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Bears played NFL's first indoor game

Posted Mar 1, 2014

When the Blackhawks host the Penguins in an NHL Stadium Series game Saturday night at Soldier Field, it won't mark the first time that they've swapped venues with the Bears.

When the Blackhawks hosted the Penguins in an NHL Stadium Series game Saturday night at Soldier Field, it didn't mark the first time that they've swapped venues with the Bears.

Way back in 1932, the Bears won the NFL championship with a 9-0 victory over the Portsmouth Spartans in the Chicago Stadium. It was the first indoor game in league history, although the Bears had played an exhibition contest at the same site in 1930.

The 1932 Bears beat the Portsmouth Spartans to win the franchise's second NFL championship.
The title game had been scheduled for Wrigley Field, the Bears' home from 1921-70. But legendary owner and coach George Halas feared that below zero temperatures and heavy snow would result in a small crowd, not to mention poor playing conditions. It turned out to be a brilliant decision as 11,198 fans packed the Stadium, generating more than $15,000.

The circus had performed in the building the previous week, leaving a stench of manure plus a six-inch bed of dirt that was covered with sod for the game.

Although yardlines were not marked, fans enjoyed their first opportunity to see an NFL game up close. According to one sportswriter at the time, "It was the difference between sitting ringside at a heavyweight fight or in the last row of the upper deck; all the awful sounds of human beings smashing other human beings were right there and very real."

Modifications included one goal post moved up the goal line and a playing field that was 145 feet wide, 15 feet short of regulation. Drop kicks and field goals were prohibited.

The game also gave birth to hashmarks in the NFL. Because of the proximity of the sideline to the wall, any ball downed 10 yards within a sideline or out of bounds was brought in toward the middle of the field.

The game was scoreless through three quarters, with goal line stands providing the only excitement. The Bears finally took a 7-0 lead when Bronko Nagurski tossed a two-yard touchdown pass to Red Grange on a halfback option with 10 minutes remaining.

In those days, forward passes had to be thrown from at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Spartans coach Potsy Clark vehemently protested that Nagurski was nowhere near the legal five-yard cushion, but the decision stood. Unfortunately for Clark, instant replay was still 50 years away.

The Bears extended their lead to 9-0 minutes later when the Spartans fumbled the ball out of their own end zone.

The championship was the Bears' first since 1921. However, the accomplishment garnered only one story and one photograph in the Chicago Tribune, which practically gave equal billing to the appointment of Howard Harpster as head football coach at Carnegie Tech.

The Spartans played the game without star tailback and kicker Dutch Clark, who led the NFL in scoring with 55 points. Clark was contractually bound to report to his offseason job as basketball coach at Colorado College.

Two years after the game, the Spartans were sold for $7,952.08 and moved to Detroit where they became the Lions.

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