Allegheny Athletic Association
Founded 1890 ,1927 Folded 1896 Based in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States Home field Exposition Park Recreation Park League Independent Team History Allegheny Athletic Association (1890-1896) Team Colors Blue, White
Nickname(s) "Three A’s" Head coaches Sport Donnelly General managers O. D. Thompson (1890-1891, 1893-1896) Billy Kountz (1892) Owner(s) Allegheny Athletic Association Other League Championship wins Local Champs: 1891, 1894 Undefeated seasons 1896
The Allegheny Athletic Association was an athletic club in Allegheny, Pennsylvania that fielded the first ever professional American football player and later the first fully professional football team. The organization was founded in 1890 as a regional athletic club.
The Allegheny team was assembled in 1890. The AAA took up football largely to give them a recruiting edge over the established Pittsburgh Athletic Club. Many Allegheny club members had gone to eastern colleges and played football. At that time athletic clubs and associations, ranging from the best with extensive facilities to local organizations with minimum meeting rooms, were in their prime as a source of fraternal fellowship for athletes. The team was led by O.D. Thompson, a former teammate of Walter Camp at Yale, who had become a successful Pittsburgh lawyer.
The club's inaugural season began with the first recognized football game in Pittsburgh on when the Allegheny A.A. played Western University of Pennsylvania (which later became Pitt) at Recreation Park on the city’s North Side. Western University won the game easily, 38-0. This win against the AAA's would marked the official start of Pitt football.
The Three A’s, as AAA was called, went on to defeat Shadyside Academy and an all-star pickup team before losing to a touring Princeton team (probably the seminary), 44-6. The season concluded with a 6-6 tie with Detroit and a 6-0 loss to Cleveland, both amateur club squads.
The first openly professional player was William "Pudge" Heffelfinger, an all-American guard from Yale. Heffelfinger was paid $500 (US dollars) to play for Allegheny against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club on . Heffelfinger, who was working as a railroad clerk in Chicago, and playing for the city's top team between arguments with its management, had earlier turned down an offer to play for the Pittsburgh Athletic Club for $250. This set off quite a controversy as Pittsburgh A.C. protested the presence of Heffelfinger and other Chicago players. Allegheny retaliated with the fact that Pittsburgh A.C. had imported players as well. The game was played at Recreation Park, not far from where the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League play today. The spot is marked by a historic marker. Allegheny won the game, in front of 3,000 spectators, when Heffelfinger picked up a fumble, that he forced himself, and ran it in for a touchdown.
It later turned out that Heffelfinger received $500 plus $25 in expenses for the game, too much for a low-paid railroad clerk to pass up. Two of his Chicago teammates received “liberal” expense money. Thus, William (Pudge) Heffelfinger now is acknowledged as the first professional football player anywhere.
The next week, the AAA paid former Princeton tight end Ben "Sport" Donnelly $250 to play against Washington & Jefferson College, and despite having two pros, the AAA lost the game. In 1893, the AAA paid Pete Wright, James Van Cleve, and Ollie Rafferty $50 per game. Other Pittsburgh teams began hiring players, but the AAA remained the top local football club for the next two years.
In 1893, the same year the PAC signed pro football's first player under contract, the AAA paid at least three players $50 a game all season. They were James M. van Cleve, Ollie W. Rafferty, and Peter Wright. When the team started slowly, Sport Donnelly was brought in as player-coach, becoming the first man to coach a known pro team. Donnelly was paid to coach the team, however he still played for them for free.
For the 1896 season, the Allegheny organization fielded a completely professional team. However by 1896, the Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.), which discouraged professional play, began the process of suspending the Allegheny A.A. team for its flagrant violations of amateur rules. Knowing that it will soon be barred from competition by the AAU, the Allegheny Athletic Association defiantly emptied its treasury to import a team of all-stars, including Heffelfinger. The team, the first completely professional team , defeated the PAC and the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club on consecutive days, both games by shutouts. Then, after its abbreviated two game season, the pro football turmoil had upset the club so much that the sport was dropped.