In case you missed it, the Arena Football League has left the building.
After more than three decades of providing fans with a miniaturized, indoor version of the gridiron game, the innovative circuit breathed its last in November when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
There are still other low budget, lower level versions scattered across the country, but the king is dead and with it, much of the novelty.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you, though; the first National Football League playoff game was – to stretch a point – a prototype of arena football.
On December 18, 1932, the Chicago Bears (led by football legends in the making Red Grange and Bronco Nagurski) and Portsmouth Spartans were set to play at Wrigley Field to break a tie atop the NFL standings. The weather outside, however, was frightening.
No, really – it was historically awful with blizzard conditions and frigid temperatures making extended outdoor activities potentially deadly.
So leading up to the clash organizers of the event called an audible and decided to move it to Chicago Stadium, home of the National Hockey League Chicago Blackhawks.
Although the Bears had, in fact, played an indoor exhibition a couple of years earlier, this marked the first time the NFL had moved inside to stage a game that counted and nearly 12,000 fans showed up to witness the spectacle.
Naturally, some major rules concessions had to be made.
For this contest, the field was 60 yards long (not including two 10-yard end zones) and 45 yards wide. Instead of playing on concrete, tanbark was brought in and laid six inches thick to create a field.
The ball was placed inside the hash marks on every play.
And, the teams also agreed before the game not to kick field goals.
Well, read about it yourself from this classic game account written by United Press staff correspondent Kenneth D. Fry:
CHICAGO – There have been comical happenings on the football battlefields without number but herewith is submitted the champion football comic strip.
And it was for a championship.
For the sake of record, let it be said here and now that the Chicago Bears defeated the Portsmouth, Ohio, Spartans on the indoor gridiron at the Chicago Stadium last night, 9 to 0. The Bears scored a touch down and a safety in the final period to win the title that has heretofore been the property of the Green Bay Packers.
It was called a football game and was said to be played on a gridiron.
The playing field was composed of six inches of dirt and tanbark spread over the stadium’s concrete floor. The field itself was 60 yards long, forty yards short of rule book length.
Players standing on their own goal lines punted into the other team’s end zone all evening. Punts from the middle of the field landed in the mezzanine, balcony and adjacent territory. One kicked knocked the “BL” out of the Black Hawks hockey sign. Another hit a sour note on the organ as the organist was playing, for some obscure and undetermined reason, a song about cutting down the old pine tree.
The organist played “Illinois Loyalty” when Red Grange caught a forward pass for a touchdown, and that was the only note that rang true during the evening’s pastime.
By mutual agreement neither team attempted field goals. Windows cost money.
Officials spent more time picking large clinkers out of the soil than they did blowing whistles.
Only one punt was caught and returned during the entire contest. One went out of bounds; one was downed. The rest landed with loud thuds against the walls or sent spectators scurrying to cover. The thirty yard line was the middle of the field and a large copper standing nearby wanted to know in a loud voice how much it counted when a punt landed in the balcony.
Grange accounted for the only TD of the night, reeling in a five yard scoring toss from Nagurski. Tiny Engebretsen kicked the lone extra point, and Portsmouth gave up a safety when punter Mule Wilson mishandled a snap and allowed the ball to roll out of the back of the end zone.
(I figured I needed to provide some key stats in case you have any of those guys on your fantasy teams).
But kudos to Fry, who obviously had some fun writing his account of the contest. The NFL of 1932 was hardly the juggernaut of today (it had only eight franchises and was overshadowed by college football), so the story reflected more of the game’s human interest than the game itself.
Still, it’s significant that the first NFL postseason game was more similar to arena football than traditional outdoor football.
Of course with venues such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Superdome, traditional outdoor football now works just fine indoors – no tanbark required.