NFL historian Chris Willis takes a fascinating look at professional football history in his recently released book, Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL’s Most Famous Traveling Team. At the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, one team—the Oorang Indians—was different than the rest: comprised entirely of Native Americans and created by star athlete Jim Thorpe and dog kennel owner Walter Lingo from La Rue, Ohio.
With careful research and an eye for the important details, Chris Willis uncovers an important nugget of NFL history. While the Oorang Indians only lasted for two years in the 1920s, they provide a unique example of the kind of small town franchise that survives today only with another early NFL team—the Green Bay Packers.
Chris Willis is the Head of the Research Library at NFL Films, a position he has held since 1996. He is the author of multiple books on pro football, including The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr (2010), Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions (2012), and A Nearly Perfect Season: The Inside Story of the 1984 San Francisco 49ers (2014), all published by Rowman & Littlefield. In 2002 Willis was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the HBO Documentary “The Game of Their Lives: Pro Football in the 1950’s.” Willis was awarded the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Ralph Hay award for lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography in 2012.