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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: A good look at the scoreboard set up for football

The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 through 1970.

The Bears will take on the Philadelphia Eagles this afternoon for their eighth game of the 2019 NFL season.

So on this NFL Sunday I thought you’d like this really clear view of the Wrigley Field scoreboard as it was set up for football, and do a little sleuthing.

First, despite the NATIONAL and AMERICAN tags on the top of the board, you’ll notice just seven games listed. That’s because the NFL, then a 14-team league, barely recognized the old American Football League’s existence. The AFL had begun as an upstart league in 1960 and was gaining in popularity, eventually resulting in the NFL/AFL merger in 1970.

But when this photo was taken, it’s as if the AFL didn’t exist. (Not to mention there wouldn’t have been enough room for the four AFL games played that day.)

We do know that it had to be taken after 1960, because that’s when the NFL expanded from 12 to 14 teams, adding the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. It also has to be from 1961-68, because those were the only years that the board had exactly five game slots on each side. Before 1961 it had four; in 1969 it was expanded to include enough room for the new 12-team baseball leagues.

So that’s just eight years’ worth of searching, and after that it’s pretty easy. All that remained was to find the date that had the Vikings at Wrigley and all the other games matching what’s shown in the photo.

This game date was November 11, 1962. Turns out this was a pretty wild game. The Bears turned the ball over eight times — five interceptions and three fumbles — and went behind 30-28 on a 10-yard field goal by Minnesota with about a minute and a half remaining.

“A what?” you’re saying. How can there be a 10-yard field goal?

Remember that in those days, the goal posts were on the goal line, not the end line. So that would have been a ball snapped from about the three-yard line and kicked from the 10. Today a ball kicked from that spot would be a 20-yard field goal.

The Bears got the ball back, drove downfield to the Vikings’ eight-yard line and Roger LeClerc kicked an 18-yard field goal (today, that would be 28) to give the Bears a 31-30 lead with 13 seconds remaining.

The Vikings had one last chance, but Bennie McRae intercepted a last-ditch pass and was headed for the end zone for a finishing touchdown, but according to the Tribune:

McRae headed up an expressway toward the Minnesota goal. Then he fell down, flat, on the Viking 42.

What’s most interesting about the photo is to see how a board set up strictly for baseball was used for football. The BATTER space was changed YARDS TO GO. The BALL square is used for DOWN, the space used for hit/error is BALL (not sure what that would have meant), and the STRIKE square is QUARTER.

Naturally, there’s no game-timing clock on a baseball board, so that had to be added, as shown at the bottom, and even though there’s a space for the umpires that could have been used for NFL officials, they were listed instead at the bottom right.

This photo was clearly taken just before kickoff. In 1962, television had not yet taken over pro football in the way it has today and games weren’t scheduled in the three-hour Sunday windows we are now familiar with. Here’s the time schedule for the games that Sunday as published in the Tribune (all times Central):

So at 1 p.m., the time shown on the scoreboard clock, the game at Wrigley was about to start. One other game had already begun, but there was no score yet posted. In those days, they might have waited until the Bears game began before posting scores.

And I have no idea why one game was listed as starting at “3:35” and another at “3:36.” Could very well have been a typo in the newspaper.

Just a bit of historical fun before Sunday’s NFL action. Here’s a larger version of the photo at the top of this post which shows a Bears team flag flying above the board:

That was a Bears team flag similar to this Cubs team flag, which I do not think the team uses any longer, or at least I haven’t been able to find any recent photos of anything like it. A flag resembling the one shown was auctioned off in 2010 (photo 4 in this gallery). There were seven stars on the flag shown on the scoreboard, representing the number of NFL titles the Bears won pre-merger. Later an eighth star was added for the 1963 championship.