NFL title game returns to New York

sports@macon.comJanuary 27, 2014 

As any football fan knows, the NFL’s championship game, known as the Super Bowl since the league’s merger with the AFL, takes place Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex. It’s the first time the Super Bowl has been played in the Northeast, and weather could be a factor as MetLife is not a domed facility.

The weather forecast calls for a high of 35 and a low of 25 with a 30 percent chance of snow showers and winds of 8 mph.

The Super Bowl historically has been played in warm weather locations, or at least in domed facilities. New Orleans is the leader in hosting Super Bowls with 11, while Miami is next at 10. Eight of those in the Crescent City were played indoors in the Superdome. Games have also been played in the traditional cold weather cities of Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Detroit, but all of those locations have domed stadiums.

Interestingly, the first NFL championship game -- actually a playoff tiebreaker -- was played indoors in 1932 between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans. The contest was originally set for Chicago’s Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, but was moved to Chicago Stadium due to severe blizzards and sub-zero temperatures that week.

Chicago Stadium presented some problems for football, as the playing field was only 80 yards long and just 43 yards wide. As a result, anytime one of the teams crossed midfield the ball was moved back 20 yards. The goalposts were also moved from the endline to the goal line, a change that was extended to the rest of the NFL the following season and lasted until 1974 when they were moved back to the endline.

Chicago won that first championship game, beating Portsmouth 9-0. The lone touchdown in the game came on a pass play between two of the greatest names in gridiron history, as Bronko Nagurski connected with the “Galloping Ghost,” Red Grange, for the score. The Bears also got a safety to put the game away.

There were quite a few memorable NFL championship games prior to the Super Bowl, era which pits the NFC champion against the AFC winner. In 1940, the Bears shut out the Washington Redskins in the nation’s capital 73-0. Three weeks earlier, Washington had beaten Chicago 7-3. Chicago’s 73-point game stands as the most points ever scored by one team in NFL history in the regular season or playoffs.

Officials asked Bears head coach and owner George Halas not to kick extra points after touchdowns because they were running out of footballs. That game is significant for several other reasons. It was the first NFL title game to be broadcast on radio nationwide on the Mutual Broadcasting System and also marked the last time a player, Chicago end Dick Plasman, played without a helmet.

The 1956 game saw the Bears on the short end of a 47-7 battle with the New York Giants. The game was played in icy conditions, and Giants players wore sneakers that provided better traction. That decision is credited for giving New York a decided advantage. Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell had Vince Lombardi as his offensive coordinator that season, while Tom Landry was his defensive coordinator.

The 1958 NFL title game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants is generally referred to as the “Greatest Game Ever Played” and is considered the start of the nationwide popularity the sport enjoys today, as the game was telecast nationwide on NBC. The two teams battled to a tie at 17 in regulation, setting up the first sudden death overtime period in league history. The Giants received the kickoff in overtime and were unable to move the football, forcing a punt. The Colts started on their own 20 and drove 80 yards in 13 plays, with former Heisman Trophy winner Alan “The Horse” Ameche taking in to the endzone from a yard out to give Baltimore a 23-17 win.

Prior to this year, the last time an NFL championship game was played in the New York metropolitan area was 1962, when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New York Giants 16-7 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Denver is my pick Sunday, 26-21.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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