1930: Sponsored by the Green Bay Packers, the Portsmouth Spartans begin play in the NFL in the finals years of the Small Town Era of the growing National Football League. The Spartans would make their debut on September 14th beating the Newark Tornados 13-6. However, the Spartans would go on to finish with a mediocre record of 5-6-3. One game of note was on September 24th when they beat the Brooklyn Dodgers at home in the first NFL night game played in front of portable lights University Stadium.
1931: Led by Rookie Backs Earl Clarke and Glenn Presnell the Spartans challenge for 1st Place in the NFL all season. However, the Spartans 11-3 record was only good for 2nd as the Green Bay Packers won their 3rd title in a row by finishing with a record of12-2.
1932: With a record of 6-1-4 the Spartans finish in a flat-footed tie for the NFL title with the Chicago Bears. It was the first time in history that the season ended with 2 teams atop the league’s standings. After the season’s final games, the league office arranged for the first playoff game in NFL history. However, the game was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium because of bitter cold and heavy snow. The arena allowed only an 80-yard field that came right to the walls. The goal posts were moved from the end lines to the goal lines and, for safety, inbounds lines or hash-marks where the ball would be put in play were drawn 10 yards from the walls that butted against the sidelines. The Bears won 9-0, scoring the winning touchdown on a two-yard pass from Nagurski to Grange. The Spartans claimed Nagurski’s pass was thrown from less than five yards behind the line of scrimmage, violating the existing passing rule, but the play stood. This leads to one of the most significant rules changes in football history. League owners agree to make the forward pass legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. The pass adds a new dimension and becomes the game’s most dangerous weapon. The game also leads to divisional play and an annual playoff game to decide the NFL Championship in future years.
1933: The Spartans struggle all season and finish a disappointing record of 6-5. It would also turn out to be their final season in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio. With the NFL was moving into large cities, the Spartans would be part of the move as Dick Richards buys the small town team, and moves them to Detroit where they establish a new tradition as the Lions. The Spartans would play their final game in Portsmouth on December 3rd losing to the Chicago Bears 17-7.