Forgotten Stadiums: Cycledrome
Let me start by being abundantly clear; the Providence Steam Roller (“Steam Roller” is two words, not pluralized) may be the coolest nickname in the history of sports. Co-founder, co-owner and former Providence Journal sports editor Charles B. Coppen hated when people called them the Steam Rollers. In his mind they were “one singular unstoppable force of athletic prowess, mowing over opponents like, well, a steamroller.” Coppen overheard an impressed spectator state that the opposition was “getting steam-rolled” during an early game in the team’s history and promptly changed the team’s name.
The Steam Roller was only around for a few short years but hold some pretty impressive distinctions in the world of professional football.
In 1928, decades before Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady came along to make football in New England a thing, The Steam Roller brought the first NFL championship to New England. Back then there was no such thing as playoffs and the league champion was decided by winning percentage, as there were many inconsistencies in scheduling. So, while the Frankford Yellow Jackets boasted an 11-3-2 record as opposed to Providence’s 8-1-2 mark, the Steam Roller were declared champions based on their .889 winning percentage (ties were not counted in the standings at this time).
While the Steam Roller never reached these heights again, they did achieve some additional notoriety, one because of a truly noteworthy event, one because of a scheduling quirk never to be seen again.
Between November 5 and November 10, 1929, the Steam Roller played an unbelievable four games in a six-day stretch. They started in Staten Island, came back to Providence, then took a road trip to Frankford, PA, then came back home to Providence. Could you imagine a team today undergoing such a stretch of games? This quartet of games could hardly be considered a success, as the Steam Roller finished with an 0-3-1 record.
In what turned out to be a more conventional innovation, the Steam Roller hosted the first ever NFL game played under the lights. A game against the Chicago Cardinals was originally scheduled to be played on November 3. A storm left their home field, the Cycledrome, unplayable. Not wanting to lose a lucrative home date or game pay, the game was rescheduled for the night of November 6 at nearby Kinsley Park. The game, played under newly-installed flood lights, drew a crowd of 6,000 fans. To aid players and spectators, the ball was painted white. The Providence Journal reported the ball “had the appearance of a large egg.” Chicago won the game 16-0.
The Steam Roller’s home stadium was as unique as the team’s nickname. The Cycledrome, located just off North Main Street on the Providence/Pawtucket city line, was built as a velodrome to host bicycle races. With a capacity of 10,000, it was the largest bicycle track in the United States at the time. A five-lap wooden track encircled the playing field. The track featured sharply banked ends, which severely cut into the end zones. One end zone was reduced to five yards deep due to the track. Lights were installed for the 1930 season, allowing for night games to be played. The Cycledrome was the first facility to install permanent lighting.
The Cycledrome, while a fantastic facility for its day, was far from perfect. There was only one locker room, which was used by the home team. This locker room was for the cyclists, and about the size of a pair of phone booths. The Steam Roller players had to use it one at a time. Jim Conzelman, the team’s coach, joked that the team sustained more injuries in the locker room than they did on the field. Still, the Steam Roller made out better than their opponents, who were forced to change at their hotels. Temporary bleachers were placed on the track straightaways, putting fans right on top of the action. It was said that the stands were so close to the field that players would often end up in the stands at the end of plays. Still, the Cycledrome was known as a great place for fans, with great views of the action close to the field and top local entertainment of the day featured during halftime. The location on the Providence/Pawtucket city line meant that fans from both cities could use their local public transportation to get to the game. The Steam Roller even had their own fight song.
(Slowly) Steam Roller… Roll, Roll, Roll (Faster)
Across their… Goal, Goal, Goal
For while the band is playin’, stands are swayin’
Fans are sayin’ ‘ROLL, Steam Roller’
Through their line
Around to the end! That’s fine
And, now to swell the score, one TD more
So… Roll! Roll! Roll!
Unfortunately, the Great Depression had a detrimental effect on the Steam Roller, who folded in 1931. The Cycledrome was closed in 1937 and demolished in 1938. On its site was built one of the first drive-in movie theaters in the country. Now hidden just off Interstate 95, a shopping center stands where the first NFL championship in New England was won. Don’t bother looking for any remnants or reminders of professional football or the Steam Roller here. There are none.