, and the Tigers finished in 11th place. APFA was reorganized as the NFL at the beginning of 1922, and to insure its financial viability, the league voted to have each team post a $1000 guarantee against forfeiture during the season. O'Donnell was unable to provide the money and sold the defunct Cleveland franchise to jeweler Samuel Deutsch in 1923.
O'Donnell and his wife, Nora Mitchell O'Donnell had three children, William M., Mrs. John Joyce, and James E. He died at his home in Cleveland and was buried at St. John's Cemetery.