NFL History: CSKT member Nick Lasso and the Oorong Indian football team were a crowd favorite in 1922-1923
One of the earliest and most colorful football characters, though largely forgotten, marked the association between and the NFL and the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Tribal member Nick Lassa played guard in the NFL in 1922 and 1923 with the Oorang Indians, an all–Native American team based in La Rue, Ohio. Nick was called by his teammates “Long Time Sleep” due to his teammates’ difficulty getting him up in the morning.
Lassa was born on July 11, 1898 on the Flathead Indian Reservation. He was a member of the Pend d’Orielle Tribe, one of the three main tribes that comprise the CSKT. At the age of 14, Nick attended Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and went on to attend college at Haskell Indian Institute in Kansas. After Haskell, he was asked to play professional football in the newly formed NFL with a team formed by world famous Native American and Olympian Jim Thorpe.
Nick was a large man and was quite the character, bringing with him from the Reservation a pet coyote. On several occasions, Nick entertained spectators by wrestling a bear at half-time. These early NFL games would draw over five thousand fans paying around $1.75 a game. Unfortunately, after two years the team folded. Nick stayed in the Ohio area, earning money as a professional wrestler and circus strongman.
In the early 1930’s, Nick returned to the Reservation and became a tribal leader, serving on the Tribal Council of the CSKT. Old Tribal Council minutes indicate that Nick, fluent in the Salish language, would often translate for visitors to the Tribal Council meetings. Many elders today can recall how Nick, dancing at Pow Wow’s, would playfully scare them due to his large size. Nick passed away in 1964.
Top: Nick Lassaw in the center (the only one on the second row) with Jim Thorpe, Olympic Gold Medalist standing behind and to his right (fifth from right).