Saturday, December 16, 2017

85th Anniversary of NFL's First Ever Post-Season Game

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
 The NFL had now reached its 13th season and come a long way from its humble beginnings, but it still had a long way to go to capture the public’s fancy. Pro football was still a distant second to the college game in popularity and football in any form couldn’t match baseball’s hold on the nation’s sports fans. League President Joe F. Carr and the other owners had now built a solid foundation and the time was coming that, until the NFL establish itself exclusively in major league cities- as many critics agreed- it was unlikely the league would be considered a major league. The NFL now had just seven franchises: 
1)      Brooklyn Dodgers
2)      Chicago Bears
3)      Chicago Cardinals
4)      Green Bay Packers
5)      New York Giants
6)      Portsmouth Spartans
7)      Staten Island

In 1932 the NFL would add an eighth franchise, the Boston Braves, owned by George Preston Marshall, and kept “official statistics” for the first time ever. At this time several teams felt the crunch of the Great Depression. The Packers reduced their prices of tickets going into the season by cutting season tickets (6 games) from $15 to $12 and box seats from $25 to $20. Hopefully, the lowering of ticket prices would bring out fans to NFL games, because the 1932 season would go down as one of the truly remarkable season, despite the sometimes “boring” play on the field. Which made absolutely no sense since Carr’s loop would feature a bevy of current and new stars. Returning All-Pros and future Hall of Famers included Bronko Nagurski (Bears), Red Grange (Bears), Mel Hein (Giants), Red Badgro (Giants), Dutch Clark (Spartans), Ken Strong (Stapletons), Benny Friedman (just joined Brooklyn), Cal Hubbard (Packers) and Johnny Blood (Packers).

 The new crop of rookies was equally impressive. With no NFL Draft college players graduating from school were free to sign with the highest bidder. In 1932 four future Hall of Famers inked NFL contracts. Fullback Clarke Hinkle (Bucknell) signed with Curly Lambeau’s Packers, end Bill Hewitt (Michigan) with the Bears, halfback Cliff Battles (West Virginia Wesleyan) and tackle Turk Edwards (Washington State) with Marshall’s new franchise in Boston.

Although the NFL had more stars than they could possible dream of the league played under virtually the same rules as college football, but the perception of the two games by the fans were different: college football, awash in ancient rivalries and hoopla, was exciting; while pro football, with its low scores and ties, was not. The only major change in the rules for 1932, a substitution change allowing a replaced player to return in a subsequent quarter, had no effect on the lack of scoring. In 1932, NFL games averaged only 16. 4 points per game for both teams, the lowest per-game record since 1926. At the end of the season the NFL owners would see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The eight NFL teams were now ready to hit the field.

On September 18th the defending champion Green Bay Packers kicked off the NFL’s thirteenth season by raising the championship banner for the third consecutive year. Then in front of a disappointing crowd of just 3,500 fans the Pack defeated the Chicago Cardinals 15-7.

The 1932 NFL season would turn into a year of no scoring and meaningless tie games- which as per the NFL by-laws tie games didn’t count in the standings. The sport had too many dull, low-scoring games to this point. After the first two months of action -24 league games- the NFL saw 13 shutouts (which was 54% of the games) and 7 ties (with four of the games ending in a 0-0 tie). Ironically, at a time when the NFL sowed the least offence in years the league had decided to keep official statistics. I don’t think this is what Carr envisioned. In speaking with Ralph Teatsorth of the United Press International Carr defended his league against the popularity of the collegiate game.

      “Professional football is for those who understand the game. College football was built with a background of tradition and pageantry. The professional game hasn’t much tradition or pageantry yet, but it provides the hardest and most interesting competition for those who love the sport purely for its own merits.

      We started in Boston with crowds of less than 5,000. The last two games there have drawn between 15,000 and 20,000 fans. This was somewhat a surprise in view of the conservative way in which Boston receives anything new in the line of professional sports."
Joe F. Carr, at desk of NFL Office in Columbus, Ohio, 1930's
Carr’s unyielding confidence in his league always shined through when talking to the press and during this small crisis he once again showed his true leadership by emphasizing the positives. The newest NFL team, the Boston Braves, had attracted some large crowds against the Bears (18,000) and Packers (16,500), but they didn’t produce a winning team finishing with a 4-4-2 record. By mid-season the Packers looked like a sure bet to win their 4th straight NFL championship. On the eve of their annual trip east they were 7-0-1. Curly Lambeau’s squad had pretty much stayed the same (with future Hall of Famers Cal Hubbard, Mike Michalske, and Johnny Blood), but they added two other Hall of Famers in fullback Clarke Hinkle and started to play quarterback Arnie Herber in the backfield.

The road trip started with a 21-0 victory over the Boston Braves (Nov. 13th) then one week later the Pack faced the Giants in New York. The Giants were a different team than in 1929-1930 as Benny Friedman was playing across the river for Brooklyn. Without Benny the Giants were scuffling with a 3-5-1 record, but Mara’s men pulled off a big upset shutting out the Pack, 6-0. That same day both the Spartans and Bears won. On Monday November 21st the standings looked like:

1st- Green Bay Packers  8-1-1*** (.888)
2nd- Portsmouth Spartans  5-1-3 (.833)
3rd- Chicago Bears  3-1-5  (.750)
4th- New York Giants  4-4-1  (.500)
5th- Brooklyn Dodgers  3-6-0  (.333)
5th- Boston Braves  2-4-2  (.333)
5th- Chicago Cardinals  2-4-2  (.333)
8th- Staten Island Stapletons  2-6-2  (.250)
*** In 1932 the NFL did not count ties in the standings.

