From 1934 to 1976, the NFL preseason tradition included the Chicago Charities College All-Star Game, a game featuring college players against the league champion. The last game of the long-forgotten series, played mostly at Soldier Field in Chicago, was unforgettable: a 24-0 victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a downpour.
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As the torrents fell in this final game, many fans stormed the pitch, splashing and sliding across grass that looked like a lake. TV broadcaster Frank Gifford called it a “carnival” and the game happily ended in the third quarter. “Surrealist”, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the finish.
But the series, devised by a sports newspaper editor, was popular, often drawing over 70,000 fans to a game. Participation in the 1947 game was 105,840. (The game was not played in 1974 due to the NFL players’ strike.)
“It was a fascinating series of games,” said Jon Kendle, director of football archives and information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s something that a lot of people haven’t been aware of, for as long as it’s been happening. And this is something that will really never happen again. The way the NFL is structured now, there is simply too much at stake for all parties involved. “
Sports writer Arch Ward founded the game in 1933
Times were different when Chicago Tribune Sports writer Arch Ward came up with the idea for the All-Star game in 1933. College football was king then. In 1926, 110,000 fans attended the Army-Navy match at Soldier Field, the stadium’s official opening. In the early 1930s, the NFL needed the All-Star Game.
Ward was as much a promoter as he was a reporter. He worked in public relations for Notre Dame football for two of legendary coach Knute Rockne’s unbeaten seasons, started the Golden Gloves boxing tournament and in 1933 suggested that Major League Baseball hold an exhibition of mid-season between the stars of the American and national leagues. The Midsummer Classic continues to this day.
In consultation with Chicago City Executives and Chicago Bears George Halas, Ward came up with a similar idea for football, pitting college stars against NFL champions. This kind of game was not unusual at the time; in 1939 there were nine games between college players and NFL teams. Ward’s coup allowed the NFL to agree to allow top players who had just left college to play champions.
Ward decided that the profits from the game would be shared by charities in the Chicago area. So began one of the greatest charitable efforts in the history of sport.
“Being a member of the College All-Stars was a competition I dreamed of as a kid,” said Paul Warfield, professional Football Hall of Fame receiver, who played in the game as an all-star and with the Cleveland Browns.
A panel of 30 sports journalists chose the first all-star team. The assist was more impressive than the result, as 79,432 watched a scoreless tie on August 31, 1934. Ward’s column on the game dealt with a technological improvement: the lights at Soldier Field. “The giant audiences were able to follow the details of the game online with ease,” he writes.
The 1935 All-Star roster included a Michigan player named Gerald Ford, who would become the country’s 38th president. Attendance topped 100,000 at the 1942, 1947, and 1948 games. The 1943 and 1944 games were moved to the nearby Northwestern campus in Evanston, Ill. To avoid a large gathering near the downtown core. of Chicago, considered a potential enemy target during World War II.
Jackie Robinson plays the game 1941
In 1941, UCLA star Jackie Robinson, who would break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, scored an all-star touchdown. Collegiate teams were integrated long before the reinstatement of the NFL in 1946.
In 42 games, the stars have won nine and have drawn twice. Sammy Baugh guided the 1937 varsity team to their first victory, 6-0 over the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay also lost in 1963, a game Vince Lombardi called the most embarrassing loss. The Packers were the first and last NFL team to lose to the All-Star.
Kendle remembers Professional Football Hall of Fame member Dave Robinson, the Packers’ first-round pick in early December 1962, speaking of being on the varsity team that beat Green Bay in 1963. “.. . the college players were in the locker hoot and howl from the room and all of a sudden the Packers coach walks in and shouts, ‘Robinson, coach Lombardi said to have you. You are a Packer now. Pack your things, ”Kendle says.
Robinson shyly walked over to the almost silent locker room in Green Bay and found a place to sit. He told Kendle he could feel the eyes of the veterans of the Packers pass through him.
NFL player injury prompts series rethinking
In the 1947 game, the Bears were given new machines called air conditioning to cool the locker rooms on a 91-degree day. In 1972, the Miami Dolphins were undefeated, but they only broke through the midfield three times against the 1973 college kids. Miami coach Don Shula replaced starting quarterback Bob Griese with Earl Morrall to secure a 14-3 win.
Warfield played for the college kids in the 1964 game after being a first-round pick for the Cleveland Browns. He had an outstanding rookie season, but suffered a broken collarbone the next preseason while playing vs college students.
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“I was diving for the ball for a pass that was slightly knocked down,” Warfield said. “I fell on my elbow and almost instantly the defender fell on top of me.” He required two surgeries to repair the injury and was limited to one game during the 1965 regular season.
The injury sparked silent murmurs about the wisdom of the game. In the end, it didn’t make sense for a team’s top draft picks to miss training camp for two weeks to work for a team. ‘stars. As NFL training and systems improved, the game became more one-sided. The Super Bowl champions have won the last 12 games.
The 1976 Flood, a quirk of nature, was perhaps the final signal that the game had run its course. The College All-Star Game was swept away by a torrent of nature and the torrent of growth that the NFL has enjoyed to this day.
“It was a good idea when it started,” said longtime NFL writer Vito Stellino, who covered the last game of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But it was a combination of a perfect storm and a real storm that was too much to overcome.”