"The 1962 NFL Championship Game"



The 1962 NFL Championship Game 

By Dr. Ken


There was quite a bit of response to last month’s HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS column about my memories of snow covered days where men braved the elements for the privilege of playing professional football. Every reader at HELMET HUT understands and no doubt regrets the many changes that the pro game has undergone on its continuing march to a highly sophisticated yet sanitized version of what used to be. Even in the current internet-fueled, media saturated exchange of the most minor amounts of football related information, it still may come as a surprise noting one example of how soft the game has become, that players are paid to work out. Until the mid-1970’s, it still was quite unacceptable to most coaches to see their players doing any form of weight training. As the emcee and keynote speaker at a number of annual university sponsored football strength clinics I get to congregate with the best in the field. Some of us who are considered to be pioneers in this activity of strength training specifically for football, certainly laud the current status of the activity, as part-and-parcel of the game’s preparation at all levels yet frown upon the fact that in the professional game, the players must be paid to actually show up and train.


Those who did not play football or did not receive the opportunity to go past the high school level or perhaps played briefly in college, to a man would have given anything to have had the slimmest of chances to play at the highest level. Knowing that the highest levels of strength and conditioning would be mandatory to maximize that chance, anyone it seems, would have taken an acceptable preparation program and worked as hard as possible, as often as it dictated. Today, the union contract requires that the players of the NFL be paid for individual workouts with a pay scale based on the total number of off-season workouts that are completed. Pay to train? With all of the possible benefits that come with playing in the NFL, why wouldn’t a player train as often and as hard as possible to insure his share of those rewards?  Welcome to the modern NFL.


Today’s players are also protected from the climate in most venues. “The elements” may have been a concern to some old timers but it came with the territory and opportunity to play. Buffalo Bills’ games were typically broadcast in a flurry of snow as were the hard-hitting affairs on sheets of concrete hard ice from Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Boston, and Denver. It made for great viewing, even when the skill position players were limited by the conditions.


Bills’ fans brave the snow at “The Rockpile”


My January HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS column made mention of the 1962 NFL Championship Game. Unlike perhaps 500,000 fans that claim presence at that momentous game, I actually was one of the 64,892 who attended. I was fortunate to be more or less given to my own devices at a young age. This required after school, evening, and/or weekend work if it did not interfere with high school football or track practice or games. Because I worked various jobs, I was usually in contact with or hanging out with older individuals. I often worked with an uncle who was a respected chef and this work was for some time, done at a well-known local night club. At times, another of my jobs was valet parking at the club facility. Driving, like welding, was a skill my father believed I should have and practice at a young age and he taught me to drive at the age of ten. Typical for the era, I learned on a four-speed manual transmission truck and a three-speed manual transmission automobile. At twelve I was driving regularly though the local police, whom always received huge plates of excellent fare when they stopped into the nightclub kitchen, had no problem with my illegal activity although I was admonished to drive only within certain boundaries of town.


The fellow that ran the parking concession was in his late-twenties, a former football player at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and he had his brother and buddies working for him. These guys were all “football nuts” and this stood out in an era when baseball truly was king. They knew every player, every statistic, and I was well-suited and well-versed to hang with their crowd despite a significant age difference. The coolest thing was that this group of fellows had season tickets to the New York Giants football games at Yankee Stadium. To me, this was the ultimate. As an aspiring high school football player, what could be better than talking football with guys who had actually been to the game just days before?  When one of the group members received his draft notification from Uncle Sam, I was asked if I wanted to purchase his season ticket for the following two years. Wow, what an opportunity though I would have to work a bit of overtime to pay the tab. Would those now paying seat licensing fees to the Jets and Giants that total $20,000.00 or more just for the “right” to buy a season ticket believe that the cost of going to seven Giants games in 1961 cost me $35.00? That is NOT $35.00 per ticket or per game. My season ticket cost me a total of $35.00! Our seats were on the thirty-three yard line, on the Giants’ side of the field, and elevated enough to view the entire field clearly over the players that at times seemed to be no more than an arm’s reach from me. These were the Yankee Stadium baseball bleacher seats which meant that one sat between two white lines that were painted onto a wooden slat. There were no seat backs, no cover from the climatic factors, and a stigma that came with sitting in “the cheap seats.” For me, this was Heaven on Earth!