After the Thanksgiving Day games (Nov. 24), and regular scheduled games on Sunday (Nov. 27), in which the Packers went 2-0, the Bears went 1-0-1 with a tie against the Spartans, who were playing their only game of the week, the Packers took a slim lead (Packers at .909, Spartans at .833, Bears at .800) into the league’s final two weekends. But they would have to face the Spartans and the Bears on the road to wrap up the season. If they wanted to win their 4th title in a row they would have to do it the hard way.
     On December 4th the Spartans hosted the Pack and in a couple of hours the Green Bay dynasty was over. In a game that the Spartans team and fans had been waiting for nearly a year they took it out on the great Packer team. Playing only eleven men Potsy Clark got his revenge as the Spartans simply destroyed the Pack 19-0. Behind the play of Dutch Clark (two touchdowns), Father Lumpkin and Glenn Presnell (one touchdown) the “cheese champs” didn’t have a chance.

    Despite one last game on the schedule the Packers were out of the championship race. As the Spartans were moving into first place the Bears defeated the Giants 6-0 and were still alive in the hunt for the NFL championship.
NFL Standings
As of Monday December 5th

1st- Portsmouth Spartans  6-1-4  (.857)  Regular Season Completed
2nd- Green Bay Packers  10-2-1  (.833)  Next Games- Dec. 11 at Chicago Bears
2nd- Chicago Bears   5-1-6  (.833)  Next games- Dec. 11 vs Green Bay Packers

The three-team race was down to one last game with the Bears having chance to tie the Spartans for the title. Both teams couldn’t have had different emotions going in- one playing for a title and a proud champion not. How would each team play? Green Bay faced the Bears in Wrigley Field in a heavy snow storm. The Packers’ offense continued to flatline but after three quarters the score stood at 0-0. Then in the final quarter the Bears scored twice to give them a hard fought 9-0 victory. Bringing the Spartans (6-1-4) and the Bears (6-1-6) into a tie for first place. Despite all the disputed championships in the league’s first dozen years this was the first race to actually end in a tie.

Had the league complied its standings as it does now- counting a tie game as a half-win, half-loss- the championship would’ve gone to Green Bay. However, the rules established in 1921 were in effect. Winning percentage, based strictly on wins and losses, determined the order of finish; ties were simply ignored.

Right after the Bears defeated the Packers in the snow on December 11th George Halas conferred with Spartans owner Harry Snyder about playing a play-off game to decide the NFL title. They agreed that it would be the best thing for the NFL and Halas then called President Carr to ask if this game could take place. Carr was on board with the idea and gave the two teams permission to play the game at Wrigley Field the following Sunday (Dec. 18th)

Carr’s decision to play the game would make history as the NFL was about to play its FIRST-EVER post-season game. Although the game would be an extension of the regular season rather than a championship game the playoff would count in the standings which meant the loser would slip to third place behind the Packers.

For Halas, it had been one of the most unusual seasons in Bears history as they started the season with three scoreless ties. Then in their fourth game was a 2-0 loss to the Packers on a safety- which turned out to be the Bears only loss. “The start of the season was totally frustrating. We had devoted two years to developing the modern T-formation with man-in-motion to open up the game and bring in new skills for scoring. We had so many good players…Yet, we went through our first four League games without scoring. Not one touchdown. Not one field goal. Not even a safety. Finally we took off and went through the rest of the season unbeaten,” recalled Halas years later.

One of the Bears’ biggest fans that season was Virginia McCaskey, the nine-year old daughter of Papa Bear, who was now devoted to the game her father loved. “I was very much involved then. Loved the game, mostly because it was so important to my dad and everything that was so important to him was important to me too,” says Virginia McCaskey.

The NFL President could see the love of a daughter for her father (he could relate) and his friendship with the Halas family would always bring back happy memories. “My memory of Joe Carr is his coming to dinner in our apartment on Campbell Ave. during my grammer school and high school days.” says McCaskey about when Carr would visit. “He was always well reserved and well dressed with his business suit, and his white shirt, and his tie and his glasses. He would always ask Mugs (her brother) and me about our school work and our activities. He paid special compliments to my mother because she fixed a chicken dinner, which was his favorite. She also had a chocolate icebox cake recipe that we all enjoyed. She didn’t make it very often, so we were always happy when we heard that Mr. Carr was coming for dinner, because then we knew we’d get the chocolate icebox cake.”

“Then after dinner, he and dad would go into the living room to have their business discussions. Mugs and I would help mom clean up the dishes or something just to keep us out of the way,” says McCaskey. “Now I look back and think, wouldn’t it have been wonderful to sit in on some of those discussions. At that time I had no idea.”

Well Carr and Halas had combined to give the NFL its first post-season game, how would it turn out?

The first obstacle was the weather. The Bears had played the Packers in a driving snowstorm in front of just 5,000 fans and the week of the play-off game it didn’t get any better. For a week, bitter cold and heavy snow continued to pound the Windy City and the possibility of playing the game at Wrigley Field- with any type of fan support- looked to be a bad idea. Halas remembered his team and the Cardinals playing a charity game indoors at Chicago Stadium in 1930 and he suggested to the Spartans as the site for the playoff if the snow continued to fall.

Although the weather looked to be the biggest problem, for the Spartans they had their own dilemma. On Tuesday before the game, it was announced that star halfback Dutch Clark would miss the game. Clark was scheduled to go back to his alma mater Colorado College to start his duties as head basketball coach. Since the play-off game wasn’t on the original schedule the Spartans didn’t foresee this coming. Management contacted the school’s athletic director and asked for permission to allow Clark, just this once, to show up late so he could play. In a Western Union telegram Portsmouth received the bad news.

“Dec. 14- 1:17 PM”



CHARLES C. MIEROW. (Athletic Director).”

The Spartans were dealt a big blow even before the game started. Despite the loss Potsy Clark- who’s team arrived in Chicago on Thursday- was still confident in his squad to pull out the victory. “I’ll have the boys clicking again and we know the offense of the Bears and will plan to break it up. If the boys play any kind of ball at all, we should win.” The two teams played twice during the regular season and tied both games, 13-13 (Nov. 13) and 7-7 (Nov. 27). Halas suggested to the press that if the teams were tied after four quarters they would play a ten-minute overtime to break the tie. There is no proof if this was agreed upon by the League before the game or not.

