A Brief History
On December 18, 1932, the first National Football League (NFL) championship football game ever was played between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans. Obviously, this is what you would call an historic game, but for more reasons than you would think. For one thing, due to a blizzard, it had to be relocated from Wrigley field to Chicago Stadium which had a field only 80 yards long! Blasphemy! Here 10 such historic football games, both memorable and significant, are presented. Can you think of any others to add?
10. First NFL Championship, Chicago Bears vs. Portsmouth Spartans, 1932.
The home team, the Bears, won the game by a score of 9-0. Although the league had existed since 1920, it had previously picked its champion based on winning percentage. The NFL would go on to become the definitive professional American football league with many great champions. History and Headlines Fact: With 13 wins so far, the Green Bay Packers are the team with the most championship wins.
9. First Night Football Game, 1902.
In 1902, the Philadelphia Athletics played the Kanaweola A.C. under electric lights in Elmira, New York. The first NFL night game took place in 1929 between the Providence Steamroller and the Chicago Cardinals. Fans have been getting home late ever since.
8. First Super Bowl, Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1967.
Prior to the merger of the NFL and its rival league the American Football League (the AFL) in 1970, owners had agreed to let each league’s champion play the other in what became known as “The Super Bowl.” The NFL’s Packers won the first two Super Bowls convincingly, but then the AFL’s New York Jets rocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, and the Kansas City Chiefs repeated the trick for the AFL in Super Bowl IV. Only 4 teams have never played in a Super Bowl, the Browns, Lions, Jaguars and Texans. (Of course the Browns and the Lions had won championships before there even was a Super Bowl.)
7. Browns Enter NFL, Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1950.
Not only the Cleveland Browns, but also the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL from the now defunct All-American Football Conference (the AAFC), a 1940s rival league to the NFL. Like the AFL later, the AAFC got no respect! The Browns had compiled an incredible record of wins (47-4-3) in their AAFC history and went undefeated and untied in 1948, a feat unmatched until the Miami Dolphins managed to do it in 1972. (The Chicago Bears had been the first team to achieve this in 1934.) The Browns first game in 1950 was against the 2-time defending NFL champion, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Browns schooled them 35-10, setting the stage for the first Browns NFL championship win later that season. The Browns went on to win the championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, 30-28, on a late field goal in the last minute. The Browns would win further NFL titles in 1954, 1955 and 1964. History and Headlines Fact: The Rams had been the previous Cleveland franchise. History and Headlines Lament: The NFL does not recognize the statistics of those terrific players from the old AAFC, although it does for the old AFL. Its logic is that not all of AAFC was swallowed up in the merger. Still, 6 players from the Browns’ AAFC days went on to gain admittance to the NFL Hall of Fame.
6. First Man Paid to Play, Allegheny Athletic Association vs. Pittsburgh Athletic Club, 1892.
Although John Brailler was known to have been paid $10 in 1895 to play a game for the Latrobe Athletic Association, it was not until 1960 when information surfaced that William “Pudge” Heffelfinger of Minnesota had been paid $500 in 1892 to play football, making him the first professional player. History and Headlines Side Note: The first African-American professional footballer may have been Charles Follis of the Shelby (Ohio) Steamfitters in 1902. Follis was from Wooster, Ohio.
5. First National Radio Broadcast of an NFL Game, Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears, 1934.
In addition to being the first game to be broadcast on radio, this game was also the first to take place on Thanksgiving, making it the first Turkey Day game in NFL history. Previously, high schools and colleges had regularly played on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that has since faded away. History and Headlines Note: The Detroit Lions were once the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans.
4. First TV Broadcast Game, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 1939.
NBC aired the game from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, then also home to the like-named National League Baseball team the Brooklyn Dodgers. This historic event paved the way for the famous and sometimes infamous Super Bowl commercials!
3. First NFL Monday Night Football Game, Cleveland Browns vs. New York Jets, 1970.
In one of the most important non-championship games in NFL history, the Cleveland Browns beat Broadway Joe Namath and the New York Jets 31-21. Monday Night Football (MNF) has been an American television institution ever since and has made the NFL and (college football) zillions of dollars.
2. First NFL Football Games, Dayton Triangles vs. Columbus Panhandles and Rock Island Independents vs. Muncie Flyers, 1920.
In the first season, what eventually became the NFL was originally known as the American Professional Football Association (the APFA). The APFA was renamed the NFL in 1922, the first NFL champion being the Akron Professionals (the Pros), and the first 2-time champs being the Canton Bulldogs.
1. First College Football Game, Rutgers vs. New Jersey (Princeton), 1869.
Rutgers won this game against the College of New Jersey (which later became Princeton) by a score of 6-4. A rematch was played (the second ever college football game) with slightly different rules, and New Jersey prevailed this time 8-0. By default, Rutgers and Princeton are considered National Co-Champions for 1869! The first balls used were round (spherical), and no running was allowed. The first game o more closely resemble modern football was between Harvard and Tufts in 1875. This game was comprised of 11-men teams and played with an oval ball. Now that college football has evolved into an enormous American tradition, common sense dictates that History and Headlines recognize The Ohio State University Buckeyes as the greatest college football team of all time.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you disagree? Let us know who you think is the best in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Library of Congress and Susan Reyburn. Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America’s Game. Harry N. Abrams, 2013.