1934: A Giant Accomplishment

New York Beats Undefeated Bears 30-13 in ‘Sneakers Game’

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The 1934 NewYork Football Giants

Nearly 74 years before ruining the undefeated dreams of the New England Patriots, the New York Giants took out another undefeated team, the Chicago Bears, for the NFL title. Here’s how it happened:

The year is 1934, and the nation is slowly coming out of the Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is serving the first of his record four terms as President. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are ambushed by lawmen in Louisiana. John Dillinger is shot outside a Chicago movie theater. It Happened One Night,starring Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert, sweeps the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress.

And in 1934, an unbeaten NFL team loses its grip on history with a 30-13 loss to the New York Giants in the famed “Sneakers Game.” at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan.

That year, the New York Giants faced the undefeated Chicago Bears in the penultimate game of the NFL season. In a league that featured merely 11 teams — two of which, the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Gunners, failed to finish the season — the Giants won the NFL East with an 8-5 record, a game and a half ahead of the Boston Redskins.

Meanwhile the Chicago Bears dominated the West with a 13-0 record, scoring nearly twice as many points as the Giants while surrendering fewer. Included in that Chicago unblemished record were two wins against the Giants in November, 27-7 at home and 10-9 in New York.

Chicago’s powerful offense
The 1934 Bears were without a doubt the best offensive team in NFL history to that point. After being held to a tie on the last day of August in front nearly 80,000 fans in the first College All-Star game sponsored by Chicago Tribune Charities at Soldier Field, the Bears rampaged through the NFL.

They scored 37 touchdowns in 13 games, with 12 different players reaching the end zone during the year. Bronko Nagurski rushed for 586 yards on 123 carries and 8 touchdowns while blocking for a record setting performance by rookie Beattie Feathers. Feathers, who played in only 11 games due to a shoulder injury, rushed for 1,004 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was not only the NFL’s first official 1,000 yard rusher, but he performed this feat 12 years before it would be repeated (by Steve Van Buren in 1946) in an era when all players “went both ways” and many backs on a team shared rushing, receiving, and passing duties.

The Bear offense was far more, however, than Nagurski and Feathers running the ball. Red Grange, Carl Brumbaugh, Bill Hewitt, and Gene Ronzani each caught at least 2 touchdown passes, four different players passed for 3 or more each, and “Automatic” Jack Manders led the league with 10 field goals.

On the other hand, the Giants lost their first two games before rebounding to knock off the Pittsburgh Steelers. They suffered three more losses during the regular season, two to the Bears, and were shut out by the Philadelphia Eagles 6-0 in the final game of the regular season. Quarterback Harry Newman led the club in both passing and rushing. Ken Strong was the team’s second leading rusher, and Red Badgro lead in receiving. There were no gaudy statistical leaders on this Big Blue edition.

Heavy favorites
The Bears breezed into New York as heavy favorites to win their third straight NFL title. A freezing rain the night before the game froze the bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds field in Manhattan. Temperatures peaked at 25 degrees that Sunday and limited the crowd to 35,059 fans.

Before the game, captain Ray Flaherty suggested the Giants wear sneakers on the frozen field. He had played in a game under similar circumstances at Gonzaga, and the sneakers proved to be effective. Giants’ head coach Steve Owen sent equipment manager Abe Cohen to purchase as many sneakers as he could.

Due to traffic and the fact that most athletic goods stores were closed on Sunday, Cohen was unable to return before the game started and the Giants, wearing conventional footwear, trailed 10-3 at the end of the first half. Realizing time was short, Cohen went to Manhattan College — where he had a key to the equipment and locker rooms — and returned to the Polo Grounds at halftime with nine pairs of basketball sneakers, saying that “nine pairs was all I could get.”

Footnote: Giants respond
Players donned the sneakers and the Giants, after allowing the Bears another field goal late in the third period, would respond with 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win their first NFL Championship game. Giants quarterback Ed Danowski threw a touchdown pass to Ike Frankian to make the score 13-10. On the Giants next drive, running back Ken Strong scored on a 42-yard touchdown run. Later an 11-yard run by Strong was turned into another touchdown for the Giants. Finally the Giants closed it out with Danowski’s 9-yard touchdown run. The game ended with the Giants ahead: 30-13.

The game would come to be known as “The Sneakers Game” and the 27 points the Giants scored in the fourth quarter set a single–quarter championship game scoring record that stood for decades. After the game offensive tackle Len Grant expressed his sincere gratitude by stating simply “God bless Abe Cohen.”

Many of the participants in the game, most notably Hall of Famers Bronko Nagurski of the Bears and Mel Hein of the Giants, attributed the Giants’ second half dominance to their selection of footwear. A mini-documentary of the game, narrated by Pat Summerall, can be seen in the 1987 video “Giants Among Men.”

Ironically, eight years later the 1942 Bears finished the season 11-0, only to lose to the Washington Redskins 14-6 in the title game.The Redskins came into the game with a 10-1 record, the only blemish on there record a 14-7 loss to the Giants in week two. And they avenged a 73-0 loss to the Bears in the 1940 championship game, still the worst loss in NFL history.

And 38 years later the 1972 Miami Dolphins capped off a perfect 17-0 season with a 14-7 win over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. That remains the only undefeated season in NFL history.

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2 Comments on “1934: A Giant Accomplishment”

  1. JOHN HERLING says:

    The 1934 St. Louis Gunners did finish the season. They played the last three games of the Cincinnati Reds’ schedule.


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