Story of the Week
When you think of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, what do you think of? You think of baseball, and the Dodgers, and Jackie Robinson, and the rest of the "Boys of Summer". But not today. Today’s story about Ebbets Field has to do with what I call "The First Armchair Quarterbacks."
When Allen Walz and his cohorts piled into a car and drove to Ebbets Field on October 22, 1939, they had no way of knowing what was behind the incredible door they were about to help open.
Walz would announce the first televised pro football game ----- to the smallest television audience ever. The game between the Brooklyn Dodgers (the same name) and Philadelphia Eagles broadcast by RCA’s experimental television station, WXBS, was beamed to the 1,000 or so TV sets then in New York. The game was actually transmitted back to the studios in New York, and then beamed to those few sets in use.
"We had only eight people in the entire crew," Walz once recalled, "nine if you count the guy who drove the mobile unit. I remember getting paid $25 to do the game. I had no spotters, no monitors, no visual aids of any sort." What Walz described, the cameraman tried to follow. "It got sticky," Walz said, "particularly late in the game when it started to get dark." The Dodgers beat the Eagles, 23-14, but the real winner was pro football, for television would take the sport in new directions incomprehensible at the time.
Dan Rooney, so of Art Rooney, recalled, "When my father bought the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was virtually impossible in those days to get any kind of media coverage at all. In fact, my father had to pay a radio station in the Pittsburgh area to put our games on the air."
But attention grew, thanks in part to RCA’s experiment. If that primitive broadcast showed anything, it showed that football was the game for television. It fit the screen. It had action. It appealed to the guy who drank beer and bought cars; this is why the sponsorship was so appealing to those businesses when television boomed.
Before we take leave of this story, and slightly related to it, I should note a guy named Philo Farnsworth. Every time you watch a football game, or anything for that matter, on TV, just know that a farm boy from Utah was the very first person who conceived the basic operating principles of electronic television. He did so in 1919 at the age of 13. He researched TV picture transmission at BYU. He filed for his first TV patent in 1927.
RCA was trying to develop television at the same time, and, as the story goes, offered Farnsworth $100,000 for his patent to save themselves the time. He refused to sell it, so RCA used its vast financial means to continue to grow the invention, while all the time blocking Farnsworth in court after court.
Here’s to Philo Farnsworth, who knew way back then that I’d eventually want to be an armchair quarterback.
Last Week’s Trivia
What great football player of the ‘70’s won back-to-back Heismans? He was indeed a three-time All-American. Archie Griffin, the electrifying Ohio State running back, won the Heisman in both 1974 and 1975. He capped off a remarkable career with 5,589 rushing yards, four Big Ten titles, and a 40-5-1 career record as a Buckeye.
Trivia Question of the Week
What did the New York Yankees accomplish in 1966 for the first time in 54 years? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.