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Posted at 8:48 AM ET, 12/ 7/2010

On Dec. 7, 1941, crowd at Redskins game was kept in the dark about attack

By Cindy Boren

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Washington Redskins were playing the Philadelphia Eagles in Griffith Stadium and the public address announcer kept calmly paging military and government personnel. Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich was there that day and pieced together what was happening, news that was kept from the crowd.

In the stands, the Redskin fans were 27,102 innocents. They had a preoccupation, anyway, because Slingin' Sammy Baugh had the Redskins in a drive deep into Eagles territory in the so-far scoreless game.
They had not even a hint of a hint that their country had just been mugged into World War II, that the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors had just been lost in a dastardly sneak attack in the Pacific.

Two other NFL games were underway that day: at the Polo Grounds in New York and at Comiskey Park in Chicago. For the record, the Chicago Bears beat the Chicago Cardinals 34-24 and the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Giants 21-7. At Griffith Stadium, the crowd was unknowingly enjoying its last few carefree moments.

At the game's end, at the stadium's exit, the Redskins crowd that had thrilled to Baugh's two fourth-quarter touchdown passes for a 20-14 Redskins victory experienced mass shock. Newsboys shouting "Extra papers!" were flourishing newspapers with big headlines that screamed "U.S. at War."
For almost three hours the stadium crowd had been ignorant of the sneak attack on their country, deliberately kept from them on orders of Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. On a day when the United States was suddenly plunged into the biggest war in history, with thousands of Americans already dead or dying, Marshall ordered his staff to make no public announcement to the stadium crowd.
Marshall's later explanation was a statement of his priorities, peculiar to himself: "I didn't want to divert the fans' attention from the game."

Whether to share the news of a significant event is a moot point today. So, seemingly, is the decision whether the games should go on. On another historic weekend, the Sunday after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle decreed that the games would be played, a decision he later regretted. The American Football League did not play its games that day.

Almost 30 years later, on the weekend after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue postponed the day's slate of games.

By Cindy Boren  | December 7, 2010; 8:48 AM ET
Categories:  NFL, Redskins  
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Wow. Amazing. Thanks for this. How times have changed.

Posted by: Juan-John1 | December 7, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Now a days we would get the breaking news on our smartphones via text or twitter.

Posted by: MrWillie | December 7, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

If the world was spiraling into carnage and disaster and there was nothing you could do about it, would you regret one last opportunity to enjoy 3 hours of guiltless pleasure? I would.
My step grandmother was at that game, and I'll always treasure her telling me about the GAME a few years ago - when she was 95! She does remember the occasional loud speaker announcements: "General Foxhole please report to ... Admiral Blue Water please report to ... Senator XYZ please report to ..." But the game was the centerpiece. Just another memorable victory over the despised Eagles!

Posted by: humbleandfree | December 7, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

there is a trivial pursuit question (first genus edition) that quotes Baugh's amazing stats and asks why they were not announced in the paper the following day.

I can't find the full stats on the web, does anyone know his stats?

Posted by: sorenoid | December 7, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Were the fans at the other games informed?

Posted by: ukcatfan | December 7, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Great read about a moment in history and a snap shot of how it was handled by a specific organization. I am not sure if the Sept 11th games were cancelled because of the tragedy itself though or because of the fear that an attempt could be made on a prime target as in a sporting event with almost 100K in the stands. Either way, a good article.

Posted by: joethree | December 7, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Good stuff. Very good stuff....

Posted by: CF11555 | December 7, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Marshall's later explanation was a statement of his priorities, peculiar to himself: "I didn't want to divert the fans' attention from the game."

Well it's good to see that owners were dicks then too

Posted by: mriley0223 | December 7, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Please publish as often as possible from the Shirley Povich archive, what a wonderful writer he was.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | December 7, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Danny would have bought up all the newspapers he could and sold them in the parking lot to the spectators leaving the game for 10 times face value.

Posted by: RoJaKa | December 7, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

My Dad was at that game -- all of 8 years old. But he had told me many times of his memories of all those pages going out over the PA system, and asking his Dad what it was all about. But, like every 8 year-old of those days, his hero Sammy Baugh held much more interest. It wasn't until later that they found out that theirs -- and everyone else's -- lives were changed forever.

By the way, thank you for reprinting Shirley Povich's column. I think that should be an everyday occurrence at The Post.

Kevin Olson
Manassas, VA

Posted by: noslok | December 7, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Marshall's later explanation was a statement of his priorities, peculiar to himself: "I didn't want to divert the fans' attention from the game."

Well it's good to see that owners were dicks then too

Posted by: mriley0223 | December 7, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse


No, the smart thing I guess would have been to announce the fact over the loud speaker and have thousands of attendees blocking the exits just when important personnel were being extracted!!
Marshall already had the fan's money in his pocket, keeping them in their seats meant nothing at that point from a financial perspective!! From a crowd control perspective, it meant everything!!
Glad to see posters can still be d*cks!!

Posted by: dkidwell61 | December 7, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

My Dad told me about that game. He said througout the second half one public announcement after another called out military officers. After about 50 of them, he and his friends knew something bad was up. Everyone was talking about the announcements and were only mildly surprised when they saw the headlines outside the stadium.

Posted by: dyas666 | December 7, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

This account is significantly different than I have read in books and from what I heard from my father who was at the game. The people who sat in front of the press box could hear the sportswriters talking about the incoming bulletins that were coming over the teletype machines. Some even stood up to get the latest news. One row told another and so on and combined with the constant paging of military men and congressmen most of the stadium knew well before the game ended. My dad said that he left the stadium to get a copy of the Washington Daily News, that was already on the street, and the came back into the stadium.

Posted by: MKadyman | December 7, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

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