Before football was kidnapped to Jersey in the ’70s, the slap of the pigskin on hand or on pavement resounded in all five boroughs: in our parks, in our streets, and on our school fields.
I remember New York football before the war. On Saturdays, kids ripped up the grass on school baseball fields, which were converted to play football with yard stripes and goal posts. The autumn leaves sang their gridiron songs as the schoolgirls cheered in the grandstands. Between quarters, the bands would roar with the school songs and the lilts of loyal encouragement.
Before and after the weekend games, our subways and buses would come alive with traveling bands blaring, and drums beating in the crisp air!
Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, hosted NYU games. Columbia played at their Baker Field.
The very first North vs. South all-star game was played at Bath Beach in the 1930s. The stands were so packed that ambulances raced there to carry those very first all-star watchers to Coney Island Hospital.
That New Year’s Day classic was the very last all-star game held in New York! Now, each year now they play in Montgomery, Alabama.
In that era prior to World War II, the National Football League had eight teams. New York had two of them. The New York Football Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers made up half of the eastern-division.
On a brisk Sunday in 1941, the Dodgers were beating the Giants 14–7. It was Dec. 7, and Radio WOR interrupted its game broadcast with a battle-readying announcement:
“All military, all naval personnel, return to stations.”
Rumor, then bulletins, then steady interruptions ordered everyone to return to duty!
Two days later, President FDR called upon Congress to declare war against Japan, the Pearl Harbor devastators.
We stood glaring at our Crosley radios, as all but one congressman voted “aye.” War had been declared!
The NFL lost many fighting gridders. Some teams merged. For a year, the Dodgers played in Yankee Stadium, then vanished!
The Giants survived and played several more great seasons at their Polo Grounds and later Yankee Stadium, until their money-hungry owners sought an escape!
It came as a shock to learn that New York’s last surviving football team was pulling out. The Mara family announced the switch to “the Jersey Meadowlands” in Paramus.
Then another team wanted out. Both the Jets and the Giants found new homes in the Jersey swamps they called “The Meadowlands,” and built a truly gigantic, newer stadium to continue playing New York football — in New Jersey.
Fans were howling mad, calling it a “pigskin robbery.” Even worse, they had to drive out from the city, only to pay fantastic rates to park their gas-eaters in the once-wild lands that football franchises have turned into their golden-living, forever posing as “New York.”
Our mayor tried to bring the teams. But he and his foolish deputy picked the inundated West Side Highway as the location. It was already over-packed, and the mayor got no support and was unsuccessful.
Now, football is a big-league game played all over America while New Yorkers sing that golden-oldie song: “Thanks for the Memories.”
And down in Jersey, the Mara family sings “New York, New York” in falsetto (or false echo) all the way to the bank!