I turned 14 in 1956, was a sophomore in high school and the Dodgers had lost the World Series in 7 games to the hated Yankees. That was the year of Don Larsen’s perfect 5th game which I watched on my 12" black and white T. V.
Baseball season was over and I had a new portable radio for my own use - a birthday gift from mom and dad.
I found football on the radio one day quite by accident. I began to listen on Sundays to the N. Y. Giants on the road and in their first season at Yankee Stadium. The Giants had previously played at the Polo Grounds.
The radio would be on in the background while I did homework or hunkered down indoors from Winter weather and I began to hear the names - Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Sam Huff, Kyle Rote, Alex Webster, Andy Robustelli, Coach Jim Lee Howell and Assistant Coaches Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
Football was not televised in those days but the radio announcers could paint the picture vividly and make you see it all in your head. Not that I knew a lot about football.
The NFL consisted of twelve teams at the time. split into Eastern and Western Divisions - the Giants, Cards, Redskins, Steelers, Browns and Eagles made up the East while Bears, Lions, Forty-Niners, Colts, Packers and Rams made up the West. The season was 12 games with the Giants winning the East and the Bears winning in the West.
Football was not a big game among immigrant kids or their parents. Baseball was the game of the masses. College football was much more popular than the pro game and while some Irish immigrants had a love of Notre Dame most immigrants had no allegiance to any college since they didn’t attend "football" schools. Going to City University of New York at night was not conducive to becoming a college football fan let alone a fan of the pros.
Listening in my little room however I found the game exciting. On Monday I would try to get hold of a newspaper to read an account of the contest and I began to follow the standings. Of course I was rooting for the Giants and, on the last day of the season, the Giants clinched the Eastern Division. They would be going to the NFL Championship Game against the Chicago Bears.
The game was going to be played at Yankee Stadium.
I decided I wanted to see the game. Fourteen years old and 120 lbs. soaking wet - I was going to experience being there.
I mentioned it to my mom and dad as a possible Christmas present. They scoffed. "You want to see who?" Well, neither knew how to get a ticket. Of course I had no one to go with - no one I knew was interested in football - especially a pro team.
"Well if you can get a ticket you can go. How much are they?".
Now I am old and one begins to lose the details but if memory serves right my ticket to the NFL Championship Game was $14. Fourteen dollars. Downstairs in the stadium near the end-zone. Upstairs in the boonies seats cost $5. Yup. Five dollars.
So $14 in hand I took the subway the week before the game, which was to be played on December 30th, to the Yankee Stadium ticket office. Nobody was in line. One ticket booth open.
"I’d like a ticket to the Giants - Bears game please. Best seat available" That will be $14 son. Thank you very much sir.
Ticket in hand I went home and got ready for my first football game.
On Game Day the temperature was in single digits. It was freezing. Bundled up in just about all the clothes I owned I took the subway from Brooklyn to Yankee Stadium - as we got closer to the Bronx the fans began piling on the train. "Go Giants!". I soaked up the ambiance.
I took my seat and looked around. Attendance was 56,000 plus in the great stadium - more people than I had ever seen. Ebbitt’s Field held nowhere near as many people. And it was cold. Geez it was cold.
But the great stadium was rockin! Occasionally a flask would come out for a warm up nip. There were very few women I could see but lots of fathers and sons. I started talking to a kid about my age next to me - his dad knew everything about the Giants or so it seemed.
I watched as the people I had heard about on the radio came onto the field and came to life. My god they were big! (Yet nowhere near today’s players in size).
The Giants came out in sneakers. The field was completely frozen and the Giants expected to get superior traction. They did.
The Giants routed the Bears 47 - 7. Gifford, Webster, Mel Triplett, Kyle Rote and Moore each scored touchdowns. I had a great experience but a very cold time. I would be in my 40s before Big Blue would win a championship again.
Five players on that ‘56 Giants team are Hall of Famers. Both Assistant Coaches, Landry and Lombardi went on to much greater things. Today the winner of the Super Bowl gets the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Television came to football and transformed the game to what it is today. I watched Super Bowl I and II on my father-in-law’s first color T. V. I was skiing in NY when Joe Namath led the Jets to victory. Even in the early '70s however I could drive to Shea Stadium and buy a Jets ticket for next week. My brother and I and our wives called Baltimore and bought four tickets for a Colts - Raiders championship game. Unitas was on the field and Maddon on the side-lines.
Corporate money also changed the game making it much more expensive to attend in person. And I doubt you could go to the box office in San Francisco this week and buy a couple of tickets.
When I was in the Army working to arrange funerals for casualties, Pat Summerall called and asked for a military funeral for his retired- Colonel father in law. I asked him if he was the Summerall of the NY Giants and he quietly acknowledged that he was.
And Vince Lombardi is buried 'neath the fields of Monmouth just a short pass from my son.
Today living in Tampa Bay I follow the Bucs and attended a few games. Rooting for the Bucs is not rewarding these days but hey, you take what you can get..
My son-in-law is a die hard Eagles fan. I didn’t expect he would be perfect. It could have been worse. He might have been a Republican.
Yesterday watching the wild card games I thought about that championship season in '56.
No Big Blue to root for this year.