It was the moment for a big decision on the arctic turf of the Polo Grounds that Sunday in the hopeful year of 1934. The Chicago Bears had battered the New York Giants all afternoon and seemed to be headed for another NFL championship, one that again would be shaped by the legendary cleats of Bronko Nagurski and George Musso and those other Monsters of the Midway. Now in the fourth quarter with the Bears leading by a field goal there was a time-out, and Ed Danowski, the Giant quarterback, knelt on the frozen surface and gazed at the scarred and weary but noblest of the Giants: at Mel Hein, Ray Flaherty, Ike Frankian and, finally, at the half-crippled but gallant Ken Strong.
"Ken," Danowski said to his famed running back, "what do you think of tax-free municipals?"
"My agent-manager was strongly recommending them earlier in the year," Strong said. "You can get a better return in commercial paper, of course, but the economy is fairly uncertain, as we all know."
Mel Hein said, "I was chatting with Bronko after their touchdown and he said Keith Molesworth may be quitting as their player representative."
September 21, 1975
"Yes, I'd heard that," Strong said. "He's been very disturbed about the minimum-salary and disability-benefit issues."
Hein said, "Frankly, I was surprised that Jack Manders came in and kicked their last field goal. In the first quarter I overheard him tell Link Lyman that if George Halas didn't become more responsive to the questions of pensions and preseason pay he might sit out the rest of the game."
Bo Molenda spoke up. "Has anyone else read the progress report on the option-compensation clause?"
"I've only glanced at it," said Hein. "The Bears' Gene Ronzani showed me a copy when we bumped into each other coming out for the second half. He had asked me why we had all changed into tennis shoes, and while we were talking I scanned the report."
"Personally, I don't think I stand up any better in these things," Ken Strong said. "Your feet are certainly colder. It's still 10° out here, you know. When I phoned my agent-manager at halftime and told him about it he suggested I go ahead and finish the game, but he said there might very well be a criminal negligence suit in this against the Maras, Steve Owen and Manhattan College."
Danowski said, "I think I'm going to have to call a play now, Ken. Did you get an answer on whether you can run off tackle anymore?"
"Carrying the ball from scrimmage is all right," Strong said, "as long as I don't run anywhere near Musso. Sidney says I have to sit for some commercial stills tomorrow—Ovaltine cans or something—and I can't afford to get banged up like Harry Newman and Red Badgro."
"When Mel hups me the ball I'll slip it to you and you can go into left tackle," said Danowski. "Hup me the ball on hike, Mel."
"I'll do it," Hein said, "but I want to go on record as saying that this entire afternoon has been a dehumanizing experience."
"Debilitating as well," said Strong. "Somebody actually heard Halas tell them to step on our toes."
Danowski said, "You might expect the owners' Management Council to do something as arbitrary as that but I don't think a fellow union member would."
"Musso would," said Strong.
"Well, cut for the sideline, Ken," Danowski said, "and maybe they'll all slip on the ice."
Hein hupped the ball to Danowski and Danowski gave it to Strong, who skittered through the line and then loped 40 yards down the sideline while the Bears imitated Sonja Henie in a death spiral. His touchdown moved the Giants ahead 17-13. Moments later Strong did it again, and then Danowski scored, and as suddenly as all that the Monsters of the Midway had been historically upset, 30-13.
It was this shocking result that did much to increase the interest in pro football and collective bargaining.
Afterward, the players of both teams issued a statement through the Sidney Wolfe & Associates Theatrical/Sports Management Corporation. In part, the statement said the players were delighted to see that "competitive balance" had reached the league but they still deplored the "suffocating paternalism" of the owners and coaches.
History needs to be corrected on one vital point. Ken Strong never said, "If we don't get a $12 raise out of this, they're going to see anarchy in the marketplace."
The next most memorable event in the growth of pro football and the accompanying corporate problems was the day a new batch of Chicago Bears overwhelmed the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the championship game of 1940. Volumes have been written about it. But recently some new and penetrating questions have been posed about that bizarre game by friends of the National Football League Players' Association.
A few examples:
1) The lopsided score may well not be an official NFL championship-game record because the Bears' starting lineup of George Wilson, Lee Artoe, George Musso, Bulldog Turner, Danny Fortmann, Joe Stydahar, Dick Plasman, Sid Luck-man, George McAfee, Bill Osmanski and Ray Nolting did not contain a single black. Why?
