I thought I’d give you a bit of NFL history today, since the league fills up Thanksgiving with football.
For this photo, Getty Images says:
Quarterback Bill Wade #9 of the Chicago Bears sets up to throw a pass during a game in the 1960s against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wrigley Field in Chicago Illinois.
I looked at Wade’s game logs while he was a member of the Bears, 1961-66. There wasn’t a single game he played against the Steelers at Wrigley as a Bear, and no one had worn No. 9 as a quarterback for the Bears before that since 1955, and that was a guy named Bob Williams, who didn’t face the Steelers at Wrigley, either.
Then it occurred to me: The Bears don’t wear white jerseys at home now, and didn’t back then, either.
So this isn’t Wrigley Field, it’s Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday, November 24, 1963. The game wound up in a 17-17 tie. Wade completed 17 of 32 passes for 264 yards, but threw three interceptions.
This game happened 59 years ago today.
If you’re of “a certain age” you’ll note that this date seems a bit familiar, and that’s because it was just two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
There were two pro football leagues at the time. The American Football League commissioner, Joe Foss, cancelled that day’s games, and most college games the previous day were also cancelled.
But NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle went ahead with that day’s schedule, something for which he was roundly criticized:
Through the decades, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has been universally taken to task for his lack of sensitivity in not postponing games that tragic weekend. Rozelle himself came to regret the decision, calling it the worst mistake of his 29-year tenure as commissioner. His successor, Paul Tagliabue, utilized the Rozelle experience to inform his decision not to play any NFL games on the Sunday following the 9/11 attacks.
Rozelle, however, did not act blindly. Before giving his OK to the games, he spoke with Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary and a former classmate of Rozelle’s at the University of San Francisco. Perhaps Salinger was too shaken to offer a reasoned opinion but he urged the commissioner to play the games as scheduled. “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy,” Rozelle said. “Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game. He thrived on competition.”
That clearly wasn’t the right decision and as noted, Rozelle later expressed serious regret about not cancelling that Sunday’s schedule.
This is probably why we have this surviving photo — those games likely shouldn’t have been played, so newspapers and photo services sent photographers out to document them.
It happened 59 years ago today, November 24, 1963.