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75 Years Ago: NFL Action on “A Day That Will Live in Infamy” 1

Posted on December 04, 2016 by Dean Hybl
December 7, 1941 was Tuffy Leemans' Day at the New York Giants football game.

December 7, 1941 was Tuffy Leemans’ Day at the New York Giants football game.

The first Sunday in December of 1941 began much like Sundays have for years prior and for the 75 years since.  The morning for many included a church service and then was followed by Sunday afternoon National Football League action.

Though the NFL in 1941 was not the Sunday national obsession that it has become over the past 75 years, there was still excitement for the final three games of the regular season.

In New York, a crowd of 55,051 packed the Polo Grounds for “Tuffy Leemans’ Day” as the New York Giants were recognizing their All-Pro running back in the final regular season game of his sixth NFL season. Leemans had led the NFL in rushing with 830 yards as a rookie in 1936 and as was common during the era, he was a multi-threat who also could be a passer, receiver, punt returner and play defense. He would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

The Giants entered the game with an 8-2 record and having already clinched the East Division title. Their opponents, the cross-town rival Brooklyn Dodgers (yes the Brooklyn Dodgers was also the name of an NFL team from 1930-1943) entered the game with a 6-4 record.

Brooklyn had defeated the Giants 16-13 earlier in the season, but a recent loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers had knocked the Dodgers out of contention for the division title.

On this afternoon, Brooklyn All-Pro Pug Manders was a one-man-show as he scored touchdown in the second, third and fourth quarters to give the Dodgers a 21-0 lead. He sandwiched touchdown runs of three and two yards with a 65-yard interception return for a score. The Giants made the final score 21-7 when Kay Fakin caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Hank Soar.

As would be the case in all the NFL Stadiums that day, soon after the Pearl Harbor Bombing commenced at 12:55 Eastern time, the public address announcer told all servicemen in attendance to report to their units immediately.

At Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, the Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles were each finishing out the season. The Redskins were 5-5 on the year, while the Eagles were 2-7-1 entering the final contest.

In front of a crowd of 27,102, the Eagles scored early on a run by Jack Banta. Future Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh hit Al Krueger for a 19-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tie the contest.

The Eagles regained the lead in the third quarter with a six-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Thompson to Hank Piro to make the score 14-7.

By the time Baugh tossed a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes to Joe Aguirre to secure the 20-14 victory, many of the initial audience was likely gone. Soon after the bombings, the Public Address Announcer started to page high-ranking government and military leaders, though he did not mention the attacks. Read the rest of this entry →

Remembering the NFL on December 7, 1941 69

Posted on December 06, 2011 by Dean Hybl

The 1941 Chicago Bears defeated the Chicago Cardinals 34-24 on December 7, 1941 and then went on to win the NFL Championship. Many members of the Bears went on to serve in the military during World War II.

In remembrance of the 70th anniversary of “A day that will live in infamy”, we look back at the final day of the 1941 National Football League regular season and how the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor nearly half a world away forever changed the lives of many of the players who were on the field that afternoon.

In 1941 the National Football League was not quite the national phenomenon it is today. On the final Sunday of the NFL season, December 7, 1941, there were only three games on tap and the games were not preceded by hours of pre-game shows and wall-to-wall television coverage.

Instead, they were available only to those fortunate enough to have a ticket for the games in Chicago, New York or Washington or for those listening to one of the broadcasts on radio.

Of the three games, only one, the city rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals, had implications on the upcoming post season. The other two games, the New York Giants (who had already clinched a spot in the league championship game) against the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Eagles facing the Washington Redskins, were about pride and finishing the season on a positive note.

Word of the attacks started to spread while all three games were in action and the public address announcers at the Polo Grounds in New York and Comiskey Park in Chicago interrupted the game to tell all servicemen to report to their units. At Griffith Stadium in Washington the announcer paged high-ranking government and military personnel at the game, but did not mention the attack.

Nearly 1,000 past, current or future NFL players and personnel served in the U.S. Military during World War II (check out the full list). Through their unique stories we learn the true meaning of personal sacrifice as many either never returned to the NFL or missed what would have been the prime of their career while serving their country.

While the story of every American veteran is unique and important, a capsule of the shared sacrifice and implications of World War II can be learned by looking at 10 men who were part of the pivotal Bears-Cardinals game on December 7, 1941. Many of them would be part of very different (and much more important) battles just months later. Read the rest of this entry →

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