The Numbers: Under the lights

Special to Page 2

When the Vikings and Packers meet in Green Bay tonight, they will pay oblivious homage to the mostly anonymous players of the 1929 Chicago Cardinals and Providence Steam Roller. For 71 years ago tonight -- on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 1929 -- those teams met in the first regular-season night game in the history of the NFL.

The league was in its 10th season when the Steam Roller hosted the Cardinals at Kinsley Park, a minor-league baseball field. The fat, round football of that era was painted white to help visibility. One account of the game noted the oddity of a lighted field, but stands lit only by the glow of cigarettes, and opined that an illuminated scoreboard would have helped. The visitors won 16-0 before a reported 6,000 fans, as future Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers ran for one touchdown, passed for another, and kicked a field goal and an extra point. (A pretty good game, but not even Nevers's best that month: 22 days later, Nevers scored all 40 points -- still the NFL single-game record -- in a 40-6 win over the crosstown Bears.)

How different was the NFL back in 1929? Consider that in that first night game, the Providence team might have been dragging a bit. It had just played a game the previous afternoon -- on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5 -- a 7-7 tie against the Staten Island Stapletons!

Undeterred, the Steam Roller played games on consecutive games again later that week, losing a home-and-home set to the Frankford Yellow Jackets, 7-0 and 7-6, on Nov. 9-10!

The Steam Roller rolled out of the NFL after the 1931 season, but their legacy will be on display tonight.

Steve Hirdt is the executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau.

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