As you may or may not have heard, there is a rather large sporting event set to happen today. In a couple hours in Arizona, the Kansas City Chiefs are set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII to decide this year’s NFL champion.
In the 50+ years since the first Super Bowl, it has become an all-encompassing cultural event that pretty much takes over the Sunday that it is held on. The city a given year’s game is held in is chosen several years in advance and is something that locations fight over, typically warm weather destinations.
However in the era before the Super Bowl, before the NFL became a cultural force, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, there were even a couple NFL championship games held in the Bronx in the confines of the old Yankee Stadium. Let’s look back at them.
If you have any sense of NFL history, you may be very aware of one of the games held in the “House that Ruth Built.” On December 28, 1958, the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants played in the Bronx in the 1958 NFL Championship Game in what’s been called the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”
The Giants, playing in their home stadium — which they then shared with the Yankees — rallied from down 14-3 and tied the game at 17 on a field goal with just seconds left to send the game to overtime. There, Johnny Unitas led Baltimore on a famous drive that ended with a championship-winning touchdown as the Colts won 23-17. The game was televised by NBC and is considered to have helped kickstart football’s rise in the United States.
It was the "Greatest Game Ever Played."#OTD in 1958, the @Colts defeated the @Giants for the NFL Championship at Yankee Stadium in the first Sudden Death OT game in league history.— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) December 28, 2022
Here, we look at a rare colorized film of a game that changed football forever.
That game would be the second of three pre-Super Bowl NFL title games that would be held at Yankee Stadium II.
The first had been two years prior when the Giants hosted the Chicago Bears. While the two teams had battled to a tie in the Bronx earlier that year, in the second meeting there was a decisive winner. The Giants jumped out to a 13-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back, winning 47-7, for what was their first championship in nearly 20 years.
The final time an NFL title game was held in Yankee Stadium came in 1962. While the AFL had been founded by this point, the two leagues were still separate and had not yet begun to face off in the event eventually dubbed the Super Bowl. Therefore, the stakes were still at their biggest when the Giants hosted the Green Bay Packers in the ‘62 NFL Championship Game. That day, the Packers — led by legendary coach Vince Lombardi — kept the Giants in check and won 16-7.
After that, the Giants would never host another championship game of any sort in the Bronx, and eventually moved out to the Meadowlands for good after 1973. Those are the three NFL Championship Games that were held in Yankee Stadium, but there is actually a bonus fourth pro football title game that was held.
For four years from 1946-49, there was a NFL competitor named the All-American Football Conference. At the end of 1949, the league folded and several teams — the Colts, San Francisco 49ers, and Cleveland Browns — were admitted into the NFL. One team that did not get that invite was a team called the New York Yankees, who called Yankee Stadium home, and were owned by Dan Topping, who also co-owned the baseball team.
In 1946, the football Yankees made the AAFC Championship Game, only to fall to the Browns. The next year they made it back, and got to host Cleveland on home soil. However, that game didn’t go better, as they mustered just a field goal in a 14-3 loss.
While there is still football played at the new Yankee Stadium, it’s of the college variety. There are occasional regular season games there, plus the annual Pinstripe Bowl. Those still happen, however, I feel very safe in betting that there will never be a Super Bowl played there anytime soon.