Carr arrived in Chicago late in the week and on the Friday before the game he announced that the game would be played indoors at Chicago Stadium because of the snowstorm. Chicago Stadium was a perfect size-place to host events for its usual tenants- hockey teams and circuses. It was absurdly small for football- only 45 yards wide (53 one-third yards) and 80 yards long including the end zones. At least they wouldn’t play on hockey ice. Fortunately for the players a circus sponsored by the Salvation Army had just performed in the arena the week before and left a six-inch bed of tanbark dirt on the cement floor.


More than a few players and fans noted the peculiar aromatic quality of the playing surface. “It was stinking and dirty,” recalled Charles “Ookie” Miller in a 1999 interview, who played center for the Bears that game. “One of our players got sick in the stomach and threw up. Oh it was bad. I could tell you something else. We had a couple of nips the night before. That smell wasn’t too good either. I could hardly get my head in that huddle.”

“I remember being there, because I was nine years old. I remember the odor,” says Virginia McCaskey. “The field was not your ideal field. It certainly was a lot more comfortable than being at Wrigley Field that particular week.” “It didn’t smell very good,” remembered Glenn Presnell, former Spartans halfback who replaced Dutch Clark in the starting line-up.

     Because of the confined playing environment several rules were put into place to make the game easier. Little did they know these rules and proceeding game would open the eyes of everybody involved in the NFL. To accommodate football indoors the two teams agreed to the following rules:

1)      The field would be only 80 yards long including the end zones, with a single goal post placed at one goal line. Kickoffs would originate from the defensive team’s 10-yard line. Field goals were prohibited.

2)      When a team crossed mid-field, it immediately was set back twenty yards.

3)      Because a solid fence surrounded the field only a few feet from the sidelines, the ball was moved in ten yards (some reports say fifteen) after each out-of-bounds play instead of starting the play right at the sideline with a loss of down. This would be the first time “hash marks” would be used in a NFL game.

4)      In case of a touchback the ball would be brought out to the ten-yard line.

The game was set for Sunday December 18th with kickoff at 8:15 pm (CST). Carr took his seat in Section R (Mezzanine), Row F, Seat 16 to watch the historic contest. As he sat down he saw an incredible sight- a sold-out crowd. The capacity crowd of 11,198 had battled the elements to attend the NFL’s first play-off game. The very warm fans came but they didn’t see much. The confined conditions really limited the play on the field as well as the sloppy dirt on it. “It was very treacherous footing,” remembers Glenn Presnell in a 1999 interview. “My favorite play was an off-tackle dive. One time we were close to the goal line, I ran off-tackle, as I planted my foot, it skidded out from under me and I went down. There was a hole there. I would’ve scored a touchdown.”

Despite missing Dutch Clark the Spartans held tough and fought the Bears on even terms for three quarters. Neither team scored heading into the final quarter. Then, with under five minutes remaining, Bears halfback Dick Nesbitt intercepted an Ace Gutowsky pass and retuned it to the Spartans’ seven-yard line before being knocked out-of-bounds. Because of the special rule the ball was brought into the field ten yards costing the Bears a down. On second down Bronco Nagurski blasted six yards to the one; on third down Nagurski tried again but this time lost a yard. So, on fourth down the game’s pivotal play came up and the history of the NFL would never be the same.
Only action photo of 1932 Indoor Game of 1932 NFL Post-Season Game Bears vs Spartans, Bill Hewitt (#56); Keith Molesworth (#4) Behind Hewitt is Bronko Nagurski ball carrier being tackled by neck.
Fourth and goal from the two! Nagurski got the ball a third time, faked a line smash, retreated a few steps and fired a pass to a wide open Red Grange in the end zone. Referee Bobbie Cahn signaled touchdown. “There was no way I could get through, I stopped. I moved back a couple of steps. Grange had gone around and was in the end zone, all by himself. I threw him a short pass,” recalled Bronco Nagurski years later about the touchdown.

Spartans coach Potsy Clark stormed onto the field protesting that Nagurski was not five yards behind the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass as the rules required. “We were sure that he was going to make a line plunge. He wasn’t anywhere near five yards back of the line of scrimmage, which was a rule in those days,” says Presnell. “It was an illegal pass. He wasn’t five yards back. Of course he lined up about five yards back but when he took the ball he stared to plunge into the line. Then he jumped up. They counted it anyway.”

“Well, I’m right in the middle. As I recall he started up and then jumped in the air and threw the pass,” remembered Ookie Miller in a 1999 interview. “They complained of course. They claimed it was illegal, but Nagurski claims he backed-up far enough that he was five yards back. I know we were working on that play for months.” Cahn was unmoved by all the protesting and held up the score. The Bears added the conversion and a few moments later a safety on a bad Spartans snap through the end zone. The Bears finished the game strong to win the 1932 NFL title with a 9-0 victory. “After eleven years the Bears were again champions!” wrote Halas in his autobiography. “Ralph Jones had delivered. Everybody acclaimed him. The modern T-Formation with man-in-motion had delivered.”

The best thing about the game was the amount of press the game received, as almost every major newspaper and smaller ones ran articles on the Bears big victory. Kenneth Fry writing for the United Press described the “Indoor Circus”:

     “Chicago Bears defeated the Portsmouth, Ohio, Spartans on the indoor gridiron at the Chicago Stadium last night, 9 to 0, for the professional football championship. 

     The playing field was six inches of dirt and tanbark spread over the stadium’s concrete floor. The field itself was sixty yards long, forty yards short of the rule book length. Players standing on their own goal lines punted into the other team’s end zone all evening. Punts from the middle of the field landed in the mezzanine balcony and adjacent territory. One kick knocked the “BL” out of the Black Hawks hockey sign. Another hit a sour note on the organ as the organist was playing, for obscure and undetermined reason, a song about “Cutting Down the Old Pine Tree.”

