Steinberg, Paul "Twister" : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Steinberg, Paul "Twister"

Jacob Paul Steinberg

A professional football player in the 1900s, Steinberg was described by Dr. Harry March (the "Father of Pro Football") as, "one of the most elusive, fastest, slickest, shrewdest, and clean backs of the century." A participant in the first professional night game in history (in November, 1902), Steinberg earned the sobriquet "Twister" because of his elusiveness as a runner in the open field. Steinberg was also the first Jewish professional basketball player, which helped him on the gridiron. He explained that "it was natural for me to change directions when in motion with the ball. I adopted the habit from my experience in basketball."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 4, 1880 - d. February 1964

Career Highlights:
Steinberg was an outstanding professional player in the early 1900s and played on some of the best teams of that era. After being discharged from the army in 1900, he went to Syracuse and played pro football with the Syracuse Athletic Association; he also played pro basketball. In 1902, Paul signed with Connie Mack's Professional Athletics baseball team and while he remained with the team on and off from 1902-1904, he never appeared in a major league game.

That same year, Mack organized and coached a professional football team also called the Philadelphia Athletics. Steinberg played halfback for Mack's team, which won the Philadelphia city title and then defeated Pittsburgh for the professional championship. With less than a minute remaining in the game, Steinberg had a 50-yard run to Pittsburgh's four-yard line. Philadelphia scored three plays later to win the game, 12-6. Soon after the victory over Pittsburgh, Twister joined the Syracuse All-Stars in the so-called "World Series of Football." Syracuse won the tournament held at Madison Square Garden; one of Steinberg's teammates was Dave Freeman.

Steinberg earned his nickname because of his ability in the open field to make opposing tacklers miss. Dr. Harry March wrote, "...he ran with what seemed to be a limp combined with a pivot and hip shake which made him a menace to the opponents in every game. He was particularly dangerous as a safety man handling punts and many times, with his limp, and his deceptive pivot, ran the ball for touchdowns after receiving them on full run."

After the Athletics disbanded in 1903, Steinberg joined the Franklin, Pennsylvania professional team. The team, backed by the head of Carnegie Steel Co. was so good that they had difficulty finding opponents. That year, they defeated Youngstown 74 (or 76) to 0, Wheeling 56-0, and the Buffalo Niagaras, 74-0. They also defeated Primrose A.C., 28-0, and spent the entire second half punting so they could practice their defense. After five weeks, Franklin had racked up 400 points while holding their opponents scoreless.

The team then participated in another indoor championship at Madison Square Garden and won it handily. The officials for the big game added a bizarre note by showing up in full evening dress -- patent leather shoes, spotless white gloves, and high top hats -- some suggested that they looked ready to officiate a funeral. Although the Franklin team was disbanded the following year because of the lack of competition, Steinberg remained in Franklin as a local favorite. In 1904, he played and coached semi-pro ball, but he was not finished with professional football.

In 1905, Twister moved to Canton, Ohio and played that year with the famed Canton Bulldogs, then known as the Canton A.C. Steinberg stepped into a huge rivalry with the Massillon Tigers. By this time, Ohio had become the football capital of the country and the two teams had started bidding on the top players, like Steinberg, who had previously played for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Franklin. Massillon had won the Ohio championship in 1903 and 1904 and Canton was looking to overtake their hated rivals.

In 1905, Massillon defeated Steinberg and Canton for the championship and Canton vowed to claim the title the following year. That year, the forward pass was legalized after Teddy Roosevelt called together a commission to "clean-up" football, as there were 18 deaths caused by the sport in 1905. In 1906, Steinberg, the team's best-known player, remained with Canton as one of the team's top backs. Canton "stole" many of Massillon's top players but both clubs found themselves close to debt because of the large salaries their top players were demanding. They were still willing to pay, however, as town pride took precedence.

After both teams defeated their other opponents, a two-game championship was set up between Canton and Massillon. For both games, Bell Telephone Company had men stationed on the grounds and telegraphed the plays around the country as they happened in an early form of play-by-play coverage. Canton won the first game, 10-5, for the team's biggest victory ever, but Massillon recovered to win the second game, 13-6, claiming the Ohio State Championship for the fourth consecutive year. After the games, however, rumors ran wild that some Canton players had thrown the game. In disgust, Steinberg quit professional football.

New York City

Career Dates:
Steinberg played halfback for a number of professional teams, including the champion Philadelphia Athletics in 1902 and the famed Canton Bulldogs from 1905-1906.

Physical description:
5'11", 210 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
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