Hershey, Pennsylvania, is a city that has a rich sports heritage – even without ever having their own major pro or college team. Chocolatetown’s best known sports memory is Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962; his performance set an NBA single-game record that’ll probably never be broken. But if the city had their way, Hershey’s greatest sports moments would’ve occurred on an NFL gridiron.
In September of 1945, Hershey’s head honcho of sports and entertainment, John Sollenberger, expressed interest in the city fielding a NFL team. He stated, “We have the facilities and we have the population in and around Hershey that would compare favorable with Green Bay.” ¹
Sollenberger’s comments came right after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-12 in an exhibition game played in Hershey. So perhaps Sollenberger was just making a passing comment about Hershey’s NFL viability after getting caught up in the excitement of the game.
None the less, there was little chance of Hershey ever getting their own permanent NFL team. Sollenberger’s comparison of Hershey to Green Bay also wasn’t accurate. Hershey’s population of 6,076 in the 1950 Census was nearly eight times smaller than that of Green Bay’s tally. It’s true that Hershey’s team would’ve drawn in fans from Harrisburg (89,544), but the Packers were also drawing fans from Milwaukee’s population base (637,392) with a pair of games there every season.
In a twist of fate Hershey temporarily became an NFL city in 1952. Kind of.
When the first-year Dallas Texans went bankrupt in the middle of the ’52 season, the NFL moved the team to Hershey to keep the team’s expenses to a minimum. However, the team was hardly Hershey’s to brag about. The Texans kept their namesake and only practiced in Hershey. The team’s lone “home” game during their final stretch was in Akron, Ohio – a 27-23 upset by the then winless Texans over the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day.
Even though they never had their own team, Hershey’s connection to major professional football was strong in the middle of the 20th century. The city hosted 30 major professional football exhibition games (29 NFL, 1 AAFC) from 1939 to 1965; only seven other cities have hosted more neutral-site exhibitions.
Hershey was also once the training camp home to the Philadelphia Eagles (1951-1967), Pittsburgh Steelers (1941-1942, 1945-1946), Baltimore Colts I (1947), Boston Yanks (1948), and the New York Bulldogs (1949).
Most cities the size of Hershey (current pop. 14,257) can only dream of such an NFL past.
- When the NFL moved the bankrupted Dallas Texans to Hershey in the middle of the ’52 season, it was intended that they would play three “home” games in their new Pennsylvania home. For whatever reasons those homes games (11-27 vs. Chicago Bears, 12-7 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 12-13 vs. Detroit Lions) turned into road games.
- According to PFR’s player registry, there has been only one player in the NFL with the last name “Hershey”. His name was Kirk Hershey and he played end for the Cleveland Rams and Philadelphia Eagles in 1941.
¹ Associated Press. (1945, September 20). Hershey May Try For Grid Franchise. Cumberland Evening Times, pp. 16. Retrieved July 25th, 2013, from NewspaperARCHIVE.
Associated Press. (1952, November 13). Dallas May Re-enter NFL. Oakland Tribune, pp. 26. Retrieved July 25th, 2013, from NewspaperARCHIVE.