     The organist played “Illinois Loyalty” when Red Grange caught a forward pass for a touchdown. By mutual agreement neither team attempted field goals. Windows cost money.

     Only one punt was caught and returned during the entire contest. One went out of the bounds, one was downed. The rest landed against the walls or sent spectators scurrying for cover. Officials spent more time picking large clinkers out of the soil than they did blowing whistles.”

Chicago Tribune headline Dec. 19, 1932
The Portsmouth Times called it “a sham battle on a Tom Thumb gridiron,” although they did say the fans “enjoyed immensely the spectacle of an outdoor sport performed indoors.” The Spartans President Harry Snyder offered no excuses:

     “It was a nerve wracking contest. I never have seen anything like it. Of course we missed Dutch Clark but I don’t know whether we could have won, if he had been here. Our quarterback made a couple of mistakes, but those were mistakes of judgements. He thought he was deciding right and went through with the play.”

The bottom line was that the game had more significance than its immediate effect on the NFL standings. The “Indoor Circus” would be one of the NFL’s most important games. Upon returning home to Columbus Joe F. Carr also felt the significance of the game he just witnessed. He kept several tickets and passes of games or events he attended in his personal scrapbook, but he made sure this one had a permanent spot in his memory and he wanted everyone to know. After placing the $2.00 ticket stub in his scrapbook he wrote:

     “Ticket used by me at the Championship Game between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans on December 18 1932.”

1932 ticket stub of NFL's First Ever Post Season Game from Joe F. Carr Scrapbook (Courtesy of Carr Family)
There was no doubt he could see the future of the game, so much that he would write the statement next to the historic ticket, as it was the only time in his scrapbook that he would comment on a game. After witnessing the Indoor Circus he knew that the play on the field needed to be more exciting and the rules had to be loosened up to allow the great athletes coming into the NFL to show off their skills. Plus, the ability to play a game indoors intrigued him too. The game of football was meant to be played outdoors and Carr knew that but to be able to play a game indoors so fans could be comfortable was something he liked. For now that idea would have to stay in the back of his mind.

A couple of days after the game several players, writers and fans weren’t satisfied with the outcome of the Indoor Game. Tom Swope of the Cincinnati Post called the league’s “Pennant Decided in Joke Contest” and called the charity exhibition game between the Bears-Spartans in Cincinnati (Dec. 25) the true championship contest. Carr put to rest any potential controversy by saying:

      “You fellows decided to play for the championship in the Stadium. You knew in advance the field was small. You should have known that the smallness of the so-called Stadium gridiron would preclude real football and prevent both sides from executing many of the plays at your command. But since you announced that the championship would hinge on the indoor game, the Bears must be declared champions of our league. We have a standing in the eyes of the country which we must try and improve, not tear down. If we are to make the championship a box office ‘football’ and hippodrome it, we never will increase our appeal to the public in our league cities. You made your bed and now you must lie in it, so there can be no more games between the Bears and Spartans this year which will count in the league standing.”        

     Despite some of the negative tone by the press Carr was able to learn the most important lesson from the NFL’s first ever “play-off” game and that was the unbelievable interest generated among fans and media by a game for all the marbles at the end of the season. The owners would also see the reaction of the indoor game and they would respond quickly.

     On December 23rd Carr’s office with help from the publicity department sent out a press release recapping the 1932 season and announcing the first statistical leaders.

     “The National Football League enjoyed one of its most successful season in 1932 with the official race ending in a tie for the title between the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans, ending the three-year reign of the Green Bay Packers as world’s champions.

     The Chicago Bears after getting off to a slow start finished the season as one of the most powerful aggregations the league has ever boasted and capped its performance by defeating the Spartans in a post-season playoff game played indoors at the Chicago Stadium.

As usually fine crop of newcomers came up from college ranks to make good in their first season. Cliff Battles, halfback, and Glen Edwards, tackle, of Boston; Bob Campigolo, quarterback of Stapleton; Jack Grossman, Brooklyn back; Bill Hewitt, Bears, end; and Clarke Hinkle, Green Bay fullback, were a few of the college products who upset tradition by gaining stellar honors in their first season.

     Earl “Dutch” Clark, Portsmouth, quarterback, was the outstanding back of the circuit.”


Leading Rusher- Cliff Battles (Boston Braves) with 576 rushing yards
Rushing Touchdowns- Bronko Nagurski (Chicago Bears) with 4 touchdowns
Touchdown Passes- Arnie Herber (Green Bay Packers) with 9 touchdowns
Passing yards- Arnie Herber (Green Bay Packers) with 630 passing yards
Most Receptions- Ray Flaherty (New York Giants) with 5 touchdowns
Leading Scorer- Dutch Clark (Portsmouth Spartans) with 55 points

The most amazing thing about all the major statistical leaders from the first time the NFL kept statistics is that they all would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carr knew it was now time to let these fantastic athletes spread their wings and fly.

The first thing to be discussed was what to do about all these tie games. Out of the 57 regular-season games in 1932 a total of 10 ended in a tie (17 %). Giants’ owner Tim Mara called Carr to give his opinion on the subject and then talked to the New York Times on what might be done.

     “In every sport but football the authorities have sought too avoid a tie score. No matter whom you are rooting for you don’t want to see a game end in a tie. The game has reached such a stage now that few field goals are attempted. The one desire seems to be a touchdown.

      I think that if the point after touchdown were eliminated it would stimulate placements or drop kicks from the field.

      This (past) season we had made arrangements with the Chicago Bears in a game out there that if it end in a tie we would experiment with an overtime period. This plan might not be feasible for collegians, but I think it would work out for the professionals. I believe that our men are in better physical condition and that it would not affect them as much. [If after overtime period the game is still tie]…I guess they would have to allow the tie to remain.

