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The 1933 NFL Championship Game: “The First NFL Playoff Game”

Nothing is more exciting in any professional sport than a playoff game. American’s have enjoyed the NFL playoffs for eight decades. Since the NFL’s inception there have been over 500 playoff games. That tradition did not start in 1920 with the league’s inception.  From 1920-1923 the NFL Champion was voted by the team owners.  During the 1924-1932 seasons the Championship was won by the team with the best record (win percentage) at the end of the season.

The 1932 season was the final season before a Championship Game was instituted.  The final game of the ’32 season was technically a “playoff” game. The Chicago Bears (6-1-6) and the Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) shared the league’s best win percentage of .857.  To settle the tie an addition game was played between the two teams. The Bears were victorious in that final contest by a score of 9-0 over the Spartans. This game was recorded as a regular season game in the record books for both teams.

At the conclusion of the the 1932 season the NFL decided that a Championship game would take place at the end of every season. The two teams holding the best record in their division (Eastern and Western) would face each other to determine a champion. Thus began what we now know as the NFL Playoffs.

The 1933 NFL Championship Game played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Getty)

The 1933 NFL Championship Game played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Getty)

On December 17,1933 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL the first NFL Championship Game took place. The Western Division’s Chicago Bears (10-2-1) went to battle with the Eastern Division’s New York Giants (11-3). This game featured two of the NFL’s all-time greats, Red Grange and Bronco Nagurski both playing for the Bears.

The Bears drew first blood with a Jack Manders 16-yard field goal in the 1st quarter. In the 2nd quarter the Bears would receive another field goal from Manders, while the Giants QB Harry Newman threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Red Badgro. The Giants led 7-6 going into halftime.

When the second half began the Bears would retake the lead with another Manders field goal. The Giants quickly responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Max Krause, the Giants now held the lead by a score of 14-09. The Bears scored their first touchdown of the game Bronco Nagurski touchdown pass to Bill Karr before the 3rd quarter concluded.

The 4th and final quarter began with the Bears holding a 16-14 lead over the Giants. The lead would change early in the final quarter when the Giants QB Harry Newman completed his second touchdown pass for the day to Ken Strong to take a 21-16 lead. The Bears came through in the final two minutes to take the lead and the win with a Bill Karr 19-yard touchdown reception. The Bears defeated the Giants 23-21 on that day. The Bears became the first NFL team to capture a championship via a “playoff” game.

Many people debated whether the first NFL game was in 1932, 1933 of 1967. The 1932 game was not officially scored as a “playoff” game while the 1933 game was. The semifinal playoff games did not begin until the 1967 season so some consider it to be the first season with a playoff. I feel that the 1933 game was a playoff game and has even officially been regarded as that by the NFL. With that being said, the first ever NFL Championship game was the first playoff game ever.

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Historic Rookies: Gale Sayers In 1965

With the 4th overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft the Chicago Bears selected running back Gale Sayers from the University of Kansas. Sayers had been a two time All American and was highly touted coming out of college. The Bears were in need of a solid running back following the 1964 season in which the teams leading rusher was Jon Arnett who finished the season with 400 yards on the ground. Ronnie Bull was the second rusher in terms of yards with 320. Sayers would come in and rush for more yard than both backs combined.

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Gale Sayers was a very influential running back that changed how the game was played from the back field. Sayers was an explosive rusher with the ability to stop, move and go at practically any given moment. Sayers would also become one of the best kick returners the game had seen up to that point.

Gale Sayers had a phenomenal debut season in 1965. On the ground Sayers was practically unstoppable with 867 yards, 14 touchdowns. Sayers also gained 507 yards receiving and scored 6 touchdowns. Lastly Sayers returned 16 kicks for a total of 898 yards and 2 touchdowns on kickoffs and punt returns combined. Despite the incredible season Sayers had he could only help the Bears so much. The Bears finished that season with a record of 9-5 and placed 3rd in the NFL Western Conference.

Gale Sayers was named the NFL Rookie of the at the end of the 1965 season. That season he set the record for the most touchdowns scored by a rookie with 22, a record that still stands today, almost five decades later. Sayers would only play seven total seasons before retiring after the 1971 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1977.