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"Arena" Football Game?
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Thursday, August 10, 2006
Most Arena football fans are aware of the fact that the
inspiration for the game occurred on February 11, 1981. Thatís when Jim
Foster, a promotion manager with NFL Properties, attended a Major Indoor Soccer
League All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden in New York. During the game, he
got the idea for a new kind of football game and drew a diagram of an Arena
football field on the back of a manila envelope. It wasnít until April 26,
1986 that the first Arena football "test" game was played in Rockford,
Illinois between two semi-pro teams, the Rockford Metros and the Chicago
Politicians. The Arena Football Leagueís first season officially kicked off on
June 19, 1987.
Of course, the birth of the
Arena Football League was not the first time that football had ever been played
indoors. In 1968, the NFL Houston Oilers began playing their regular season home
games indoors at the Houston Astrodome. But surprisingly, that also was not the
first time that football had been played indoors. There were other times, prior
to 1968, when football games were played indoors.
In the early days of the NFL, there was no championship game. When the season
ended, the team with the best record was simply declared the league champion and
that was that.
However, in 1932, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans ended the season
tied. The Bears record was 6-1-6 while the Spartans were 6-1-4. In those days,
ties did not count in the standings. Since the league did not have any
procedures in place at the time to deal with a tie at the end of the season, the
two teams got together and decided they would play one more game to determine a
That same season, the Green Bay Packers actually had a better record, 10-3-1.
However, because of the way the league calculated winning percentage at the
time, the Bears and Spartans both had better winning percentages than the
Packers, based on their one loss each. Thatís how they came to be in the
The game was originally scheduled to be played outside at Wrigley Field, but
freezing temperatures in the Chicago area at the time caused the two teams to
reconsider the gameís location just days before it was to be played. They were
afraid that a lot of people would not attend an outdoor game in such conditions.
So, on Thursday, December 8, the teams decided to play the game indoors at the
Chicago Stadium, which, at the time, was where the Chicago Blackhawks played
The stadium had hosted a circus the week before and there was still a layer of
dirt in place on the floor to accommodate a football game.
Because of the smaller size of the stadium, the field was only 80 yards long and
goal posts were only set up at one end of the field. Therefore, in order to keep
things consistent with the 100-yard game, a few special rules were instituted.
For example, after each kickoff, the ball was moved back 20 yards and field
goals were not allowed.
The game, which was played on Sunday, December 11, 1932, featured a couple of
notable players that you may have heard of before, Red Grange and Bronko
Nagurski. Both men played for the Chicago Bears. The lone touchdown of the game
came on an option pass from Nagurski to Grange in the fourth quarter on a fourth
down play. The extra point gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. In the final minutes of
the game, a bad snap on a punt by Portsmouth resulted in a safety and Chicago
went on to win the game 9-0.
In 1933, the NFL decided it would have a championship game each year and it has
done so ever since. In 1934, the Portsmouth Spartans moved from Ohio to Michigan
and became the Detroit Lions.
The Bears may have had a bit of an unfair advantage in that 1932 game, however.
You see, two years earlier, on December 17, 1930, the Bears defeated the Chicago
Cardinals in an exhibition game that was also played indoors at Chicago Stadium.
But that exhibition game in 1930 was still not the first indoor game. You have
to set Mr. Peabodyís Way-Back Machine to December 28, 1902 in order to find
the first ever pro football game played indoors. The game took place at the
original Madison Square Garden in New York and it was part of a five-team
tournament called the World Series of pro football. One team, simply known as
New York, was made up of pro baseball players from the Philadelphia Athletics
and the Philadelphia Phillies. In the first game of the tournament, the Syracuse
Athletic Club defeated New York 6-0 before a crowd of about 3,000 people.
As you can see, the concept of playing football indoors on a smaller field goes
back a bit farther than the 20 seasons of the Arena Football League. So the next
time you are enjoying yourself at an Arena football game, think about what it
must have been like to watch Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski play in a similar
setting almost 75 years ago. Just add dirt.
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