      These statistics show how ridiculous it is to decide a game on such a mechanical thing as making the extra point. A team could have kicked off and resumed play in the time devoted to preparation of the extra point play.”
Tim Mara, New York Giants, Owner
Mara’s mind, just like Carr, was going crazy. Eliminating the extra point was a radical idea (which eventually didn’t happen) but Mara’s other arguments were right on the nose. During the 1932 season the NFL saw just SIX field goals made- Dutch Clark led the league with half of them (3). In comparison the NFL saw SEVEN safeties, eight if you count the one in the indoor play-off game. Something had to be done when the stats showed that teams scored more safeties than field goals. Scoring had to be encouraged by more scoring, which in theory would reduce the potential of low scoring-tie games. Carr agreed.

     “Spectators are opposed to drawn-out games. They want rapid action, intermingled with thrills and glamour which have made football such a great spectacle. If the new rules detract from the glamour of the game, we will have to revise them to suit our needs. It is our desire to open up the game and give the public as much action as possible. Our greatest appeal to the public is the speed with which a professional game moves.”

Carr could see that something had to be done and that the league couldn’t wait until the summer to discuss the issues facing the owners. On top of all the talk to make the NFL more fan friendly and exciting Carr had several new franchise applications come across his desk. Several cities wanted in including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Cleveland (maybe to replace the struggling Portsmouth Spartans) and Pittsburgh. The Steel City had several different promoters interested so Carr decided to kill two birds with one stone and called for a special League meeting set for February 25-26 in Pittsburgh.

     On the first day in Pittsburgh President Carr called the meeting at 1:00 pm in the conference room at the Fort Pitt Hotel. Vice-President Carl L. Storck took the minutes. Teams and their respective owners present were:
Boston- George Preston Marshall
Brooklyn- Martin Shenker and star quarterback Benny Friedman
Chicago Bears- George Halas
Chicago Cardinals- Dr. David Jones
Green Bay- Curly Lambeau
New York- Tim Mara and Jack Mara
Portsmouth – Harry Snyder and Homer Selby
State Island- absent

These twelve men who gathered at the Fort Pitt Hotel were about to change the course of professional football. Carr started the special meeting by suggesting the League by-pass “Old Business” and go straight to “New Business.” Carr wasn’t messing around, the League was there to get things done. At which time each owner participated in a general discussion on what changes the League needed to make in order to make the game more entertaining, as well as reduce tie games, encourage more scoring, and separate their sport from the college game.

    One of the first owners to talk was George Preston Marshall, who after just one year as a NFL owner wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. “Gentleman it’s about time we realized that we’re not only in the football business. We’re also in the entertainment business. If the colleges want to louse up their game with bad rules, let’em. We don’t have to follow suit. The hell with the colleges. We should do what’s best for us. I say we should adopt rules that will give the pros a spectacular individuality and national significance. Face it, we’re in show business. If people don’t buy tickets, we’ll have no business at all.” After the lengthy discussion the owners adopted the following resolutions:
1)      Motion by George Preston Marshall, seconded by George Halas- that goal posts be placed back at the goal line, instead of back of endzone. Motion Carried.

2)      Motion by George Preston Marshall, seconded by George Halas- that the rule covering the use of the forward pass, 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage before he can pass the ball, be changed permitting the passer to pass the ball from any point behind the line of scrimmage. Motion Carried.

3)      Motion, that when the ball is within five yards of being out of bounds, the ball would be move into the field of play 10 yards (hashmarks). Motion Carried.

4)      Motion by Dr. David Jones, seconded by Benny Friedman- that the clipping penalty of 25 yards is to retained. Motion Carried.

The owners, led by the two Georges- Marshall and Halas- had not only made some important changes (which were definitely needed) they were about to separate their game from the collegiate one. Ever since the National Football League was founded in 1920 (as the A.P.F.A.) they had followed the rules of college football but in 1933 they made important decisions and rule changes that re-directed the course of the NFL. The League needed to make its “product” much more exciting and marketable. This was a big start.

To end the historic day the owners awarded the 1932 NFL Championship to the Chicago Bears. Carr’s special meeting had paid off in a big way, the President and the small gathering of sportsmen had accomplished what they wanted to do. In speaking to the press afterwards Carr expressed his happiness: “We think we have overcome the balance previously held by the defense. In fact if we can give the offense a slight edge, it doubtless would improve the game for both players and spectators.” But they weren’t completely done remaking the NFL.
Three Hall of Fame NFL Owners, from left to right Bert Bell, Charlie Bidwill and Art Rooney, 1933
On July 8-9, 1933 seven NFL teams and three new franchises (Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) gathered at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago to prepare for the up-coming season. Once again the League was about to change the history of professional football. At 1:00 pm on July 9th Carr presented the schedule for the season and was quickly approved. For years the owners had bounced around the idea of splitting the NFL into divisions similar to baseball’s American and National Leagues. Well now was the time to take that leap. In a motion brought up by George Preston Marshall, who suggested according to the League Minutes:

      “for the purpose of creating a new system of compiling and publishing the official standings of clubs in the League that an Eastern and Western divisions be created and that the official standings for the coming season be divided into an eastern and western group:

      The Eastern group to consist of Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

      The Western group to consist of Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Portsmouth.”

But Marshall wasn’t done with his idea of how the new NFL should look like by bringing up another motion:

      “That under the direction of the President and the Executive Committee the champions of the respective eastern and western groups shall meet at the conclusion of the season and play one game, the winner of which shall be designated as League champion and champion of the world; such game to be played at such time and place and under such rules and conditions as maybe designated by the President and the Exec. Committee, including the division of receipts, part of which are to go to the players, part to the respective club owners whose teams are participating, and part to the league treasury.”

It was about time. For nearly a dozen years the NFL heir-archery had talked about arranging itself into two divisions so it could have a season ending championship game. A championship game would do away with unseemly post-season arguments over which team had actually won the title. Disputes had erupted in 1921, 1924, 1925 and 1931. In 1932 the Spartans and Bears tied at season’s end and the NFL couldn’t expect two teams to tie at the end of the season every year. This new set-up would give the League a “second” pennant race. In theory you only had to be good in your division. Plus, the Championship game at the end of the season would bring in more money. The NFL now had its version of baseball’s “World Series.”
The 1932 Indoor Game played in Chicago Stadium on December 18th is one of the most important games in NFL history.

