Long before the Tennessee Titans called Nashville home, there was another professional football team that played in the Music City. The year was 1938 and the National Football League (NFL) was still a teenager, having become the NFL in 1922. There were still several “professional” leagues playing across the country including the Midwest Football League. In 1938 they changed their name to the American Football League (not the same as the AFL that would later merge with the NFL) which included a team in Nashville called the “Rebels” along with five other teams (Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati and Dayton).
The Rebels were coached by Johnny Lynch and finished the season at 2-2-1 and lost a thrilling playoff game to St. Louis 19-13.
9/28/38 – at Cincinnati (Lost 34-0)
10/9/38 – at Chicago (Lost 20-0)
10/16/38 – at St. Louis (Tied 7-7)
10/23/38 – Dayton (Won 22-0)
10/30/38 – at Louisville (Won 10-0)
11/27/38 – Playoff at St. Louis (Lost 19-13)
The Rebels played their only home game on October 23, 1938 at Sulphur Dell against the Dayton Rosies. Ticket prices were $1.50 with end zone sections for 55 cents. Segregation during those days also had a special section for African-Americans. Less than 2,000 spectators witnessed the game and sat through “three hours of miserable football weather” as the Rebels won 22-0 with three touchdowns from Rock Reed and Marty Slovak.
Nashville qualified for the playoffs when Cincinnati folded. This created a rematch between Nashville and St. Louis. The Gunners trailed 13-12 when halfback Ray Johnson scored the winning touchdown in the closing minutes. St. Louis would lose the championship game the following week to Louisville 3-0.
In spite of their successful home game and showing in the playoff game, the Nashville Rebels dropped out of the league.