On Dec. 24, 1931, Portsmouth Spartans fans opened the newspaper and found this Christmas card on page 10 from Roy “Pop” Lumpkin, a back for the Spartans and probably their most popular player. (Right below was an ad declaring “ALL TOYS 1/2 OFF — Excepting Electric Trains” at the Glockner Hardware Co.)
Players were much more a part of the community then. Indeed, they often lived with the fans, renting spare rooms and breaking bread with them many nights. Lumpkin, a brawny, fun-loving type who didn’t wear a helmet, was so beloved he’d receive votes for political offices he didn’t run for.
Alas, that time was passing in Portsmouth. It simply didn’t have a big enough population — about 40,000 — to support an NFL franchise for long, especially once the Depression hit. Elsewhere on page 10 of the Times was a story about a drive to sell shares in the Spartans to keep them from moving to a larger market.
The Spartans, it turned out, lasted two more seasons in Portsmouth. In 1932 they played in the first NFL championship game, losing 9-0 to the Bears on a 67-yard — from goal line to goal line — field at Chicago Stadium. (Winter weather forced the clubs to play indoors.)
Then a radio magnate, George Richards, bought the franchise and moved it to Detroit — and Lumpkin, as far as I know, never sent another Christmas card in the newspaper to his adoring fans.