History of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA)

by Chris Willis

1979: Behind the guidance of editor Bob Carroll, the first issuue of The Coffin Corner published in March of 1979 a mere nine copies mailed out to prospective members with the stated aim of sparking the creation of a professional football researchers organization.

"We typed up the whole eight pages and photocopied about a dozen issues to send out to some researchers we knew. Most of the issue was concerned with questions and suggestions about how we might create an organization. There was an article, reprinted from an 1898 Pittsburgh Press about the first pro all-star game, but at the time, we figured such 'extras' were secondary to organization news. Most would agree that it's more of a magazine now."

Three months later on June 22, 1979 the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) was founded in Canton, Ohio by six original members as a non-profit organization. The six founding members who were at the first meeting were: Bob Carroll, Bob Braunwart, Vic Frolund, Joe Horrigan, Tom Nikitas and Jim Stewart.

"The actual meeting took place in the Hall of Fame Board Room and while it was relatively informal, we did feel it was necessary to elect officers. I know we elected Bob (Carroll), the architect of the whole idea, president," recalled Joe Horrigan, founding member of PFRA. "An important note. A really important person attending the meeting was Bob Braunwart. Bob and I had been corresponding for some time and his areas of interest were very similar to Bob Carroll's. I put the two of them together and they recognized the futility of working on the same projects independently and decided to collaborate and agreed to co-author their findings. Thus so many of the early pieces in the Coffin Corner are co-authored by them as a part of that arrangement. They were the Lennon and McCartney of pro football research."

At the organizational meeting in Canton the PFRA drew up by-laws and elected Bob Carroll as President, Bob Braunwart, Vice-President, and Vic Frolund as Secretary/Treasurer. Eventually Joe Horrigan would be named Secretary. The original founders would go on to state the purpose of the newly established PFRA.

"The purposes of the organization are to foster the study of professional football as a significant and athletic institution; to establish an accurate historical account of professional football; and to disseminate research information.

In the early yaers of PFRA members received: "Twelve issues of The Coffin Corner; the opportunity to submit material to be considered for publication in the newsletter/magazine; an end of year Directory of Membership; a specially prepared Annual at a membership discount rate ($4.00); other PFRA publications at membership rate; and a PFRA Membership Card."

The original membership fee for PFRA in 1979 was just $12.00.

By the end of 1979 the PFRA had about fifty members.

1980: The PFRA publishes its first ever PFRA Annual.

The PFRA's first ever Annual Convention and Business Meeting was held at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on June 21-22.

1981: The PFRA's Annual Convention and Business meeting was held June 26-28 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

1982: On June 18-20 in Washington, D.C. at the Silver Springs Quality Inn the PFRA hosted their Annual Convention and Business meeting.

1983: On August 12-14 in Canton, Ohio at Sheraton Belden Inn at Belden Village the PFRA hosted their annual convention and business meeting.

1984: Starting with the 1984 May/June issue The Coffin Corner went to being published bi-monthly. The bi-monthly issue had eight to ten articles and was 16 pages in length. In Nov/Dec. former Providence Steam Roller founder and general manager Pearce Johnson joins PFRA.

1985: The PFRA Annual Business Meeting was held on August 17th in Cleveland, Ohio.

1986: The PFRA published ten issues of The Coffin Corner with each issue being 12-pages in length. On August 16th the PFRA meets in Canton, Ohio for the Annual Business Meeting.

1987: Bob Carroll was named first Executive Director of the PFRA. At the 1987 PFRA Annual Business Meeting in Canton, Ohio (June 13th with 12) the PFRA Board created the annual Nelson Ross Award for "Recent achievement in pro football research and historiography" and the Ralph Hay Award fro "Lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography".

1988: The Coffin Corner expands to 24-pages (up from 12) and goes back to being bi-monthly with six issues published. PFRA founding member Vic Frolund (1900-1988) dies. At the Annual Business Meeting held in Canton, Ohio (June 18th) the PFRA announces the first winners of the Ralph Hay (David Neft) and Nelson Ross (Bob Braunwart) awards.

