Essay and drawing copyright 1998 by Barrie Maguire
The Championship Game of '48
Fifty years ago this week, on Sunday, December 19, 1948, Philadelphia awoke to a blizzard. The heavy snow only added to the excitement as my father and I pushed our way through the old wooden turnstiles at Shibe Park. I was nine years old and this was my very first Eagles game. Our opponents were the Chicago Cardinals and the game was for the National Football League championship!
The snow was so deep that pre-game workouts were impossible. A half-hour before game time, the ground crew tried to roll up the snow-covered tarps that covered the field, but there was too much snow. So messengers were dispatched to the locker rooms and the Eagles and Cardinals players came out to help, a long line of red and green jerseys against the white snow. There were eighty players evenly positioned along the sideline, Cardinal-red jerseys from the left end-zone out to the fifty and Eagle-green jerseys all the way to the other end of the field, all pushing against the big cylinders that rolled up the tarps. I watched fascinated, wondering which team would be strongest.
But the players couldn't budge the cylinders either, so they were sent back to their locker rooms to wait while the ground crew, armed only with snow shovels, painstakingly cleared the snow, so that the tarps could be removed.
Finally, it was game time. But by kickoff the playing surface was covered with white again and the ref needed a broom to find the forty yard line for the kicking tee. The Eagles received and on the very first play from scrimmage, Tommy Thompson, the one-eyed quarterback, threw a long pass through the swirling snow to Jack Ferrante for a touchdown, but the play was called back on a penalty. After that, under those impossible conditions, neither team could move the ball.
By the time the gun sounded to end the first half I was cold to the bone, my skinny little body shivering uncontrollably. But when I looked up at my father there was a two-inch crown of snow on the top of his grey fedora and, amazed and delighted, I pointed a quaking mittened hand towards his hat. He carefully removed it to see for himself, then laughing, he gently replaced the hat so as not to dislodge the snow. "Let's go get you warmed up," he said, and taking my hand he led me up the steps and into the concourse beneath the stands.
We crossed the dingy, crowded concourse to a doorway in the concrete wall. "In here is where they make the hot chocolate," he said.
I remember being afraid that we would get in trouble for going in there, but my father boldly led me into the incredible warmth of a large subterranean room. He spoke to a huge black man dressed in a white apron stained with chocolate. The big man grinned, nodded, and gestured toward an alcove in the concrete wall where we could stand out of the way. For a long time, the two of us stood bathed in the hot, moist, chocolate air, watching the hustle-bustle of snow covered vendors hurrying in with empty wire mesh trays, then back out again, trays heavily laden with containers of steaming cocoa.
Not until my shivering had completely stopped and my father was satisfied that I was sufficiently warmed did he lead the way back to our snow covered seats for the rest of the game.
We had missed most of the third quarter, but we were there to cheer when, late in the game, Steve Van Buren scored on a short powerful run to give the Eagles a 7-0 victory and the first of two straight NFL championships.
My father and I went to every Eagles home game from then until the fall I left for college.
Now I've got sons of my own. And when I brag to them that I was at the great blizzard game, I vividly describe Thompson's pass descending from the snow into Ferrante's hands, and Van Buren dragging tacklers with him into the snowy end zone for the winning touchdown.
But the truth of the matter is that I can no longer picture either of those famous plays -- after all, it was fifty years ago and I was only nine. Through all these years, however, there are three memories of the Championship Game of '48 that remain vivid to me: eighty red and green jerseys all in a row, the smell of hot chocolate, and the snow on my father's hat.