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A grand collapse, and the loss of NY football

The Brooklyn Paper
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In a recent column, I waxed poetic about the days when football ruled our weekends, and what it meant to us to attend a game, be it at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn College, or a local school yard.

It wasn’t so long ago, when we shared a depression with the outer world, fall meant football in New York City. Rubber or leather, footballs filled every New York stadium, park, and school field on the weekend.

Here in Bath Beach, the very first North-South football game was heralded in each of our many daily newspapers. Before the game, large crowds gathered near the Half Moon Hotel on the Coney Island Boardwalk (where both the North and South stars roomed on opposite ends) to watch the squads scrimmage and toss passes on the beach, prepping for the very first of an event that continues to this day, albeit without New York, after tragedy scarred that very first All-Star game.

The day of the game, the roar of the crowd could be heard from miles around — mixed in with the sound of ambulances racing to the scene of the horrible grandstand collapse.

If you wanted to know what was happening, you had to come down that Bay 50th Street station of the West End line. As we descended down from the BMT in Bath Beach, those sirens engulfed the area. The huge stands were unable to sustain the weight of the bulging crowds, and had cracked and splintered. Ambulances overflowed Coney Island Hospital.

The game was played anyway, and the North went on to score the first and last victory in our town.

The next year, what became the annual North-South All-Star game relocated to Montgomery, Alabama, where it has been played since. Our loss.

Undaunted from the 1930s setback, New York brought many grid-iron thrillers to Brooklyn. Each of our colleges had football squads, some of them played every fall Saturday at Ebbets Field. Brooklyn College had its own new stadium. LIU played at Ebbets field on some Saturdays, NYU played at Yankee Stadium, and Fordham played nationally ranked colleges at the Polo Grounds on Saturdays. NYU filled the air with Ralph Branca’s passes at Yankee Stadium, where Army-Notre Dame filled the Stadium once a year. National coverage was par for the course.

Fordham University often overflowed the Polo Grounds in facing nationally ranked colleges under the reign of the great football icon, Vinny Lombardi, our Brooklyn “Notre Dame,” known as one of the seven blocks of granite who propelled the immortal “Four-Horsemen” to national football fame.

On Sundays here in Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn Football Dodgers played, one of the eight original National Football League teams. In fact, while the Japanese were raking the U.S. with bullets and explosive bombs, our Football Dodgers were raking the NFL’s New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in Harlem.

Brooklyn’s grid breakdown came when the Dodgers were team-napped by a new squad called the New York (Football) Yankees.

Now look at pro football with more than 20 towns known as big leagues — and two teams with our moniker playing on the other side of the North River — while back home we hear only the silence where we once heard the thumps of leather cleats clouting the shapely skins of pigs and the echoes of the joys that once blessed the falling leaves of so many yesteryears.

Must it be so forever in a city our size to have no football team?

Ninety-year-old Lou Powsner, America’s Columnist, has been writing for the Brooklyn Graphic for longer than any of us can remember.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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