1989: The Annual Business Meeting is held on July 15th in Canton, Ohio.

1990: The Annual Business Meeting is held on July 28th in Cleveland, Ohio.

1991: PFRA Founding member Tom Nikitas passes away. The Annual Business Meeting is held in Canton, Ohio on June 22nd.

1992: The Annual Business Meeting is held on June 13th in Canton, Ohio.

1993: The Annual Business Meeting was held on August 28th in Canton, Ohio.

1994: In January founding member Jim Stewart passes away. For the first time no PFRA Annual Business Meeting is held.

1997: The Annual Business Meeeting held on October 18th in Canton, Ohio.

1998: In February, PFRA launches its first-ever website. The Annual Business Meeting was held on October 16th in Canton, Ohio.

2002: The Hall of Very Good is created. The first class is selected from a list of 57 players.

2003: The first class of Hall of Very Good of ten charter members is selected from a list of 57 playyers. The Coffin Corner celebrates its 25th year of publication.

2006: Ken Crippen is named as PFRA's first Assistant Executive Director.

2007: On October 14th founding member Bob Braunwart passes away at the age of 59.

2008: The PFRA establishes a Bi-Annual Meeting. The first is held on June 21, 2008 in Monroeville, Pennsylvania at the Red Roof Inn.

2009: Bob Carroll resigns as Executive Director due to health reasons. On August 25, 2009 Bob Carroll passes away at the age 73. In the first issue of The Coffin Corner (Vol. 31, No. 6) after Carroll's passing, the whole issue (24 pages) is dedicated to PFRA founder Bob Carroll.

Ken Crippen is named Executive Director and Andy Piascik is named Assistant Executive Director.

2010: Mark Durr gives PFRA a new logo.

The second Bi-Annual Meeting gathers in Canton, Ohio on June 19th. The meeting takes place at the Hampton Inn and is attended by 24 members plus the family of Bob Carroll (32 total). For over an hour the PFRA pays tribute to Bob Carroll. At the end of the tribute the PFRA establishes the Bob Carroll Memorial Writing Award given to the best original article published in The Coffin Corner each year. The award is sponsored by Dave Biesel of St. Johann Press.

2011: Jeff Eby wins the first annual Bob Carroll Memorial Writing Award for his article "The Big Mo: Does it Really Exist?"

PFRA publishes its first book, "A Minor Masterpiece" by Bob Gill.

2012: Mark Durr is named Publications Director and Editor of The Coffin Corner.

PFRA publishes its second book, "The Early History of Professional Football."

The third Bi-Annual Meeting was held June 8-9, 2012 in Mount Laurel, New Jersey at NFL Films. 65 PFRA members attended the two-day event that featured speeches from special guests Dave Plaut and Sal Paolantonio.

2013: PFRA starts grass-roots effort of establishing local chapters. Mark Palczewski announced as the PFRA's official photographer.

In October Ken Crippen resigns as PFRA Executive Director.

2014: On January 30th Chris Willis agrees to become PFRA Executive Director. As of February active membership sits at 357.

The fourth Bi-Annual Meeting was held June 6-7, 2014 in Berea (Browns Facility) and Cleveland, Ohio (First Energy Stadium). Guest speakers included: Tony Grossi, Hall of Famer Dave Robinson, Terry Pluto, Jonathan Knight. A special 1964 Browns discussion panel that includeed former players Jim Houston and Dick Schafrath.

2016: The fifth Bi-Annual Meeting was held in Green Bay.

Mark L. Ford is named Executive Director.

2018: The sixth Bi-Annual Meeting was held in Buffalo.

2021: The Seventh Bi-Annual meeting was held in Canton, Ohio at the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

2022: Lee Elder is named Executive Director.

2023: The Eighth Bi-Annual Meeting was held in Pittsburgh.

Hall of Very Good Logo

This month's Coffin Corner

1958 Baltimore Colts

The 1966 Green Bay Packers

The All-America Football Conference

The Early History of Professional Football

A Minor Masterpiece