Del Shofner catches pass in 1962 NFL title game


For the 1962 season, the price of the tickets had gone up a dollar a game, to a grand total of $42.00. Our group of rather rough individuals, all who held manual labor type of jobs during the week, was boisterous and extremely defensive of the Giants. I recall clearly that at one game, after a series of incomplete passes, someone a few rows in front of us had the temerity to shout “You stink Y.A.” making reference of course to the Giants’ great quarterback Y.A. Tittle. The minor rumbling and head-shaking of those sitting nearby was quickly overshadowed by a hail of profanity and offers to “duke it out” on the spot by my group of Giants lovers.



The Giants fans had the reputation of being up-scale, button-down, Madison Avenue types relative to the rest of the league but in the bleachers, the language was often harsh and fistfights not uncommon. The bonus for me was the 1962 Championship Game. This of course cost more, perhaps $10.00, maybe as much as $15.00 but to see a real NFL title game was the ultimate experience. In days before “wind chill factor” was ever mentioned, this specific game is still considered to be one of the coldest games in NFL history with the rock-hard ground and brutal conditions determined by the 13 degree temperature and constant 40 mile-per-hour winds.



Most hard-core fans know the details of the game and the heroics of Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke as well as the Giants Sam Huff. There was little scoring, with the Packers going ahead 10-0 at the half, the Giants scoring on a third quarter blocked punt in the end zone, and the Packers completing the 16-7 conquest with a last quarter field goal by Jerry Kramer.



Other than the fact that Jim Taylor’s thirty-one carries matched his uniform number and he was a favorite of mine, there was a sense of gloom after the game as we walked the steep hills that surrounded the old Yankee Stadium towards the car. As seven of us piled in for the return trip home, I was singled out for ridicule and rightfully so. Having seen my first NFL Championship game, having sat through two consecutive record-setting and historic Giants’ seasons, and having been thoroughly imbedded in the culture of football, my most vivid memory of that December 30, 1962 game was related to the weather, not football.


I had, like most high school students of the era, dressed in what I thought would be adequate protective clothing. Before the days of high tech cold weather clothing, I was layered in the same type of wear I would cover myself in when working on the back of my father’s truck; thermal long underwear, a few sweatshirts, a large flannel shirt, overalls, work boots, and my high school jacket. I knew enough to wear my “longshoremen’s cap” to keep my head warm but fifteen minutes after kickoff I was in trouble. The wind-driven cold was blasting through me and in the unprotected bleacher area, most around me were shivering and loudly complaining about the Arctic-like conditions. With the experience of two seasons of attendance at every Giants home game, I knew the game day patterns of movement, knew how to avoid the crowds on the way to the bathroom, and carefully watched for my chance to run to the concession stand prior to the second half kickoff. “Running” was out, literally or figuratively as I could not feel my feet nor get any flexion in my knees. I was stiff as a board in every sense of the word! I bought the largest cup of hot chocolate they sold and returned to my seat as the ball was being teed up. After two sips, I made the decision that I needed to save my feet. I poured half of the cup’s contents of hot chocolate into each work boot to the horror and astonishment of my cohorts. “What are you doing, how @#% stupid can you be?” and similar comments questioning my ability to gain entrance to the high school on a daily basis were directed at me, even by total strangers who were attracted to the commotion. I don’t think I have to add that within minutes, the warm glow provided by the hot chocolate turned to searing pain as my feet were encased in what had turned into blocks of ice. The hot chocolate took no more than minutes to freeze and by the time we returned to the car, I had no feeling from the knee down in either lower extremity. I was for the first and only time, given access to the front passenger seat, a rather drastic step with six others in the vehicle. I was ordered to remove my boots and socks and we had to then decide if the car should be aimed towards home or the nearest hospital. None of us could determine if my feet were completely black from frostbite, or stained from the frozen slush of hot chocolate that lined my footwear. With feet on the dashboard and the defroster going full tilt, we headed home where as per our standard Giants game Sundays, I was dropped at the corner of a main intersection where I would then hitch hike the six or seven miles to my home. As I limped through the doorway and explained the day’s events, my father more or less repeated the same comments I had heard through the final half of one of the greatest NFL games played, disparaging my intelligence.


Huff and Taylor battling it out truly takes a backseat to the memory of my hot chocolate escapade, but its one I wouldn’t trade, making my early association to football one of the most important things I had.