"1959 Browns vs. Giants"




By Dr. Ken


On the weekend of December 19, 2009, the Northeastern United States was hammered by the worst snowstorm it had seen in years. On some parts of Long Island, up to twenty inches fell and predictably, traffic was disrupted, supermarkets saw their shelves cleared of milk and other staples, and conversation among those who braved the elements to complete their last weekend of Christmas shopping focused upon “the weather.” The snow, which required approximately eight hours of my time and effort as I cleared my property, an elderly neighbor, and then assisted my friend Phillip in shoveling out his elderly parents before returning home with Phil to shovel the property of yet another older neighbor, reminded me that as a youngster and teenager, this type of snowfall was the norm. My Indiana bred wife never understood the change in driving habits when lifetime New Yorkers faced a few inches of snow on the ground, having braved significant annual snowfall. As Phil and I talked football as we threw what seemed like never-ending shovelfuls of snow to the side, we realized that the changing weather had also changed people’s perception and reaction to the weather. Be it Global Warming or just some type of decades long cyclical alteration in weather patterns, every year used to bring at least one or two fifteen-inch or greater snowfalls and I can recall snow or ice on the ground from mid-November through March for most of my New York City area childhood and young adulthood.


Domed stadiums and the relative lack of snow and truly foul weather have protected the fans who attend NFL games and of course, the players. In an effort to “provide an even playing field” or to prevent the weather from “eroding the demonstrated skills of the players on the field,” the absence of the weather’s influence on most games has sanitized and softened it. High school games in our area are routinely rescheduled from the usual Saturday afternoons to the following Mondays if there is anything more significant than a drizzle of rain. For years, the local high school season has been completed long before snow hits the ground and I doubt that the little princes of the gridiron would be allowed to venture out if they had to wallow around on a snowy field. Perhaps school districts are directed now by insurance companies who believe there is too much chance for injury if any teenager plays football in the snow but even the pros, who no longer tackle with any degree of skill and who play a more genteel game relative to the past despite their greater size, speed, and strength and higher incidence of reported concussion, have been affected negatively.


Shoveling away and conversing about various aspects of football, including helmet related matters, is in fact a great way to combine exercise with enjoyable discourse. It reminded me of the first pro football game I attended where I recall snow on the ground and what today would be termed “really cold weather.” The description “brutally cold weather” aptly fits the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium, one deemed to be the coldest of all time, even colder than the famous Ice Bowl Game and I was in the unprotected bleachers for that one. Before “wind chill factor” was part of the weather equation, the sixteen-degree, howling winds day made every player step up and give their best. The game that came to mind for me was merely "extremely cold." On what was a cold, snowy day on December 6, 1959, I was fortunate to be at Yankee Stadium watching the Cleveland Browns warm-up before taking on the New York Giants. Our tickets were field level, corner-of-the-end zone seats, far from ideal for game plan and execution viewing but it put me on top of the live action when players warmed up and actually stopped to talk with early arriving fans. I clearly recall number 84, Cleveland defensive end Paul Wiggin stopping to adjust his equipment directly in front of me as he jogged around the perimeter of the stadium field.




The Browns’ Paul Wiggin battles the Giants Roosevelt Brown in their iconic helmets


Of the Browns who could have stopped close to me, it was a thrill to see Wiggin close up. I had started to lift weights at about this time and had a keen interest in the athletes that admitted to using this training modality in an era where any type of lifting was frowned upon by most coaches. I was told by one of my father’s acquaintances, a man who always seemed to be “in the know” about sports due to his gambling activities, that Paul Wiggin, the player standing within arm’s reach of me, actually lifted weights. It took some courage but I called out to him and was shocked that he stopped to greet me. With the crisp air and light snowfall, it was a bit magical for a twelve-year old to be in the company of a “real” pro football player. Having seen Wiggin’s photos and viewed one or two Cleveland games on television, I thought he was typically large like the rest of the linemen. Standing on the other side of the low railing that separated my seat from the field, there was nothing typical about Wiggin.  At 6’3” and 240 pounds, especially in his pads and all white Cleveland Browns uniform, he seemed like a giant as he stood next to me. He answered whatever inane questions I might have had, politely excused himself after shaking my hand, and continued to jog around the field as other members of the Browns came out of the locker room area.


Jim Brown battles with the Giants’ Dick Pesonen and Sam Huff


The game was instructive, the first time I was so close to the action of “a real pro game” that I could actually hear the contact as well as view it. The snow and icy field made for a hard-hitting game played primarily on the ground. All of the Giants greats I admired were so close at times that I felt I could reach out to touch them and as the Giants rolled up a surprising 48-7 win, many of them did in fact come into the end zone frequently. The blowing snow that lined the field and had been pushed to the edge of the seating area was instrumental in determining the 1958 division championship the previous season. The Giants had forced a playoff game to determine the Eastern Division title as they overcame a Cleveland lead and blizzard like conditions. This 1959 contest was a bit easier on the Giants, as the 7-5 Browns unexpectedly dropped games to the Steelers and Forty Niners coming into what should have been their slugfest with the Giants. The meeting with Wiggin was my first live interaction with a pro player which made the day memorable but sitting in the cold, blustery conditions with everything outlined by the snow billowing through the air and lining the entire stadium truly stamped it in my consciousness.


The effect of the snow, the overcast day’s dimness, and the huge stadium lights that were turned on almost from the start of the game, of course highlighted the helmets of both teams. The stark weather conditions were emphasized by the wonderful uniforms. The Giants helmet featured a white numeral on the front, flanking the one-inch red center stripe but they had not yet placed the “NY” logo on the sides of their helmets, and wouldn’t do so until 1961. The navy blue and red striped headgear however, would not be mistaken for any other among ardent NFL fans.



One of the greatest Giants, Frank Gifford in the classic Giants helmet


The Browns, who marked the Giants as their most hated division rival during the reign of Paul Brown and Jim Brown, always proved that simple is beautiful, especially with the uncommon combination of orange and seal brown (see HELMET HUT NEWS/REFLECTIONS of December, 2009).  The indelible memory of watching these two teams fifty years ago has remained with me as if it were a year or two ago, made more vivid by the snowy conditions of that day.