The tale of the league’s first playoff game on a hockey field

We are going back to the 1932 NFL season for this one. Prior to that season, the champion was decided based on which team had the best record at the conclusion of the regular season.

However, in 1932, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans were tied for first place with six wins. This was something that had never been done before.

The Bears had the league’s meanest defense, conceding just 44 points from their 14 games. It included seven shutouts (keeping a team scoreless) and a whopping six ties. The Bears’ only loss came at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in Week 5 when they lost 2-0. Chicago also had the highest-scoring offense in the league as well. They scored 160 points for the season.

The Spartans were ranked third in the league for both points for and points against. Their regular season consisted of four ties as they geared up for the NFL’s first ever playoff game.

The NFL’s first playoff game … on a hockey field

As the Bears and Spartans were tied for first place, a one-off playoff game was held to find out who was going to take on the NFL championship for the 1932 season.

The Bears played all of their home games at Wrigley Field, but given that the game was in December, the weather did not cooperate. A sub-zero wind chill coupled with a serious blizzard that poured snow all over the city meant that an outdoor game was next to impossible to have. Thus, the unusual decision to have the game played indoors at Chicago Stadium was made. It was a hockey field.

As we know, hockey fields are considerably smaller than a football field and the size of the ground was unusual. Per, the field was only 80 yards in length, and the field was a huge 30-feet narrower. What is more is that, because the ground was smaller, the endzones were not of the proper size either. It’s not something you want for a playoff game.

Bears triumph in first-ever NFL playoff game

A total of 11,198 fans packed into Chicago Stadium, and what they witnessed could be considered a snooze-fest.

The Bears, led by coach Ralph Jones, and the Spartans, led by Potsy Clark, failed to score a single point between them in the opening three quarters. Keep in mind this game had the highest-scoring team for the year and the third-highest scoring team in the league. Both scored nothing.

With this game being played on an 80-yard field, I’m surprised no mentions of the 1932 NFL Playoff have arisen. Due to severe winter weather, the tiebreaker between the Bears and Portsmouth Spartans (now Detroit Lions) was played indoors at Chicago Stadium.

Perhaps, the field played a part, given it was not what the players were used to. However, in the fourth quarter, the Bears broke the deadlock. Red Grange caught a 2-yard pass from Bronko Nagurski and, thanks to the Tiny Engebretsen kick, led 7-0.

Mule Wilson of the Spartans was then tackled in the endzone for a safety, taking the Bears’ lead to 9-0. They managed to secure a win in the first-ever NFL playoff game.

All stats via Pro Football Reference.


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