The five best football moments that took place in baseball stadiums – MLB.com
Over the next few weeks, college football’s bowl extravaganza will sweep the nation. Which, in addition to storied traditions like the Rose Bowl, means we’ll get not one, not two, not three but four games held in MLB stadiums: the Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park, the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field, the Cactus Bowl at Chase Field and the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that football has collided with our national pastime. Who could forget the four years the Dodgers spent at the L.A. Coliseum, where half of left field was tragically swallowed by the dreaded Bleachers Monster:
Bizarre ballpark quirks aside, plenty of iconic gridiron moments have taken place at the ballpark. So, in anticipation of this year’s round of exciting plays and Alex Rodriguez singularities, we’ve rounded up five of the very best. (One note: We’ve excluded games in multi-purpose stadiums like Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Shea Stadium, as they were built with both sports in mind.)
Giants vs. Colts, 1958 NFL Championship Game, Yankee Stadium
What better place to start than “The Greatest Game Ever Played”? In just the team’s third season at old Yankee Stadium, the New York (Football) Giants went 9-3 — their fifth straight winning record — and advanced to their second title game in three years. Their opponent: the upstart Baltimore Colts, founded just five years prior.
It’s hard to overstate the impact the game had on football’s future. An estimated 45 million people watched on television, along with over 64,000 in the Bronx, and they saw an instant classic: Behind 12 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown from Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry, Baltimore outlasted New York, 23-17, in the first NFL game to go into sudden-death overtime. Alan Ameche’s game-winning run became the stuff of legend, and the game even gave us the phrase “two-minute drill” thanks to Johnny Unitas’ crunch-time magic.
Oh, and it didn’t hurt that all that drama unfolded under the Stadium’s iconic facade:
Bears vs. Giants, 1963 NFL Championship Game, Wrigley Field
Even when used as intended as a baseball stadium Wrigley Field can get awfully cozy — they don’t call it “The Friendly Confines” for nothing. Trying to stick a 100-yard football field in there? You’re bound to encounter some pretty hilarious problems.
As you can see from the photo above, there was precious little space between the end zone and the outfield brick — 18 inches, to be exact. Unsurprisingly, this caused some … interesting logistical issues: Bears two-way star Bronko Nagurski once cracked his helmet on the wall following a touchdown run — “That last guy gave me quite a lick,” he said when he got back to the sideline — and when Illinois and Northwestern brought their rivalry to Wrigley in 2010, there was so little room that officials decided that the game would be played in only one direction.
Amazingly, though, the Bears played on the corner of Sheffield and Addison from 1921 through 1970. It was where Gale Sayers played nearly his entire career, and it’s where the “Monsters of the Midway” won eight NFL titles — none quite as dramatic as 1963. Despite single-digit temperatures at kickoff, a sellout crowd of more than 45,000 watched the Bears outlast New York in a defensive slugfest, 14-10, thanks to two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Bill Wade.
Army vs. Navy, Polo Grounds, 1924
In the 1920s, college football was far bigger than its professional counterpart, and college football didn’t get any bigger than Army and Notre Dame. The teams have played a total of 51 times, including every year from 1913 — when an upstart Irish squad revolutionized the forward pass en route to a 35-13 win that helped legitimize the program — to 1947.
One of the rivalry’s most iconic installments took place in one of baseball’s true cathedrals: the Polo Grounds, whose rectangular shape (it originally housed polo games, after all) made it perfect for pigskin. Army came down from West Point boasting arguably the best team in the country, but it was knocked off by a Notre Dame squad whose dominating running game secured a 13-7 win — and inspired one of the greatest ledes in the history of sports journalism, from Grantland Rice in the New York Herald Tribune:
Rice’s prose helped the Four Horsemen become national stars, and the Irish went 27-2-1 — including the ’24 national championship — during their three years in South Bend.
1948 NFL Championship Game, Shibe Park
There’s inclement weather, and then there’s the 1948 NFL title game, which was less a football game than some men who were unfortunately caught in an overturned snowglobe:
It was the Eagles’ first championship appearance, and the game was held at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park — baseball’s first steel-and-concrete stadium, which housed both the Athletics and Phillies over more than six decades of service. There was just one problem: Philly was right in the path of a truly epic blizzard, resulting in more than four inches of snow on the field by mid-afternoon.
Kickoff was delayed by half an hour to deal with the snow — fans were told that if they showed up with a shovel and helped out they would get in for free — and the league brought in three extra officials to assist with out-of-bounds calls. There was so much snowfall that some players even had to help get the tarp off the field to start the game:
Once the game got underway, it was understandably a low-scoring affair. The game lasted just two hours and 23 minutes, and thanks to Steve Van Buren’s fourth-quarter touchdown run, Philadelphia escaped with a 7-0 win.
Invention of the forward pass, 1906, Sportsman’s Park
Yes, one of the game’s seminal moments took place in the home of the St. Louis Browns (and, later, Cardinals). But it wasn’t thanks to the NFL’s St. Louis All-Stars, who also played at Sportsman’s Park — it was actually the Saint Louis University Billikens (seriously) and their remarkably dashing head coach, Eddie Cochems.
The history of the forward pass is a remarkably morbid one — during the 1905 football season, there were 159 serious injuries and even several deaths. There were calls to ban the game, but President Theodore Roosevelt decided to call together a committee to alter the rules. Among the Rules Committee’s changes: the forward pass, finalized on April 6, 1906.
Cochems was quick to embrace the new possibilities that passing plays afforded. Of course, it also helped that Saint Louis’ schedule began in early September, weeks before most schools, but nevertheless — in its matchup with Carroll College, Saint Louis quarterback Bradbury Robinson dropped back for the first pass attempt in history … and it fell incomplete, which, under 1906 rules, resulted in a turnover. Don’t worry, SLU would improve: Robinson’s next pass went for a 20-yard touchdown.
Any favorite moments we left out? Let us know in the comments.
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