Fordham Rams 34-7 Waynesburg Yellow Jackets (lost footage of college football game; 1939)

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Fordhamwaynesburg1.jpg

Camera situated near the touchline during the game.

Status: Lost

On 30th September, 1939, Fordham Rams and Waynesburg Yellow Jackets played each other at the Triborough Stadium, on New York City's Randall's Island. A season opener of the 1939 college football season, the match made history as the first televised football game on a television network, with some sources claiming it to be the first televised football game.

Background[edit | edit source]

Heading into the 1939 college football season, Fordham Rams were considered a football powerhouse and one of the favourites to win the National Championship. Their match against Waynesburg Yellow Jackets was deemed to be merely a warm-up game for the team, such was the difference in quality, size, and depth of squads between the two teams.[1]

Meanwhile, the first televised football game has its routes traced back to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, when the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had shown a television to Bob Harron, sports information director for the college baseball team Columbia Lions. Harron had suggested NBC broadcast a sports event, with NBC responding by televising a match between Columbia Lions and Princeton Tigers on 17th May, 1939.[2] With that broadcast plus several others a success, NBC turned its attention towards broadcasting football. The Fordham-Waynesburg game proved ideal as the first football game to be televised; aside from Fordham being one of the top teams in college football, which likely result in an entertaining game, it was also one of the few games that could be picked up and re-broadcast from the Empire State Building transmitter.[3]

With the game chosen, NBC's next challenges involved broadcasting the match. Two of RCA's mobile television production units were situated at the stadium, with one containing rack-mounted equipment for two cameras, and other containing a 159 megacycle, 300W transmitter. Additionally, two RCA iconoscope cameras were transferred to the Triborough Stadium, with at least one situated near the touchline. The cameras would send a live signal first to a relay station around 10 miles away from the stadium, before it was then sent to the Empire State's transmitter which would then broadcast the game to television viewers.[4] Bill Stern, who had also commentated for the Columbia-Princeton baseball game, was given the task of announcing the first televised football game. While Stern would be regarded as the first television sportscaster, his career in television was brief, as his ability to spice up the action for a radio audience failed to properly translate over to television, where viewers could see the action.[5][6]

The expense of owning a television back then, combined with only a 50-mile broadcast radius that prevented viewers outside from New York from accessing any broadcasts, meant that the audience was limited. While some estimations claim that up to 5,000 viewers saw the broadcast, most other sources claim around 500 did on NBC's experimental W2XBS. Overall, televising the game cost $100,000,[7] almost $2 million in 2021. Although little was generated by broadcasting the game, NBC saw the potential of broadcasting future football matches, with further college football games like Kansas State Wildcats vs Nebraska Cornhuskers being broadcast.[8] Eventually, an NFL game between Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles in October that same year became the first televised professional football game.[9]

However, while many sources claim this match to be the first football game to be televised, others dispute this. Some claim that the first televised game was actually a home Pennsylvania Quakers match broadcast in 1938, albeit with only six viewers watching.[10] The 1981 NCAA Television Briefing Book claimed that the game was transmitted from Franklin Field to Philco's office-laboratories in Philadelphia, where all six television sets within the facilities at the time were switched on to watch the game.[11] Additionally, a football game was broadcast during Philo T. Farnsworth's electronic television demonstrations in 1934.[12] Regardless of whether the Fordham-Waynesburg can really be claimed as the first televised football game or not, it definitively was the first to be broadcast on a television network, as the Farnsworth demonstrations were exclusively at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, while the 1938 Quakers game was televised only in office-laboratories.

The Game[edit | edit source]

The game itself was played in front of 9,000 spectators. Despite Fordham being deemed the favourites, it was Waynesburg that started off the stronger, with Bobby Brooks making history by becoming the first player to achieve a televised touchdown, a 63-yard run achieved in the third play of the game. Joe Stefanik scored the extra point to give Waynesburg a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. However, despite giving some challenges for Fordham for the early stages of the game,[13] Waynesburg conceded within the first quarter, with Steve Kozlo helping to tie the game.

Fordham generally dominated, scoring in all four quarters.[14] The team scored 14 in the second quarter, seven in the third, and six in the final quarter to win 34-7, with Ralph Friegden scoring two touchdowns, and Len Eshmont and Dominic Principe scoring one apiece.[15] In the 1st October issue of The New York Times, a section by Louis Effrat summarised that "The Rams had the televised game well in hand by halftime". However, the team's coach "Sleepy" Jim Crowley was ultimately unsatisfied with the performance, believing that the team were thinking ahead of facing tougher competition in Alabama Crimson Tide and Tulane Green Wave.[16] Neither team approached the game differently upon learning it would be televised, with Principe and Stefanik claiming their respective teams responded normally to the proceedings.

Following the game, Fordham would ultimately lose to Alabama and Tulane 6-7 and 0-7 respectively,[17] and despite winning their five remaining games, finished joint-eighth in the 1939 Eastern college football independents records with Villanova Wildcats. According to TribLive, Waynesburg achieved a similar results record as Fordham.

Availability[edit | edit source]

Like all early television programs, coverage of the Fordham-Waynesburg 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.[18] Thus, all televised footage of this college football game is now permanently missing. While some photographs of the game survive, no footage of the match is known to exist.

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. TribLive discussing on the differences between the teams, and Waynesburg's touchdown and spot kick. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  2. Columbia Athletics discussing how Bob Harron's suggestion kickstarted NBC's experiment in broadcasting live baseball. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  3. American Sportscasters Online detailing why the Fordham-Waynesburg game was chosen and how it was televised. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  4. Fordham Sports discussing how the game was televised and detailing who scored for Fordham. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  5. Fordham News detailing how the game was televised and crediting Bill Stern as the commentator. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  6. Eyes of a Generation discussing Bill Stern commentating in the first televised baseball and football games. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  7. NCAA discussing the game and how it was televised, costing $100,000 to do so. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  8. Archived K-State Sports blog discussing how the Kansas State Wildcats-Nebraska Cornhuskers was the second televised college baseball game. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  9. NFL detailing the first televised professional football game. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  10. Vanderbilt University paper claiming that a 1938 University of Pennsylvania game was the first to be televised. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  11. 1981 NCAA Television Briefing Book claiming that a 1938 University of Pennsylvania game was the first to be televised. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  12. The Franklin Institute crediting the 1934 Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrations for providing the first televised images of football. Retrieved 3 Oct '21
  13. The Pittsburgh Press reporting on the game's result, noting Waynesburg were competitive in the first quarter. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  14. The Tuscaloosa News reporting on the game, noting Fordham scored in every quarter. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  15. Youngstown Vindicator giving a detailed report on the game, listing players and scores by each quarter. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  16. The New York Times newspaper reporting on the game's result. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  17. The New York Times newspaper reporting on Fordham losing to Tulane. Retrieved 2 Oct '21
  18. Web Archive article discussing how most pre-Second World War television is missing due to no means of directly recording television. Retrieved 2 Oct '21