By Ben Welter
The roots of the Super Bowl lead to a gritty game played in a gritty northern city on a winter’s night more than 70 years ago.
When the 1932 pro football season ended, the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans were deadlocked atop the standings. To break the tie, league officials arranged the first playoff game in league history. Wrigley Field, the Bears’ home, was icebound by mid-December, so the game was moved indoors, to Chicago Stadium, where 400 tons of dirt brought in for a circus still lay on the arena floor, along with who knows what else. The Tribune gave this AP account a good ride on the first sports page:
Bears Defeat Portsmouth, 9 to 0, for Pro Grid Title
TO RED GRANGE
Grange, Knocked Out in Open-
ing Period, Believed Through
By CHARLES DUNKLEY.
Associated Press Sports Writer.
Chicago, Dec. 18 – (AP) – The Chicago Bears are the National professional football champions of 1932.
Playing indoors on a field covered with 400 tons of dirt laid six inches deep, the Bears conquered the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0, in the Chicago stadium Sunday night to supplant the Green Bay Packers as the National titleholders.
The game, witnessed by 12,000 spectators, was a thrilling spectacle with just as much action, exciting forward passing and punting as a game played outdoors, although the players were slightly handicapped with the reduced size of the field.
The gridiron measured 80 yards by 45 yards by 45 yards instead of the regulation 300 feet by 150 feet, providing about 80 per cent of the space of an outdoor game.
Bronko’s Pass Wins.
A few seconds later, in the closing minutes of the game, the Spartans fell victim to a blunder that cost them a safety when Wilson, a substitute fullback, fumbled a bad pass from center and the ball rolled behind the goal line with him chasing it to register the safety.
Grange, after 10 years of battling on the gridirons of the nation – three as a collegiate star at Illinois and seven as a member of the Bears – received a battering Sunday night that may end his football career. He was knocked out early in the first period when three Portsmouth players crashed into him, and was forced to leave the game with George Corbett, Milliken university star, replacing him at left half back. He came back in the fourth period, however, to score.
Grange Believed Through.
The famed “galloping ghost” may not pull on the moleskins next season due to the batterings he has received on the professional field. His physical condition in the future will determine whether he will continue as a gridiron star.
The Spartans, playing courageously, were slightly outmatched with the absence of their star quarterback, Dutch Clark, who was unable to play because of his basketball coaching duties in Colorado.
The powerful Bears gained 184 yards to 126 for the Spartans and chalked up eight first downs to five for Portsmouth. In passing the Bears attempted 16, completing three for 28 yards. The Spartans sent 14 shots into the air, completing the two for 29 yards. They tried desperately in the last of the fourth period to score with passes after the Bears broke the deadlock with a touchdown.
Followup note: Grange recovered from his injuries and played two more seasons with the Bears before retiring. The Spartans played one more season in Portsmouth before moving to Detroit, where they became Lions.