Happy 85th Birthday First NFL Playoff Game!!!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Golden Boy From Georgia: The Oldest Living Hall of Famer

By T.J. Troup
Happy birthday Charlie Trippi! In celebration of your birthday as the oldest living Hall of Famer lets take a long detailed look at your versatile and impressive career. Joe Ziemba's outstanding book: When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL and the chapter "The Resurrection" is where I begin this narrative.

Coach Jimmy Conzelman has added talent and finally some depth to the roster in 1946. Rookies Pat Harder and Elmer Angsman contribute to Chicago attack, but this team needs one more quality back to truly become contenders. Trippi is the Cardinals first-round draft pick and after four games ranks among the league leaders in rushing with 40 carries for 224 yards.

The Chicago Cardinals have a balanced attack, and as such everyone gets a chance. During the middle of the season, Charlie's ankle injury limits him to just 13 carries for 32 yards. Since the Cardinals are upset in back-to-back weeks by the Redskins and Giants, they must win their last two games to claim the Western Conference title. In the impressive victory over the Eagles Trippi returns an errant Tommy Thompson pass 59 yards for a touchdown. The showdown win over the Bears gives the Cardinals a chance to play Philadelphia again—but this time for all the marbles.

Charlie gained 145 yards rushing over the last four games of the year, and is fully healed and ready to be a champion. Trippi shares punt return duties with John "Red" Cochran and finishes the season with a 17.6-yard punt return average. His quick opener touchdown run of 44 yards gets the Cardinals off to a strong start through the tough Eagle defense, yet it is his punt return for a score on the icy field that is eye-popping. He actually skids to one knee on the return, rights himself and away he goes to score the key touchdown as the Chicago Cardinals are now champions of the league.

The 1948 Cardinals are even better than the champion team of 1947 and Trippi leads the league in all-purpose yardage. The first game of the 1948 season is a night game re-match with the Eagles again traveling to Chicago. Fourth quarter and the teams are tied in this hard fought game as the Cardinals align in a double tight end full house backfield. Trippi begins to sweep right, and on the run pitches a spiral strike to Mal Kutner on a corner route for 64 yards and the winning touchdown. Charlie gains 71 yards rushing on just 10 carries as the Cardinals are off to a flying start in defending their title.
Seven games into the season and Charlie has demonstrated he is the best halfback in the league. He has gained 473 yards rushing on just 70 carries (including two 100 yard performances), and has completed 4 of his 5 option passes for 118 yards! The Lions on November 7th learn that you must cover him as a receiver as he catches 5 passes for 60 yards. He also ranks among the league leaders with 8 kickoff returns for 206 yards. Chicago continues to win and after nine games Charlie has demonstrated that punting to him is a mistake as he has returned 10 for 216 yards and two scores.

There are times when statistics actually tell us the true story, and December 5th against Green Bay is one of those times. The Chicago Cardinals run the ball 70 times—that's right SEVENTY! Gaining 289 yards rushing in the 42-7 victory When a very talented Bears team takes the field on December 12th the Western Conference title is again at stake. The Cardinals gained only 101 yards rushing as a team in the October loss to the Bears, but today with Trippi gaining 80 of the 193 yards on the ground —Chicago is again represented in the title game by the Cardinals. Recognition comes to Charlie as he is voted First-team All-Pro.
The Cardinals begin the 1949 season under co-coaches Parker & Handler with an impressive victory over Washington. Trippi picks up right where he left off as he zips through the 'Skins defense for 130 yards on just 10 carries. The receiving duo of Mell Kutner & Billy Dewell rank with the best in the league, but are off to a slow start in '49 and who of course picks up the slack in the passing game—why Charlie of course. He has caught at least one pass in every game heading into the finale against the Bears.

The Cardinals are finishing strong in the topsy-turvy season (earlier they lost four of five), and take on the Bears before over 50,000 at Wrigley Field. Most folks remember the game on December 11th for quarterback Johnny Lujack's record-setting performance of 468 yards passing, yet Charlie's performance as a receiver is the lone highlight for the Cardinals with 8 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Trippi again leads the league in all-purpose yardage but does not receive near the recognition that he did in 1948. The dawn of a new decade with three teams added to the league, and the Cardinals leaving the western conference to the newly named American Conference (usually referred to as the East). Jim Hardy is now the quarterback full time for the Cardinals under a new coach in Earl "Curly" Lambeau.
The Cardinals start 1-3 as Hardy is not very consistent. Left halfback Trippi helps get Chicago back on track as he gains 115 yards on just 16 carries in the wins over the 'Skins and Giants. The Cardinals are now much more of a passing team than a running team, and the high point of the season is the 20-10 victory over the first place Bears in December. Trippi has again contributed as a runner, receiver, and in the return game, yet he is not chosen for the first Pro Bowl game. The Cardinals record a 3-9 record in 1951, yet this is a season that is fascinating to watch the Chicago Cardinals on film.

Lambeau gives Frank Tripucka an opportunity to prove himself at the triggerman position, yet surprisingly the man who takes over at quarterback is Charlie Trippi. October 21st on the road in Washington is a feast for those who enjoy watching old football film. Baugh for the Redskins in his 15th season, and Trippi for the Cardinals. Washington comes away with a 7-3 win, yet what stands out is Charlie running and passing his team down the field. His mechanics as a passer are flawless. Excellent footwork, quick delivery, and very, VERY accurate on his short passes. He throws a tight spiral which usually has zip on the ball.

