John Kinport “Sal” Brallier was born December 12, 1876 in Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, near the Indiana state line.
At the age of 13, Sal played in his first football game as a high school freshman for the West Indiana Public School.
By 1892, he became team captain and starting right halfback.
Then in 1893, while still in high school, Sal also played quarterback for the Indiana Normal football club, winning the first three games he played.
Another interesting fact about Sal and this Indiana Normal football team was that a teammate of his was left guard Alex Stewart, the future father of movie star Jimmy Stewart.
Then during the fourth game of the 1893 season, Sal, Alex, and their Normal football team lost to Washington & Jefferson College 28-0.
However, Sal Brallier’s outstanding play led the Washington & Jefferson head coach, E. Gard Edwards, to write from Pittsburgh asking Sal to play football for his team.
Further correspondence followed through the winter between Sal and Washington & Jefferson team manager H. Wilson Boyd.
The result was that Sal agreed to go to Washington & Jefferson “if all expenses are paid for the entire year.”
The young high school football star graduated from Indiana Public School that spring and was awaiting the start of college when something happened 30 miles away in Latrobe, Pennsylvania that was to affect his career and the rest of his life.
In 1895, the town of Latrobe established a formal football team. However, just before the start of the season, Latrobe quarterback Eddie Blair found himself in a scheduling conflict.
Eddie Blair, who also played baseball in nearby Greensburg discovered that the team’s first football game against the Jeannette Athletic Club conflicted with a prior baseball commitment.
Latrobe team Manager David Berry, who was now seeking a replacement for Blair, had heard of Sal Brallier’s performance as the Indiana Normal quarterback.
He contacted the 17-year-old Sal at his home in Indiana and offered him expenses to play for Latrobe.
However, Sal was not particularly anxious to play, anticipating his entrance into Washington & Jefferson College in a few weeks.
The young quarterback was afraid that an injury would jeopardize his scholarship, so the Latrobe offered to pay him to “make it worthwhile”.
Finally, David Berry offered Sal $10 a game plus expenses, while promising several other games and he threw in “some cakes”.
This offer in effect officially made Sal Brallier the first paid professional football player.
Sal’s first Professional Football Game
Sal arrived in Latrobe the night before the game and practiced with the team under a street light.
He would help Latrobe go on to win the game.
Sal also kicked two field goals for a final score of 12–0.
College football career
Sal played for Latrobe in a second game against an Altoona squad before leaving for college.
There he promptly won the varsity quarterback position at Washington & Jefferson, and made his first start for the team on September 28, 1895 against Denison University. Washington & Jefferson won the game 32–0.
Sal’s 1895 Washington & Jefferson team won six games, tied Penn State University, and lost only to the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, which was composed of former college stars. After the Washington & Jefferson season, Sal returned to Latrobe to play another game, against Greensburg Athletic Association on November 30, 1895, which ended in a 4–0 loss. Sal Brallier suffered an injury late in that game.
Going into the 1896 season, Sal Brallier had nine different offers from schools, colleges, and athletic clubs to play football for them.
Both Washington & Jefferson and Latrobe wanted him to return, and his services also were sought by West Virginia University, Grove City College, Kiski Prep, Indiana Normal, Johnstown Athletic Club, Allegheny Athletic Association, and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.
He ultimately accepted the West Virginia University offer, since he wanted to continue his education and the Mountaineers’ offer was better than other schools could offer. However, Sal later stated that “unfortunately, the football management got into financial difficulties and could not take care of their men as promised.”
Sal Brallier was quarterback and captain of the WVU team coached by “Doggie” Trenchard, a former All-American from Princeton.
They played Geneva College first, and then three games with Lafayette Collge.
After the 3rd Lafayette game, Sal left WVU and accepted Latrobe Athletic Association’s offer to serve as its quarterback and coach.
Then, after Latrobe’s season, Sal received an offer from a hotel proprietor who managed Punxsutawney’s team to assemble some football talent to play for Punxsutawney in a deciding third game with rival DuBois.
