Fifty years ago today, Sports Illustrated published a brief item in its Scorecard column lamenting that NFL championship games may inevitably be moved to warm-weather neutral sites.
This, of course, brings to mind some of the legendary aspects of the Browns’ 1964 championship, which seem almost other-worldly to those raised in the Super Bowl era.
Namely, the Browns (10-3-1) were able to host the Colts (12-2) in the title game, giving home-field advantage to the Cleveland underdogs. In those days, the location was not determined by the teams’ record but simply alternated between the Eastern and Western conferences. Ironically, Cleveland was in the East, though it’s 376 miles WNW of Baltimore.
The TV broadcast on CBS featured one announcer from each team, Ken Coleman (CLE) and Chuck Thompson (BAL), along with freshly-retired Giants star Frank Gifford. Despite a crowd of 79,544 at Muni, the game was blacked out locally, which seems beyond absurd today.
So as the stage is now set for February 2’s NFL season finale — the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in the northern climate — here’s how SI framed the siting issue in late January 1964:
Controversy over the Bears-Giants championship game has not died, and one strongly argued aspect is the advisability of moving the annual event to some city where it could be played in pleasant sunshine and with good conditions underfoot.
Most support for the move comes from New York fans and New York writers (who had to cover the game in Chicago in an unheated press box); none has yet come from the Chicago area. That is not to say that only sour grapes are involved. At Wrigley Field on December 29 one end of the ground was frozen and slippery, and it was so cold that the players’ hands were numbed. Why, it is asked, should pro football’s biggest game not always be played in conditions permitting the best possible exhibition of football skills?
The players themselves don’t seem to feel that way. Their working season now extends from July to the end of December. They expect to start playing in 90-degree temperatures and end in freezing weather, and in between to play good football in rain, mud and snow. We think that is the right attitude.
Even more important is the point of view of the fan who has followed his team all the way to its divisional title; he would never see the biggest game of all except by paying his way across the continent—or on television.
The trend toward more sport viewing on TV and less in the flesh has so far been fairly well resisted by the NFL with its black-out policy, but the proposed move of the championship site would be a significant concession to that trend, which, of course, history may prove to be irreversible. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.