Saturday, December 16, 2017

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

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
THE NFL IN 1932
 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.
PRE-GAME HYPE FOR NFL’S FIRST EVER PLAYOFF GAME

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”

      “To: HOMER C. SELBY, PRESIDENT PORTSMOUTH NATIONAL LEAGUE FOOTBALL CORP.

      REGRET IMPOSSIBILITY OF PERMITTING MR CLARK TO LEAVE HIS IMPORTANT DUTIES AS BASKETBALL COACH.

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.

THE INDOOR CIRCUS: THE NFL’S FIRST EVER PLAYOFF GAME

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.”

1932 NFL STATISTICAL LEADERS

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 AFTERMATH OF THE INDOOR GAME

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.”
LEGACY
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!!!

1 comment:

  1. ....indepth, interesting, and sure enjoyed all the details....thanks Chris.

    ReplyDelete