Sunday, December 18 at Chicago Stadium
The 1932 NFL Playoff Game was the first ever playoff game held by the National Football League (NFL), the major professional American football sports league in the United States. Due to extremely cold weather, the game was played indoors on December 18, 1932 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago. The final score was Chicago Bears 9, Portsmouth Spartans 0.
The game paved the way for a new era of professional American football. After following the rules of college football for its first 13 years of existence, the NFL began to develop its own rules. The popularity of the game also led the league to start holding annual playoff games. Thus, the 1932 NFL Playoff Game is sometimes unofficially called the 1932 NFL Championship Game.
Furthermore, the game is regarded as the first ever major indoor football game, although this is only true inasmuch as it was the first such game in the forward pass era. A series of matchups in 1902 and 1903, known as the World Series of Football, were held indoors in New York City in an effort to determine the nation's best professional team.
Since the NFL's first season in 1920, every league title had been awarded to the team with the best regular season record, based on winning percentage, with ties omitted. Four of the first six championships were disputed, but only once (the 1921 NFL season) did two teams ever finish tied atop the standings. In that year, the two teams disputing the title had played each other, splitting a two-game series, but league officials used a tiebreaker to give the Bears (then known as the Staleys) the title over the Buffalo All-Americans.
In the 1932 NFL season, the Spartans and the Bears tied for first place (6-1). (Standings were based on winning percentage, with ties excluded from the calculation. Therefore, the Spartans and Bears each finished the regular season with identical .857 winning percentages, ahead of the Green Bay Packers' .769 (10 wins, 3 losses) winning percentage. Had either pure win-loss differential or the post-1972 method of calculating winning percentage--counting ties as half-a-win, half-a-loss--been used at that time, the Packers' 10-3-1 (.750, +7) record would have won the league, ahead of the Spartans' 6-1-4 (.727, +5) and Bears' 6-1-6 (.692, +5).) Further complicating matters, the Spartans and Bears had tied each other twice during the regular season, rendering the league's only tiebreaker useless. So, for the first time, the league arranged for a playoff game to determine the NFL champion. Because the game counted in the final standings, the loser would finish third, behind Green Bay. The league had to make a rule change to allow the game, since they had banned the practice in 1924.
The game was set to be played at Wrigley Field, the Bears' home stadium. But because of severe blizzards and sub-zero wind chill throughout the week, the game was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium.
Because of the limited dimensions of the indoor arena, special rules were adopted for the game. The dirt-covered field itself was only 80 yards long and 10 yards narrower. The sidelines were butted up against the stands. The goal posts were moved from the endlines to the goal lines. The ball was automatically moved back to the 20-yard line every time one team crossed midfield. For the first time, all plays would start with the ball on or between the hash marks, which were ten yards from the sidelines.
Both teams' defenses dominated the first three quarters of the game. Then in the fourth quarter, the Bears scored on a controversial touchdown. On the play, Charles "Dutch" Brumbaugh handed the ball off to Bronko Nagurski, who then threw it to Red Grange in the end zone for the score. Rules at the time mandated that a forward pass had to be thrown from at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Spartans argued that Nagurski did not drop back five yards before passing to Grange, but the touchdown stood. The Bears later scored a safety to clinch the victory.
- CHI - Red Grange 2 pass from Bronko Nagurski (Paul "Tiny" Engebretsen kick), CHI 7-0
- CHI - Safety, Mule Wilson tackled in end zone, CHI 9-0
Effect on American footballEdit
Because it proved so popular, the 1932 NFL Playoff Game started a new era for the National Football League. Through 1932, the league had used the same rules as college football. Beginning with the 1933 season, the NFL introduced its own rules. The goal posts were moved from the end line to the goal line. (This was later reversed in 1974.) The forward pass became legal anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. All plays would start with the ball on or between the hash marks.
The 1932 NFL Playoff Game is also regarded as the first major indoor football game, a variation of American football with rules modified to make it suitable for play inside arenas. While several attempts to develop a true indoor football game have been made since then, the only version to meet with anything resembling true success and acceptance has been arena football.
- Pro Football Hall of Fame: The First Playoff Game (Retrieved September 23, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- NFL.com This Date in NFL History 18-Dec-1932
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