Long-ago exhibition sowed seeds for city's first forays into -- football

John Steadman

September 04, 1992|By John Steadman

When the seeds of pro football were planted in Baltimore, which was 50 years ago this Monday, more than 50,000 fans turned out to see an exhibition between the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers. It was a classic matchup of quarterbacks -- Cecil Isbell vs. Slingin' Sammy Baugh. It was this city's first exposure to major-league professional football.

The National Football League then didn't refer to them as "exhibitions" or "preseason" but rather "non-championship games." However, it thought so little of their merit it neglected to even list them in the league guide and the teams didn't consider them important enough to be carried in their brochures.

As we reflect on how Baltimore's passion for pro football began, we're paging through an actual program for the event, played Sept. 7, 1942, a Monday night. It's interesting to note the Packers had a mere three-man coaching staff, Earl "Curly" Lambeau and assistants Richard "Red" Smith and Eddie Kotal. The Redskins' Ray Flaherty, meanwhile, had only one aide, Turk Edwards.

The Redskins featured a fullback, Andy Farkas, from the University of Detroit, who played without a helmet. Some other roster members included Wee Willie Wilkin, Clyde Shugart, later to be the head of the enormous chain of High's ice cream stores; Ed Beinor, Ki Aldrich, Wilbur Moore, Bob Masterson and "Antelope" Al Krueger. Krueger caught a touchdown pass in the 1939 Rose Bowl in the final 60 seconds to post the winning score as Southern California topped what had been an undefeated, untied Duke team.

For the Packers, in addition to Isbell, who five years later was to become the first coach of the Colts, there was Hall of Fame battery mate Don Hutson; Charley Brock, Buford "Baby" Ray, Charles "Buckets' Goldenberg, Ted Fritsch, Larry Craig and Tony Canadeo. All of the aforementioned, and the other Packers and Redskins, may not have realized it, but they became the pioneers of pro football in this city.

They staged a momentous show that whet the appetite for pro football. Between 50,000 and 53,000 -- depending upon which newspaper account you read -- turned out for a game that drew vast attention to Baltimore. A contributing factor, of course, was that World War II was on and Baltimore was packed with war plant workers with money in their pockets and few places to spend it. Certainly, not for a sports attraction.

Baltimore then had a "blue law" that a professional sports event could not be held at what was then Municipal Stadium (later to be rebuilt as the present Memorial Stadium) on a Sunday. It was feared we might all be going to hell in a handbasket if a city-owned facility was used for making money via a commercial enterprise.

Nine months later, the Sunday event restriction was rescinded because the Redskins were ready to cash in on not one Baltimore exhibition, but two -- against the Chicago Bears and Packers. The Redskins continued to play here, profitably, at least once a year until 1948, or until Baltimore was caught up with the Colts, who were members of the rival All-America Conference.

But the genesis for pro football in Baltimore occurred in 1942. For a press box reaction, we went to the microfilm of a half-century ago. Sports editor Paul Menton of The Evening Sun was on vacation. Covering for this newspaper was Randall Cassell, who wrote the following: "Baltimore is ready to welcome a pro club and in time something may be done along these lines because Redskin and Packer officials took away pleasant memories of the response given their efforts by this city."

Rodger H. Pippen, sports editor of the Baltimore News-Post, dTC always a positive influence,offered these comments: "Among the at the game were Charlie Bidwill, owner of the Chicago Cardinals, and Art Rooney and Bert Bell, bosses of the Pittsburgh franchise. Interest in the game astonished them and they made inquiries as to the possibilities of shifting one of the two clubs to Baltimore.

"...So it is up to Baltimore to get busy and make a study of the proposition. First off, Mayor Howard Jackson and the Park Board must cast aside personal feelings and open the Stadium to Sunday games. No pro team could survive here without Sunday contests. The Redskins and Packers wanted to play here Sunday afternoon but were turned away. Indeed, Jack Espey, business manger of the Washington club, had to pull a lot of wires to get this writer's help to get the use of the stadium last night."

Meanwhile, Jesse Linthicum, sports editor of The Sun, wrote: "Fifty thousand fans, filling the Stadium almost to capacity, saw the Washington Redskins defeat the Packers of Green Bay, Wis., in the first major (professional) football game held in this city. The score was 28-7."

Vincent X. Flaherty, writing in the Washington Times Herald, observed: "Certainly George P. Marshall, owner of the Redskins, would be interested in bringing Baltimore into the league. A Baltimore team would kindle a rich rivalry between Washington and Baltimore that wouldn't be matched anywhere in the land.

"Baltimore, by the way, is wonderfully equipped for pro football -- not only because of the city's great population, but because of the Baltimore Stadium which could be, at long last, put to constant use. The Stadium, although not an architectural masterpiece, would fit pro football's needs perfectly."

Now, it comes to pass, after Baltimore had a pro team of its own for 35 years before it was stolen away, the city is trying to convince the NFL to put a franchise here once again. Things do have a way of coming around.

Or, to put it another way, history has a way of repeating itself.

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