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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

45 Years Ago in Wrigleyville

Sports trivia: When was the last time a professional championship game was played at Wrigley Field? Who won it, Chicago or the visitors?

The answer is the Chicago Bears won the National Football Championship December 29, 1963, 14-10 over the New York Giants. The Super Bowl wasn't started till 1967. It was the last championship game the Bears played in until they won the Super Bowl in 1986.

The game was moved up to a 12:05 start by the National Football League after the Bears refused to move the game to Soldier Field. The NFL was concerned that the end of a long game could be played in the dark as Wrigley Field had no lights. Mike Crivello, age 26 at the time, lived about a block from Wrigley Field in the 1100 block of Addison. The morning dawned with a temperature of -8 F and winds gusting to 15 mph. Local radio reported that the Bears game was sold out and Crivello knew, from living in the area, that the city was cracking down on scalpers.

He headed out to mass at Trinity Lutheran Church with his wife. Passing the ticket office, he noticed a line for tickets. When he checked out what was happening, he discovered that the game wasn't sold out, but the remaining tickets were too expensive for Crivello. The ticket agent pointed to a man on the sidewalk, a scalper. “He'll sell you a ticket for face value,” the agent said, explaining that the weather was discouraging people from attending.

Crivello purchased three standing room only tickets at $4.00 each. It was a half-hour till game time.

Rousing his cousin Chris and another friend who did not make it, Crivello headed to the Waveland Avenue bleachers in his hunting camouflage. “It was cold and there was no food service in the bleachers,” Crivello said. The only protection from the wind and the bitter temperature in the bleachers was the men's room. Crivello remembers entering the men's room and seeing a man warming his bare feet over a heater.

Crivello remembers Giants Quarterback Y. A. Tittle's scoring first quarter drive. It culminated in a touch down pass to Frank Gifford. But the Monsters of the Midway, led by Larry Morris, hit Tittle as he was throwing later in the quarter. A second hit by Morris, on another play and Tittle's knee was injured. Although he finished the game, he was lost for part of the first half and he began throwing off his back foot for the remainder of the game.

Morris was able to intercept a Tittle pass moments after the second hit. His 61 yard return remains a Bears record. It setup a quarterback sneak touchdown by Billy Wade, tying the game. Going into the second quarter, Crivello remembers that the temperature was sending people home early. A Giants field goal sent the ball out of the stadium onto Waveland. A crowd of perhaps 100 people scrummed for the ball near the firehouse. The score was Giants 10, Bears 7 at the end of the half.

In the second half, with Tittle back on the field, Ed O'Bradovich intercepted a Giants pass. That setup Wade's second scoring run, giving the 14-10 lead to the Bears. Richie Petitbon finished the Giants chances when he intercepted a pass, the fifth Bears interception of the game, in the end zone with ten seconds remaining.

George Allen, the Bears defensive coordinator, received the game ball. Bears coach and owner George Hallas received the NFL coach of the year award. Morris was the Most Valuable Player. Among the other athletes in the contest were Johnny Morris and future Bears coach Mike Ditka. Crivello kept the game ticket and an aerial photograph of the game in a frame until last year when he gifted them to a football loving friend. “I still remember the ticket, SRO #96,” Crivello said.


by Patrick Kissane and Jane Rickard

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