Remembering the Chicago Charities All-Star Game

09/03/2009 § Leave a comment

When 105,840 fans show up for a football game, you’d figure it’s pretty important.  Maybe a championship is on the line, or it’s a particularly competitive edition of a rivalry game.

Or maybe it’s a meaningless preseason exhibition.

With college players vs. the NFL champs.

Played for charity.

In 1947.

Each year from 1934 to 1976 (skipping ’74 due to the NFL strike), the NFL champion (except for 1935, when the second-place Chicago Bears subbed in) took on a group of just-graduated college all-stars at Chicago’s Soldier Field or Northwestern’s Dyche Stadium, in a game arranged by Tribune sports editor Arch Ward.  Proceeds from the game went to local Chicago charities.

While this game would seem today like a bone-toss to the college athletes, giving them a taste of the big league they would soon join, at the time it was more of a favor to the NFL. College football was already established and gaining in popularity every year.  The NFL was an upstart, desperate to compete with baseball as a legitimate pro league.  Associating themselves with the stars of the college game was a great way to increase exposure for the NFL.  The 1947 game was the most-attended of the series, which topped 100,000 observers three times, and averaged crowds of nearly 76,000 over its entire run.

The game was no cakewalk for the pros–at least not at first.  The inaugural installment ended in a scoreless tie.  After a 5-0 Bears victory the following year, the All-Stars posted another tie (7-7) against the Detroit Lions before landing two straight wins against the Packers and Redskins.

After opening the series at 1-2-2, the NFL champs won the next four matchups, and following a 17-7 loss by the Eagles in 1950, the pros led the All-Stars 9-6-2.  The next year, legendary Cleveland QB Otto Graham led the Browns in a 33-0 dismantling of the All-Star team, who managed to cross midfield just once.  The All-Stars produced only 3 more wins in the next 24 tries, and the game was dissolved following the 1976 contest, which itself was called just before the end of the 3rd quarter due to a flooded field.

Check out this site for a ton of information on the series, including results, recaps and all-star rosters for each year’s game.

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