2) George Halas may have openly and flagrantly practiced discrimination against linemen that day because, even though it was evident the Bears could score at will, Halas denied four Bear starters—Artoe, Fortmann, Musso and Wilson—the opportunity to get a touchdown or an extra point. Why?
3) Halas may have practiced further discrimination against the remainder of the team. The squad numbered 33 players and yet only 10 Bears scored the 11 touchdowns and only six different Bears contributed seven extra points. Why?
4) A summary of the scoring reveals that Bulldog Turner, the Bears' immortal center, intercepted a pass and made a touchdown that raised the third-quarter score to 54-0. Why was Turner in the game at this point, risking needless injury that might have shortened his career and earning capacity? One answer—that the Washington Redskins by that time were laughing harder than the Bears—has been deemed wholly unsatisfactory by some members of the NFLPA research committee.
5) The Bears' T formation may have been illegal. It did not have a wide receiver, and Sid Luckman, the quarterback, could not "isolate" on an opposing linebacker. Thus, there was no clear explanation for any Bear touchdown. "Unless a broadcaster or sportswriter can be assured that the quarterback has isolated a fast receiver on a slow linebacker, in the event of a touchdown pass, the reportage of any game, past or present, can only be regarded as fragmentary at best," a spokesman for the NFLPA has pointed out.
6) It was not the fault of the Bear players that their epic 73-0 win occurred in the pretelevision era. It has been estimated that if the sport had enjoyed a wider national appeal at the time, the 1940 Bears, through various marketing devices, would have earned $8,987,000 more than they did. This money should now be put into a special fund and divided among today's players for preseason games, along with the $16,576,000 the Redskins' Sammy Baugh could have earned from Superstars and panty-hose commercials.
7) It is conceivable that Baugh's Constitutional rights were abrogated when George Preston Marshall removed him from the game in the third quarter when his team trailed by only 41-0. An arm of the Players Association is said to be working on a proposal to be presented to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in which the players will ask that less emphasis be placed on the final scores of games.
The last thing that can be said about that fascinating day is that a California computer analyst hired by the NFL owners has figured out that if the Giants of 1934 and the Redskins of 1940 had been playing the game for the World Football League championship the score would have been 73-72, it would not have been on the radio, the paid attendance would have been 1,037 and an FBI agent would have gotten the game ball.
Pro football between the end of World War II and full network TV exposure is a montage to most of us: a time when linemen seemed to grow, overnight and collectively, to the size of elephants; when swift black runners came one after the other; when the Laynes and Grahams and Van Brocklins almost made it seem like volleyball.
The game had become sophisticated, but the men who played it were as rowdy as the stories they told on each other. They were still playing out of love instead of for riches.
A Bobby Layne would have said, "Litigation? Ain't that somethin' that sets in after you pull a muscle?"
A "plaintiff" was what you became if the Scotch didn't come across the bar fast enough. If a guy had said he was playing out his option, his teammates would have figured he was selling his home to a stockbroker.
A strike was still a touchdown pass. Harassment was something linebackers did to quarterbacks—when they weren't doing something worse. A negotiation was something that took place in a tavern booth with a blonde. And when a player ran a pass pattern he didn't have to go past the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Historians may well refer to it as the Pre-Rozelle Rule Era.
It may not have been the "Best Game Ever Played." Frank Gifford uncharacteristically fumbled left and right, after all, and 64,185 New Yorkers still say the Giants made that first down in overtime at Yankee Stadium. It was, however, the most important game ever played, for literally millions had become riveted to their TV sets in time to see the Baltimore Colts' Alan Ameche bounce into the dusty, dimming end zone and bring a "sudden death" to the Giants in the championship game of 1958.
If this was the singular event that planted pro football in the American tissue forever, one has to think of all it has been responsible for. In a sense, you can thank or blame the "Best Game Ever Played" for everything on this list:
•The abrupt disappearance of Monday night from your life.
•More ex-athlete TV announcers than meteorologists.
•Wondering what the Rozelle Rule is.
•I Thought It Was Only a Game But It Turned Out To Be Ominous, Dictatorial and Degrading, by You Never Heard of Me Before as told to You Never Heard of Me Either. 238 Pages.
•Wondering what a "summary judgment" is.