After a fun-filled week of practice and occupancy of the hotel’s third floor, the game at DuBois lasted only 12 minutes before a riot ended play with Punxsutawney leading, 12–0. Both teams had outsiders with Latrobe’s Harry Ryan and Ed Abbaticchio joining Brallier. The problem arose when the officials disallowed a DuBois score, although Punxsutawney’s captain, Lawson Fiscus, offered to start the game anew with no score.
Speculation was that the riot gave DuBois a chance to escape what may have been a rather sound drubbing in a game on which great amounts of money had been wagered.
Sal then returned to Latrobe for the 1897 season.
On May 11, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Sal Brallier entered the U.S. Army. Although he was not mustered out, and was stationed near Latrobe for the football season.
He signed a contract to play for Latrobe for $150 and expenses for the season.
He played three games, then left in mid-October to join the Pittsburgh Athletic Club at an increase in salary.
After the Pittsburgh team’s season was over he rejoined Latrobe for a final game against the Greensburg Athletic Association.
Then in the fall of 1899, Sal received an offer from the University of Pennsylvania to play quarterback.
However, Penn had worried that Sal had played so much professional ball that the school’s amateur standing would be at stake.
Pennsylvania was trying quite hard to get Harvard on their schedule.
However, Harvard had refused to play Penn on the grounds that some of Quakers’ players were not amateurs.
So Sal decided not to play for Penn and toured Pittsburgh’s dental schools, deciding to attend Medico-Chirurgical College, from where his older brother had graduated the year before.
Ironically Medico-Chi, as it was called, later became part of the University of Pennsylvania.
Before leaving for school that fall, Sal helped coach the Indiana Normal team and turned down another Latrobe offer.
He had planned on giving up football for his studies.
However, pressure from the Medico-Chi football coach and squad members changed his mind. Sal Brallier was elected team captain and quarterbacked the school’s undefeated season which wound up gloriously with a win over rival Jefferson Medical College.
During the summers of 1899 and 1900, Sal also worked with the surveying corps of Lackawanna Iron & Steel Company.
In 1900, he helped lay out the town of Wehrum south of Vintondale, Pennsylvania in Cambria County.
Before the 1900 season, Sal had an offer from the University of Maryland to take up the coaching position.”
He refused it, stating that he wanted to dedicate more time to his studies.
Sal returned to Medico-Chi and captained another undefeated team in its regular schedule. He then graduated in 1902 with a degree in Orthodontia.
Returning again to the pro football ranks
Sal rejoined the Latrobe football team as player-coach for 1902.
He had turned down pro football offers from the Franklin Athletic Club and Oil City Athletic Club, located in northwestern Pennsylvania.
From 1903 to 1905 Sal led Latrobe to three straight undefeated seasons.
Including wins against the Canton Bulldogs, who later became a founding member of the National Football League.
He later wrote in retrospect that the 1903 Latrobe backfield “was the best I had ever played with and the best I have ever seen.”
Sal Brallier finished his career in 1907 and was considered as one of the best players of his era, right alongside Pudge Heffelfinger.
Life after football
Sal went on to practice dentistry, and served his community during a 20-year tenure as a school director, from which he retired at the end of 1931.
In March 1941, tragedy struck when his wife was killed in an automobile accident.
In the early 1950s, Latrobe was recognized by the National Football League as the birthplace of professional football, and Dr. Sal Brallier was given lifetime passes for all National Football League games.
Latrobe even became a candidate for the proposed Pro Football Hall of Fame but the Hall went to Canton, Ohio.
Sal spent his time, after retirement, in parts of Canada and Florida.
He enjoyed his recognition as one of the first professional football players.
When he died on September 17, 1960, at age 83, he was the last surviving member of the Latrobe football team.
In 1979, John “Sal” Brallier was voted one of the “Best Pros Not in the Hall of Fame” by the Pro Football Researchers Association.
While Sal Brallier was considered the first professional football player and deemed a national icon for many years, it wasn’t until after his death that evidence proved he was not in fact the first professional football player, but merely the first one to openly admit he was paid. William “Pudge” Heffelfinger of the Allegheny Athletic Association is now considered the first professional player.
Now WE know em