Pro football began in this Indiana town of 250, now it's coming back more than 100 years later

Pine Village will avenge a scoreless tie rematch Saturday, 100 years in the making.

Posted: Aug 9, 2019 6:50 AM
Updated: Aug 9, 2019 9:33 AM

PINE VILLAGE, Ind. (WLFI) — It's something you probably should know, but likely don't.

Professional football originated just 20 miles west of Lafayette.

Jack Brutus' Uncle Lee with the 1915 Villagers team.

"Yeah, right," you're probably thinking right now. 

About 250 people make up the small Warren County town of Pine Village, Indiana. Everybody knows everybody here.

"It's fun to hear 'Oh you're Steve's daughter, or you're Cleo's granddaughter," said resident Megan Eberly. 

"I compare it to modern day Mayberry," said Carrie Austin, alluding to the 1960s American comedy "The Andy Griffith Show"

There's not even a stoplight here.

"Actually there's no stoplight in the whole county," Austin said through a laugh. 

But if you ask anyone around town, they'll tell you about the town's claim to fame. Pine Village, Indiana is the birthplace of professional football.

"Football was started here by Clint Beckett," said Austin. "He was a teacher and principal at Pine Village High School. He started it in 1889. He was considered the father of Pine Village football."

The team played amateur ball from 1900 to 1914 and became professional in 1915, when the players were given $40 a game.

It's no tall tale, Eric Brutus' great uncle was a "Villager."

"Uncle Lee, he said he was one of the smaller men on the team," said Brutus.

The Brutus family has lived in Pine Village for 107 years. Eric's "Uncle Lee" lived to be 103 years old and willed his football collection to his great nephew.

"He wanted me to carry on the family history of him being on the football team," said Brutus.

Uncle Lee told Eric all the stories of "The Villagers." Like how they went undefeated for seven years, or how the legendary Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe played for the Villagers on Thanksgiving Day in 1915.

"He said that guy could run like a deer," said Brutus. "He said warming up before the game, Thorpe would kick the ball and then run down field and catch it."

"(Thorpe) was a coach at IU," said Austin. "He was hired for $250 by the Pine Village team so he could play for the Purdue University All-Stars. He wooped the All-Stars 29-0."

Football in Pine Village ended with the Great Depression, but now a group of volunteers is bringing it back.

"It's going to really look like, as much as we can, a 1920s football game," said Pine Village Committee for Community Enhancement Chair Paula Max.

This weekend, the Pine Village Villagers and the Rock Island Independents will avenge a 1919 scoreless tie. Nine players on each side will wear replica jerseys, leather helmets and will use an old melon football. It will be put on by Simon Herrera from Vintage American Football.

"We all have a pride in our hometown, and this is one thing that brings us closer together," said Eberly.

Brutus knows his Uncle Lee would be excited to see Pine Village's history getting the attention it deserves.

"Little towns across America all have a history," said Brutus. "The older we get, those memories fade and fade. It means a lot to me just to keep those lives in our memory. It almost becomes legendary after a time."

The town has planned an entire day of events Saturday for the Vintage Football Festival. The Windy Mill Restaurant will be open from 8 a.m. to  2 p.m. for a breakfast meet and greet with the players. A town parade begins at 2 p.m. with old Model T's and an appearance from the Boilermaker Special.

Player introductions begin at 4:30 p.m. at Pine Village Elementary, and the game kicks off at 5:30 p.m.

Following the game, they invite you to stick around town for live music at Hooker Corner Winery and karaoke at Brummett's Inn Tavern.

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