The Bizarre Reason Why The First NFL Playoff Game Smelled So Bad

There's no doubt that, today, football is one of the biggest sports in the United States. According to Sportico, all 32 NFL franchises are, collectively, worth approximately $132 billion. Similarly, as Statista reports, in 2021 the NFL's championship game, the Super Bowl, brought in approximately $485 million.

A century ago, however, professional football in the United States was a regional sport played primarily in the Northeast and Midwest, and some of its early teams were in cities that today would barely be able to support a minor league baseball team. Such cities included Akron, Ohio; Racine, Wisconsin; and Decatur, Illinois, according to the NFL.

Back in 1932, when the league was still experiencing its growing pains, its managers organized its first-ever playoff game. It was to be at Chicago's Wrigley Field, at the time the home of the Chicago Bears (when the Cubs weren't playing there, of course). Unfortunately, circumstances moved the game indoors. The event that had previously been held there caused the building to smell terrible, and 11,000 fans sat in the stench, in a cramped building, on a field that was nowhere near the size of a regulation NFL field.

Chicago, Chicago, My Kind Of Town

As the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website explains, back in the 1930s, the NFL championship was determined by the outcome of the regular season. There was no postseason: The team with the best record won the league's championship, and that was it. It was a situation that worked out perfectly right up until when it didn't, and specifically, that took place in 1932. The Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans both finished the regular season with the same record. Not wanting to leave the fans unsatisfied with the ambiguity about who was the champion, the league arranged a one-off playoff game between the two teams, the winner to be crowned the league champions.

So in December of that year, the Windy City was to be the host of the first-ever NFL playoff game. Unfortunately, in what may come as a terrible shock to you, Chicago isn't exactly known for its agreeable weather in the winter, and December 1932 was no exception. With howling winds bedeviling the city, and waist-deep snow covering the ground at Wrigley Field, playing the game outdoors was a no-go. Scrambling, the league settled on holding the game at an indoor venue: Chicago Stadium, which at the time was a hockey arena sometimes used for other purposes. One of those other purposes left the place with an unbearable stench.

A 'Sham Battle On A Tom Thumb Gridiron'

One of the major problems with holding the first NFL playoff indoors was that it was impossible to make the playing surface the size of a typical NFL field. In this case, as History reports, the field was only 60 yards long (as opposed to the typical 100) and only 48 yards wide (as opposed to the typical 53). There were no field goals (by agreement of both teams, since it would have been impossible to kick them anyway), and punts flew into the stands, including one that bonked the organist. One Ohio newspaper would call the entire thing a "sham battle on Tom Thumb gridiron."

That wasn't the worst of it, however. Days earlier, a circus had used the facility, which meant that the field was mostly just raw dirt mixed in with, as History describes it, "certain circus leftovers." If polite euphemisms aren't your thing and you prefer your sources to just come out and say it: The team played in elephant poop.

George "Papa Bear" Halas would later sum it up: "I don't think anything could compare with the game between Portsmouth and the Bears in 1932. The only thing not ridiculous about the whole mess was we won the game." Indeed the Bears did win the game 9-0, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website.