The teams trade goal line stands, and both make their share of mistakes, but the question for Lambeau is who should play quarterback for this team? Though at times during the year he will now share the position with Jim Hardy; there are games where it is Charlie doing the yeoman's work in trying to lead this team. The 1-5 Cardinals are on their west coast trip and have scored only 65 points in the five losses. Though Chicago loses to the soon to be champion Rams 45-21, Charlie completes the longest pass of his career—an 80-yard strike to Fran Polsfoot. Under center in a wing right formation, he rolls right after faking a hand-off and delivers to Polsfoot behind the Ram secondary. Though he does not throw deep often; he has the arm strength to do so. Traveling north to the Bay area to take on the much-improved 49ers brings out the best in Trippi. He gains 189 yards passing on his 8 completions, including another 80-yard touchdown; this one to halfback Elmer Angsman. Charlie also gains 81 yards rushing as the Cardinals prevail 27-21.

Lambeau then again uses both Hardy and Trippi in the loss to the contending Giants 10-0. Many of the films in my library are enjoyable to watch, yet the film of December 2nd, 1951 of the defending champion Browns and the Cardinals is sure one of the best. The talented Browns have 9 Hall of Famers on their team and explode to an early lead under the direction of Otto Graham.

Lambeau replaces Hardy with Trippi and though facing the most feared pass rusher in the league in Len Ford—our "Golden boy" from Georgia ignites the Cardinal attack. The excellent Browns secondary has allowed only 14 touchdown passes in the twenty-one games they have played in their NFL history. Charlie Trippi is the first player to ever throw 3 touchdown passes in a game against Cleveland. How impressive is this you ask? Over the course of the next thirteen seasons, only three men will top this—Conerly, Finks, and Unitas. Charlie not only pitches strikes in this game to his core of receivers, he gains 50 yards rushing including one of his patented dashes up the middle for 32 yards.

 Lambeau is done in Chicago with the 49-28 loss. The season ends on a strong note though as Trippi knocks the Bears out of contention in a 24-14 win. He gains 145 rushing on just 13 carries, passes for 106 and is responsible for all three Cardinal touchdowns. When the American Conference Pro Bowl team is announced Trippi is not among them! He rushed for over 500 yards and passed for almost 1,200.

Frank Tripucka plays poorly in the Monday night loss to the Redskins to open the 1952 campaign. New coach Joe Kuharich installs Trippi back at quarterback and Cardinals are rejuvenated with three straight wins. Usually, Charlie is a T-formation quarterback, yet at times he is in a spread formation. His mobility and accuracy on short passes keep the Chicago attack in high gear. He gains 171 yards rushing (on just 31 carries), and 329 passing on his 27 completions.

The disheartening loss to Pittsburgh on October 26th begins the spiral towards the bottom of the eastern conference. Trippi plays poorly, and woeful Don Panciera has the game of his life as he completes three touchdown passes to rookie Ollie Matson in the loss. They will share the quarterback position for the remainder of the season. Panciera just 2 more touchdown passes while throwing 9 interceptions as he completes just 25 of 77. Trippi throws 4 touchdown passes and completes 56 of 117. The Cardinals win just one of their final eight games (a 28-22 win over the Eagles before just 13,577 in Comiskey), and Kuharich is gone. A wasted season in which Chicago with Matson and Trippi could have wrecked havoc with defenses if utilized properly. Trippi though is rewarded with his first pro bowl selection.

The season of 1953 is the low point in modern Cardinal history. Though they play hard under new coach "Jumbo" Joe Stydahar—the Chicago Cardinals are just not a very talented team. Charlie Trippi returns to the halfback position at the beginning of the season. Snap-takers for the Cardinals are Ray Nagel and Jim Root. They fail, and a trade for the Bears Steve Romanik attempts to upgrade the position. While these three men do throw 12 touchdown passes between them they also throw 25 interceptions.

Film study shows they are all inconsistent and are never going to be quality passers. Trippi has gained 149 yards rushing on just 30 carries in the losses to the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins. The defense has allowed 107 points. November 15th is the highlight of the season. My book The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense: The Seven Seasons That Changed the NFL details the game in the chapter on the 1953 Cardinals.

Trippi in a spread formation coming in at quarterback; he passes and runs the Ram defense ragged. This is a Ram team that has made the playoffs four straight seasons and has already beaten the Lions twice. They cannot stop Trippi on the final drive in the 24-24 tie. Are there any other quarterbacks who have had a game like this in league history?

Using the criteria of gaining at least 95 yards rushing, and a passer rating over 110.0—the list of achievers is very short. Otto Graham in the 1950 title game, Randal Cunningham in 1990 against the Patriots, and Michael Vick (four times from 2002 through 2004).

During the course of his career, Charlie had always been an effective punt return man though he shared the job with a number of other talented players. Ollie Matson is serving our country in '53, and in a five-game stretch at mid-season Trippi returns 17 punts for 217 yards. He will lead the league in this category. Charlie is usually the Cardinals punter and ranks among the league leaders. He is rewarded for all his efforts with his second Pro Bowl berth (for a 1-10-1 team).
Night Train Lane
The Cardinals in 1954 have made a trade with Rams allowing Richard "Night Train" Lane to be reunited with Stydahar. Chicago in this era tried many men in the secondary that just could not play the position of either corner or safety. Charlie Trippi carries the ball only 18 times all year. He can still be elusive as evidenced by his 46-yard run against the Tom Landry Giants defense, and 57 against the Rams. It's mid-season and Trippi is now being asked by Stydahar to play pass defense. Since Lane plays both safety and corner, there are times when Charlie plays either corner or safety depending on the coverage and who is in the game.

In a three-game stretch in late October Charlie intercepts in three consecutive games. Watching film of him hustling across the field to help his teammates shows he still has dedication to the game. Since Matson and Lane are also playing in the secondary we have three Hall of Famers at one time on the field in the Chicago Cardinal secondary. The Cardinals play tough at home, but again this season away from Comiskey they continue to struggle as Chicago has now lost 15 of their last 16 on the road.

