Brooklyn Dodgers 23-14 Philadelphia Eagles (lost footage of NFL game; 1939)

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Dodgerseagles1.jpg

Bill Hewitt making a catch for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Status: Lost

On 22nd October, 1939, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles played an NFL game at Ebbets Field. A game counting towards the 1939 NFL Eastern Division, the encounter made television history as the first televised NFL game and the first televised professional football game.

Background[edit | edit source]

The game between Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles occurred during Week 7 of the 1939 NFL Season.[1] Both teams were experiencing generally unsuccessful seasons, with the Dodgers accumulating four wins, six losses and one tie to finish third in the standings. Meanwhile, the Eagles won only one game, losing nine and achieving one tie, finishing bottom of the table.[2] The teams had already competed against each other on Week 4 at the Eagles' Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, with the result being a 0-0 tie.[3]

Meanwhile, NBC were making progress towards televising football. The Dodgers-Eagles game was not the first football game NBC had televised; earlier that same year on 30th September, NBC had televised a college football game between Fordham Rams and Waynesburg Yellow Jackets. Having broadcast that game, NBC were looking to break further ground by televising a professional match. Ebbets Field was chosen primarily because of its geographical proximity to the Empire State Building transmitter, which could pick up and re-broadcast the game from a 50-mile radius.[4] A crew of eight were on hand to broadcast the game, and a mobile unit truck and two isometric cameras were brought in to capture the game. This included a camera situated within the 40-yard-line box seats, and the other within the upper deck.[5]

The commentator for the game was Allen "Skip" Walz, who was paid $25 to provide play-by-play analysis. Walz in an interview with Football Digest stated that commentating for and televising the game had challenges. For Walz, he lacked monitors, spotters and any visual aids, and was fully reliant on the cameramen to follow his commentary and capturing where he pointed to. This also proved difficult, because the game commenced during a cloudy day, meaning whenever the sun moved behind the stadium, the cameras would lack enough light for the picture to be seen. When the picture was optimal, Walz decided that the best way to commentate on television was to comment on the game differently compared to radio, including describing plays, line-ups, and tailback cut, with accuracy a must to ensure that television could be sold. Walz also noted that a monitor was on the field, with him suggesting that the Dodgers' coach Potsy Clark was experimenting with scouting via television.[6]

Despite some parts of the game being essentially a radio broadcast, including the post-game interviews, the television audience proved to be loyal throughout. The game was televised in-full to television sets across New York City that could access NBC's experimental station W2XBS, and in the RCA Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair during a special event. Sources conflict concerning the number of viewers; Football Digest and the NFL stated 1,000 viewed the game,[7] but the Pro Football Hall of Fame and The Eagles Encyclopaedia claimed only 500 did. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, television log records indicated that the broadcast would have last over two hours and 33 minutes to accommodate the entire game.[8] NBC would continue to air games, with popularity rising following greater television set sales post-World War 2.

The Game[edit | edit source]

The game was played in front of 13,057 fans. The first quarter of the game saw the Dodgers take the lead thanks to a Clarence "Pug" Manders 1 yard rush touchdown, assisted by a Ralph Kercheval kick. The Eagles levelled the game 7-7 in the second quarter thanks to a Fran Murray 1 yard rush coming from a Hank Reese kick. By the third quarter, the Dodgers began to control the game, with a Kercheval 44 yard field goal and a Perry Schwartz 47 yard pass from Ace Parker giving the Dodgers a 17-7 lead. Kercheval then made the score 23-7 in the fourth quarter thanks to two consecutive field goals from 38 and 45 yards respectively. The Eagles responded with a Bill Hewitt 22 yard pass from Davey O'Brien, with established the final score of 23-14 in favour of the Dodgers.[9]

The New York Times report on the game noted that this was the Dodgers' first win in five weeks, primarily praising Kercheval for his long placements between the uprights, and Manders for maintaining consistent ground and carrying the ball 29 times.[10] The report notably made no mention of the telecast. The players themselves had not been informed that television cameras present, with Brooklyn fullback Harrison Francis stating the only indication of new coverage coming from a "big trailer thing" parked outside the stadium.

Availability[edit | edit source]

Like all early television programs, coverage of the Dodgers-Eagles game was broadcast live and were not directly recorded as there were no means of achieving this for television prior to the end of the Second World War.[11] Thus, all televised footage of this NFL game is now permanently missing. While some photographs of the game survive,[12] no footage of the game itself in any format is known to exist. Some YouTube channels have presented "footage" of the game, but in reality the coverage is of a 1939 game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

See Also (Early Sports Television Media)[edit | edit source]

See Also (NFL Media)[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]