On December 18, 1932, the Chicago Bears defeat the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, 9-0, in the NFL’s first playoff game—and first game played indoors. The victory gives the Bears the championship and leads to a playoff system for the first time. Because of frigid weather and waist-deep snow, the game was moved from Wrigley Field to Chicago Stadium, home of the city’s NHL team.
Chicago Stadium could not accommodate a regulation-sized football field, so the game was played on a field 60 yards long, 40 yards less than regulation, and with constricted end zones. The field was covered with 400 tons of dirt from a recent circus.
In 1932, the eight-team NFL did not have a formal playoff system. The champion was the team with the best winning percentage. In the regular season, Portsmouth and Chicago each finished with 6-1 records. (The Bears had six ties, the Spartans four.) To determine a champion, the Bears and Spartans agreed to play a winner-take-all game in Chicago.
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The game, attended by nearly 12,000 fans, was bizarre. By mutual agreement, neither team attempted a field goal. When the teams crossed midfield, the ball was moved back 20 yards, artificially lengthening the field. Only one punt was returned during the game—the rest landed in the stands. One struck an organist in the stands. Kickoffs came from the 10-yard line.
A wire service reporter panned the event. “There have been comical happenings on the football battlefields without number,” he wrote, “but herewith is submitted the champion football comic strip. And it was for a championship.”
In 1933, the NFL enacted a two-division alignment, with the winners of each division playing in an annual championship game. The NFL used that setup for the next 33 years.
In 1967, the first Super Bowl was held.