Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 31, 1934: It seemed like a good idea at the time

CHICAGO - Imagine if you will an NFL preseason game this year featuring the Saints. Instead of playing another NFL team in a game where nobody is paying attention, the Saints would be lined up against a group of college football all stars from the previous season. Such a game would be an utter disaster. The college all stars would be lucky to survive the game without being injured, to say nothing of actually being able to win. The only real question would be how many quarters the Saints starters would play before giving way to the backups.

In 1934, a similar matchup seemed like a very good idea. With baseball's All Star Game taking off the previous summer to a roaring success, Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward looked for a similar game for football. The NFL had only a single division then, so an interleague all-star game didn't make sense. Ward decided to invite the defending NFL champions to play against a team of college all stars.

While that might seem crazy now, it wasn't so crazy back then. In the 30s, the NFL was still getting established, and many still felt the college game was actually a higher-quality game. Plus, with a group of only the best players, it was thought the collegians could keep up with an NFL team.

At first, the assumption was right, as the 1934 college all stars played the Bears to a scoreless tie in Soldier Field on August 31, 1934. In the first few years, the college teams held their own, but eventually, as the NFL became more established and the difference between professional and college players grew, the games became hopelessly one-sided. The game continued until the 1976 season, but the collegians hadn't won a game since 1963. The final record of the series was NFL 31, College 9, with 2 ties.

August 31, 1990: SEATTLE - As the Mariners left their dugout to take the field in the top of the first, Ken Griffey ran out to center field, just a kid still in the early stages of his remarkable career. Running right next to him, Ken Griffey headed out to left field, an old man nearing the end of the line. As Randy Johnson threw the first pitch that day, the Griffeys had made history. With Junior in center and Senior in left, they became the first father-son combination to play in the same Major League game. It was a moment made possible by both Senior's longetivity - he was still playing, and playing well, at age 40 - and by Junior's precociousness - he was an established Major League star at age 20. To make the moment more special, the Griffeys - first Senior, then Junior - hit back-to-back singles in the first inning. Senior retired the next year at age 41, while Junior retired earlier this year at age 40, meaning 2011 will be the first Major League season since 1972 to not feature a player named Ken Griffey.

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