The 1955 season will be Charlie's last in the NFL under another new coach. He has been durable until this final year (he plays in only 5 games). He career ends on a snowy field in Cleveland against the defending league champion Browns. Charlie had gained 3,354 yards rushing by the end of the 1953 campaign (his seventh year), and at this point, he ranked 5th on the all-time rushing list.

When he retired he had gained 6,053 all-purpose yards—the 4th most all-time. Trippi, at different times in his career, ranked among the league leaders in rushing, passing, receiving, punt and kick-off returns, and punting. He is the ONLY player in league history to be able to make that claim. Building a relationship with teams is not always easily accomplished, but remain hopeful that someday would be able to sit down with Michael Bidwell of the Cardinals with film and show him that the oldest living Hall of Famer in the league should have his jersey number retired.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Somewhere the Old Man is Smiling

By John Turney
The "Lombardi Sweep" or power seep is run likely every year, maybe not by every team but it shows up once in a while. But when I see it I still enjoy it every time. In, I want to say 1994 or 1995 the Bears ran it on Monday  Night Football and Dan Dierdorf was exceptionally pleased. He said it was good for young people to see it because it was the kind of football we didn't get to see much anymore.

The Bears had guards named Jay Leeuwenburg and Todd Perry. Leeuwenburg was listed at 294 pounds and Todd Perry. at 310. And in an era of road graders they were among the smaller guards in the NFL at the time

To back to present day:  Sunday the Seahawks ran it against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The description is rather, well, nondescript:
All we know is that there was a running play that gained 13 years. But if you saw it, it has to put a smile on your face—if you are a football fan.
As you can see the two pullers were the left guard and the center. Back in the day it was almost always the guards who pulled. With Lombardi's Packers is was soon-to-be Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston. The Seahawks used left guard Luke Joeckel and center Justin Britt. Both are former tackles but both can move very well. I am not sure why the Seahawks didn't use both guards, but there is no rule that says guards have to do the pulling. A center and a guard will do just fine.

So keep an eye out because it's a very pretty play to watch.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hundley Earns Passing Grade in Cleveland

By Eric Goska
The Green Bay Packers were in need of a quarterback by the name of Brett in their game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday.

Brett Hundley answered the call.

Green Bay was tested by the winless, but stubborn Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Packers didn’t waver, clawing back from 14-down to notch a 27-21 overtime victory and keep their playoff hopes alive.

This could have been a trap game for the visiting Packers. Cleveland, 0-12 at the start of the afternoon, had nothing to lose and everything to gain by derailing Green Bay.

For the better part of 60 minutes, the Browns appeared ready to pull off the upset. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer tossed three touchdown passes and running back Isaiah Crowell pounded out 103 yards rushing on 13 carries as Cleveland built a 21-7 lead after three quarters.

But even that two-touchdown advantage was no guarantee of victory for Cleveland. The fourth quarter remained, and somewhere along the line, Green Bay decided that staying relevant was a goal worth fighting for.

Mike McCarthy didn’t shy away from using his young quarterback as the team mounted its comeback. Hundley attempted 33 passes after halftime and completed 27 for 185 yards and two touchdowns (110.2 rating).

That’s quite a workout. In the case of the Packers, such a heavy dose of passing by one individual has been reserved for games in which they have trailed, usually by double-digit margins.
Hundley was up to the challenge. He directed three touchdown drives in 25 minutes as Green Bay improved to 7-6.

The first advance cut Cleveland’s lead to 21-14. Hundley completed seven of eight passes for 57 yards to set up Jamaal Williams’ 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.

The second tied the game 21-21 with 17 seconds left. Hundley completed only two passes on the 25-yard push, but the second was a 1-yard payoff to Davante Adams. On that throw, Hundley placed the ball such that cornerback Jason McCourty became nothing more than a spectator.

On the third, game-winning drive in overtime, Hundley went four-for-four. He connected with Williams, Adams, Randall Cobb and again with Adams for a 25-yard score that was all run after the catch.
Hundley also converted two third downs with his feet on the game-tying drive.

For the Packers, having an individual attempt 30 or more passes after halftime is rare. It has happened 28 times during the regular season with Brett Favre (14), Aaron Rodgers (5), Don Majkowski (4), David Whitehurst, Randy Wright, Blair Kiel, Matt Flynn and, now, Hundley serving as triggermen.

Only twice previously has such a barrage resulted in victory. On Oct. 14, 1996, Favre launched 40 passes after the break as Green Bay edged San Francisco 23-20 in overtime. On Nov. 21, 2004, Favre threw 31 times to lead the Packers past the Texans 16-13 in Houston.

For now, at least, only gentlemen named Brett have won under these circumstances for the Pack.

Hundley, of course, had help. Trevor Davis returned a punt 65 yards to set up the game-tying touchdown. Linebacker Clay Matthews pressured Kizer into an ill-advised pass that safety Josh Jones intercepted to provide a short field (42 yards) for Hundley in overtime.

And Hundley, whose 27 completions tied Favre’s after-halftime record set against the Browns in 2005, can also thank his receivers. Without Adams (10 catches), Williams (5), Geronimo Allison (4), Cobb (3), Jordy Nelson (3) and Lance Kendricks (2), Hundley wouldn’t have made a name for himself in a contest that was essentially a playoff game for Green Bay.

Passive Aggressive
The 10 regular-season games in which a Packers quarterback completed more than 20 passes after halftime.

No.   Player                   Opponent        Date
27     Brett Favre             Browns            Sept. 18, 2005
27     Brett Hundley         Browns            Dec. 10, 2017
23     Blair Kiel                Seahawks         Dec. 9, 1990
22     Brett Favre             Dolphins           Sept. 11, 1994
22     Brett Favre             Buccaneers       Dec. 7, 1998
21     Don Majkowski     Lions                Nov. 20, 1988
21     Brett Favre             Bears               Oct. 1, 2000
21     Brett Favre             Texans             Nov. 21, 2004
21     Aaron Rodgers       Vikings             Nov. 1, 2009
21     Matt Flynn              Vikings             Nov. 24, 2013