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A Day In Wrigley Field History: December 17, 1933

The first NFL championship game ever played at Wrigley Field happened on this day.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

After the success of the 1932 NFL championship game -- played indoors at Chicago Stadium, incidentally, due to frigid outdoor conditions -- the league split into two divisions so as to create a true championship game beginning the following year.

The Bears, assigned to the league's West division, won it with a 10-2-1 record, allowing more than 10 points just once, and proceeded to the title game against the East's New York Giants on a fairly pleasant December afternoon -- it was partly cloudy, with temperatures near 40.

And after you read this description of how the Bears defeated the Giants 23-21, you'll probably agree that if a game like this happened in a Super Bowl today, it would be remembered forever. Wilfrid Smith had the Tribune recap of that day:

Chicago Bears are the football champions of the world.

They won that honor yesterday afternoon at Wrigley field by whipping their New York rivals, the Giants, 23 to 21 before 21,000 spectators, the largest crowd to see a professional game in Chicago since that Thanksgiving day eight years ago when Red Grange, now captain of the world's champions, made his debut on the same gridiron.

Marshal your adjectives. Bring out all the superlatives and shift them as you would juggle a jig-saw puzzle. All will fit in a description of the championship battle.

The Bears trailed 21-16 with less than five minutes to play; here's how they won it:

The Giants chose to punt and Strong dropped back. As he took Mel Hein's pass from center a white shirted wave of Bears broke through to unsteady his aim and the ball shot straight up. Chicago took the ball on the Giants' 47 yard line.

The continuous roar of the crowd rose to a higher, shriller pitch which drowned out the sound of the thumping of the band. Here was final opportunity.

A pass fell incomplete. Another by Molesworth settled into the arms of Brumbaugh for a 9 yard gain.

It should be noted here that Carl Brumbaugh was the Bears' starting quarterback and Keith Molesworth was a halfback. Play-calling was, obviously, a bit different in those days. Smith continues:

Big Nagurski crushed the line for a first down on New York's 33 yard strip. The Giants took time out as they marshaled their forces for a last stand.

Quarter Back Brumbaugh unleashed for the first time the play which repeatedly this season has turned impending defeat into triumph. Nagurski started as if to hit the line, stopped and leaped into the air. Then he threw to Bill Hewitt as he raced through the New York defense behind the center of the line. Two defenders rushed to tackle Hewitt, but he relayed the ball laterally to Bill Karr, who swept down the east side of the field, swerved to avoid the safety man as this last opponent went down under a perfect block, and continued to the goal for the winning point.

The game was played differently, obviously, than it is now; although players had positions, they would often switch off. The running game was still primary; the Bears completed 74 of 212 passes on the season, for 11 touchdowns and 29 interceptions -- and that was considered a pretty good statistical summary of the passing game in that era. In the end, as you can see, a trick play of sorts won the game, with at least one lateral involved. (And yes, "Quarter Back" was written exactly that way in the original article.)

Also remember that the football field in those days ran from the first-base side to the left-field wall (as opposed to the third-base/right-field alignment for the Northwestern/Illinois game three years ago), so the "east side" would have been the side closest to right field.

It was the beginning of a dominant era for the Bears, who would win four titles and have just one losing season over the next 20 years.