History Lesson

The Chicago Bears faced the New York Giants for the NFL Championship at Yankee Stadium on a frigid December day in 1956. Paddy Driscoll was the Bears coach that year. George Halas had resigned after the end of the 1955 season at his wife's request.

The Bears were a strong team manned by Chicago legends such as Bill George, Harlon Hill, Stan Jones, Rick Casares, J.C. Caroline, George Blanda, Joe Fortunato, Doug Atkins, and Jim Dooley. Many of these players would continue with the team into the 1963 championship season.

Unlike 1963 when the Bears defense was the driving force leading the team to the title game, the offense was the most formidable component of the 1956 squad with opponents were often beaten by 30 points or more.

As the Bears left Chicago for New York to play in the final game of the 1956 season, they were fully confident that their success would continue and that they would be bringing home the league title. None of the team's players or coaches could have foreseen the unexpected meteorological conditions that would lead to a decisive and frustrating loss.

Fall and early winter that year had been relatively mild but that would change as the final game approached. The brutal conditions in New York City by kick off time were reminiscent of a similar mid winter day in 1943 when the Bears faced the Giants during the regular season and lost by a score of 56-7.

Although the 1956 championship game was not quite as lopsided, the Bears would be beaten badly, this time by a score of 47-7. The team's only score came as the result of a rushing TD by league leading RB Rick Casares.

The following is an expert of a recent conversation Bear Report had with Casares, and relates why the 1956 championship will always been known as the "Sneakers Game."

My memory of specific games can get hazy because I played with the Bears for such a long time. I remember bits and pieces here and there, but more often than not when I think back to those times, it all runs together. There is one exception to this, however, a game that I will never forget: the 1956 title game against the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium.

When we left for New York that December, we were in high spirits. The team had a good season leading up to the championship beating teams such as Green Bay, Baltimore, and Detroit by double digits. I had one of my best years as a player and saw no reason that I couldn't make significant yardage against New York in their stadium. What none of us counted on was a sudden turn in the weather.

On Saturday December 29,the day before the game, we came to the Polo Grounds to do our customary warm ups. We were surprised to see that the field had been covered by a tarp. That seemed unusual, but we didn't give it much thought and continued our routines on the sidelines. We worked out in sweats as the temperature was probably near 60 degrees. After spending a few hours at Yankee Stadium, we packed up and headed back to the hotel. It must have been around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. Our plan was to rest and to prepare for the next day's game.

Shortly after we reached the hotel, the weather suddenly changed. A freak storm had come into the area from Canada. It turned brutally cold, dropping to around 10 degrees in an hour. We knew that the conditions would alter our game plan somewhat but none of us was overly concerned that there would be any kind of a significant impact. Little did we know.

We arrived at the stadium as scheduled the morning of the game with the equipment we brought with us from Chicago. Because we played in the Midwest, nothing that winter weather could throw at us was much of a concern. We thought that we'd seen it all as far as game day conditions-snow, ice, sleet, wind. We never had been prevented from playing our kind of football.

The tarp was off the field and conditions looked fine that is until we got out there as the first quarter began. As I took my first step on to the turf, I was horrified. There was absolutely no traction. Nothing. The field had frozen solid. We were wearing our usual rubber cleats, the kind that had always served us well but on this day, we would have been better off if we'd put on ice skates.

The Giants returned the kick off for 56 yards. As I scrambled on the field, I went down, flat on my face. I was the first Bear to fall, but certainly not the last. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Running plays was just about impossible. I have no idea how I eventually made it into the end zone for our only score. I'm guessing that for that one particular play I didn't have far to run. That would have been the only way I could have kept my feet under me to reach the goal line.

Strangely enough, the Giants seemed completely unaffected. That was puzzling to say the least. We talked about it at half time and many of the Bears players decided to change into sneakers. It made no difference whatsoever. We were still completely immobilized. The Giants ran all over us, running up the score to a final of 47-7.

How did they do it? We found out later the secret of their success: one of their players, I think it was Andy Robustelli, owned a sporting goods business in New York City. When the weather turned, most of the stores in New York had already closed for the weekend. However, the Giants were able to get whatever footwear they needed from the stock at hand in that one shop. I think they ended up in basketball shoes. Whatever it was, it worked.

For Giants fans it turned out to be a very satisfying revenge for an NFL title game they had lost to the Bears a decade earlier. For the Bears, it was a learning experience. We found out that having a player who is in sporting goods can be a tremendous advantage in a pivotal game.


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