There is no denying the tradition, lure and legend of Massillon Washington football and the cable network ESPN is set to highlight Tigertown in its ‘TitleTown USA’ series – the search for the top championship town or city in the country.
But is the high school football-crazed town deserving of such recogniton?
There is no denying the tradition, lure and legend of Massillon Washington football.
With names including Paul Brown, Chris Spielman, Lin Houston, Earle Bruce, Chuck Mather, Lee Tressel, Leo Strang and Jim Houston to name just a handful of past Tigers players and coaches, Massillon is as important to the game of football as the pigskin itself.
Take a walk through Paul Brown Stadium and you will find a museum of team photos from the past, a Hall of Fame honoring the coaches that walked the sidelines and memorabilia dating back to the game’s inception.
You can almost feel the ghosts of Massillon football in the air.
Taking the field since 1894, the Tigers boast the winningest football program in Ohio high school history with 780 wins, good enough for No. 3 all-time in the country.
Massillon claims 22 state championships and nine national titles and is being considered by ESPN as one of 20 towns and cities across the country for its ‘TitleTown USA’ series.
The cable network’s news program ‘SportsCenter’ is traveling to those cities and communities to feature them before online poll voting decides the city deserving the name of ‘TitleTown USA.’
For ESPN, Massillon is an obvious stop on its itinerary.
But take a look at the Ohio High School Athletic Association record book for past state championships and you will see Massillon conspicuously missing.
Because Massillon has never won an OHSAA state football tournament since the playoff system was instituted in 1972.
So, technically, Massillon has yet to win a football state championship according to the OHSAA. The Tigers have reached the title game three times but have finished state runner-up each time (1980, 1982, 2005).
The 22 state titles Massillon does claim are Associated Press championships – a poll voted on and based on the opinions of the members of the media across the state. While the Tigers may have been poll champions 22 times, it is hard to consider those teams legitimate state champions without settling it in between the lines with some sort of playoff system.
There also appears to have been a Northeast Ohio bias in early AP poll voting. From 1947-61, every poll champion hailed from that area. In that time span, Massillon ‘won’ nine state championships.
It wasn’t until 1962 a team outside of Northeast Ohio was voted poll champion when Toledo Central Catholic was recognized by the AP.
But the next three years the poll champion again came from Northeast Ohio, including two Massillon championships.
Not to say that some of those Massillon teams would have probably coasted through a playoff bracket and lifted the state championship trophy (see the 1940 team that outscored its opponents 477-6, including nine shutouts), but that word probably resonates strongly with me.
Just ask the 2007 Youngstown Cardinal Mooney team that was probably going to win the Division IV state championship.
Fielding a team riddled with Division I college recruits, Mooney breezed through the regular season undefeated and won the Division IV poll championship before cruising through the first four games of the playoffs.
Through 14 games, Mooney had outscored its opponents 430-139 with five shutouts and won an average of 21 points against, arguably, the toughest schedule in the state.
Going into the state title game with Coldwater, Mooney was probably going to win their second straight state title and third in four years.
Four hours after kickoff, Coldwater was Division IV state champion with a thrilling 28-27 win over nationally-ranked Mooney, shocking the Ohio high school football world.
Probably just isn’t good enough in sports.
It is not a given that the poll champions after the regular season are the best teams in the state and are going to win the OHSAA state tournament either.
The numbers back it up.
Since the playoff system began in 1972, only 51 of 156 (32.6 percent) poll champions have gone on to win the state championship.
That is less than one-third for those you of keeping score at home.
Now, it might seem like I am picking on Massillon and its hallowed football program, but I am not.
I could very well be calling out Steubenville, which claims six state championships prior to 1972. But the Big Red have also won three OHSAA state tournaments (1984, 2005, 2006).
Nothing beats Massillon’s football tradition and history and I have the utmost respect for the program. I even own the documentary film Go Tigers! and I still have the Greatest High School Football Rivalries: Massillon Washington vs. Canton McKinley episode that aired on the Versus network last fall saved on my DVR.
And nothing beats 2 p.m. on the 10th Saturday of the Ohio high school football season when the Tigers and Bulldogs square off in the greatest high school football rivalry in the country.
But Massillon should not be considered for ‘TitleTown USA’ with its ‘paper championships’ or be mentioned in the same breath with Green Bay, Wis., or Pittsburgh or Chicago or New York or Boston or Detroit or San Francisco to name a few of the stops in ESPN’s search for ‘TitleTown USA’.
Thanks, ESPN, for the fluffy features on some of the top sports towns in this great nation helping us fanatical sports fans get through that miserable time of year between the NBA finals and the start of football season.
It has been entertaining.
And thanks for recognizing one of the greatest high school football towns in the country.
Massillon is unmatched when it comes to Friday nights in America – yes – but ‘Titletown USA’?
I don’t think so.
Regardless, the feature on Massillon’s case for ‘TitleTown USA’ is set to air on ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ July 23 at 6 p.m.
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ESPN will be in Massillon on Monday July 21 to film two segments for the ‘TitleTown USA’ segment, according to www.indeonline.com. One segment will focus on the the city and its football tradition and the other will feature former head coach Earle Bruce.
For the residents of Massillon, there will be a rally for the 2008 edition of the Massillon Tigers at 6 pm. in Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, according to http://www.massillontigerslair.com. The rally will be part of the ESPN segment.