•Joe Namath's detailed medical history in serial form.
•Dandy Don as a rogue cop.
•Wondering if a "preliminary injunction" will have any effect on season-ticket prices.
•"In exchange for a rookie wide receiver and a future third-round draft choice."
•270-pound linemen with hair blowers.
•"The kid claims the doctor put him on tandearil and percodan for his bruised thumb."
•Wondering how a quarterback can complete so many passes if his owner and general manager have unfairly restricted him and violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
•Super Bowl XXXVI.
•$214,000 a commercial minute.
•Wondering if the option clause has anything to do with the Rozelle Rule.
•The Mackey Case.
•The Joe Kapp Case.
•"The pension payment suit being brought to trial in Providence, R.I."
•Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men.
•"Allen never had him to trade in the first place."
•"To date, 32 charges have been filed against NFL's Management Council."
•"If a game is sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff...."
•"Defendants are the 26 owners, the NFL and Rozelle himself."
•Slow-motion instant replay.
•Captain Randy McNerlin in command of the Goodyear blimp, America.
•Section 12-1-H of the NFL bylaws.
•"Is it Csonka, Warfield and Kiick or Csonka, Kiick and Warfield?"
•Good on rugs, bad on dirt.
•"Is Foxboro an actual town?"
•Tampa and Seattle.
•"...and then they all left Jim Brown's house on motorcycles."
•Sonny, Fran, Craig, Gabe and Snake.
•"It all started when R. C. Owens played out his option with the 49ers and went to the Colts."
•The NFL revenue-sharing plan.
•"If the game is not played as scheduled...."
•Gowdy and DeRogatis.
•Summerall and Glieber.
•"Vince would have said, 'What strike?' "
•Clint, Carroll and Lamar.
•"The case challenges the validity of the standard players' contract."
•"O.J. rescues a what?"
•"No, he started with the Chargers when they were in L.A. Then he went to San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, Houston, Baltimore and the Rams, in that order."
•"He moves up to second in lifetime completions behind Unitas."
•Three Rivers Memorial County Veterans Riverfront Municipal Metropolitan Stadium.
•"The National Central will meet the American Wild Card, unless it's Buffalo, in which case...."
•Zone or Man?
•The Doomsday Defense.
•The Steel Curtain.
•The Purple Gang.
•The Soul Patrol.
•The No-Name Defense.
•The Pack Is Back.
•"I think they all went over to the Palm Bay Club to meet Hornung and Max."
•"When the three-year trial period on TV blackouts is up at the end of this season...."
•"How can Vataha lead the Patriots in a strike when he used to be one of the Seven Dwarfs at Disneyland?"
•The Portland Thunder or Storm vs. the Shreveport Receiverships.
•Tex Stram and Hank Scrum.
•"Namath's press conference is scheduled for...."
•A 10-year contract, 8% of the club, 14 assistants, a new practice facility, the title of General Managing Coach Partner and a scouting job for his wife's nephew in prison.
•Produced by NFL Films.
•Run to Daylight.
•"We challenge the deep zone."
•"The players agreed to reduce their demands on meal money to $22 per day."
•4.4 for the 40.
•"As Carroll was telling us last night at dinner, Giff, the Rams never doubted for a minute the kid would make it, even though he came into camp at 151 pounds with infectious mono."
•"Isn't it touchdown passes plus yards per completion minus interceptions divided by...?"
•"I didn't know that was Tim Brown in the movie."
•The Hawaiians and Jim Thorpe will resume contract negotiations in the middle of next week.
•Return of Mongo.
•"The jets come over on 'rocket's red glare,' then up go the balloons and white doves."
•Punt, Pass and Kick.
•"That Rozelle would render so controversial a ruling during such a sensitive period...."
•The most frequently mentioned cities for expansion now appear to be Tokyo, Manila, Yonkers, Bangkok, Scottsdale and Taos.
•The real issue is "player mobility."
•"Senator, we all look forward to the day when things are as they were when we were growing up; when you picked up the sports page and read about what happened on the field rather than what happened in the courtroom or at the bargaining table."
Nothing seems to sum up the madness of what we have become better than a question asked in so many newspapers by so many readers: Has the world gotten this bad, or is journalism that much better?
As this applies to pro football, only the man at home in front of his TV set can answer it for himself.