Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1939: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
NFL President Joe Carr and Giants' C Mel Hein
Joe Carr presenting an award to Giants star C Mel Hein

Carl Storck
Giants Coach Steve Owen
Steve Owen
Giants PK Ken Strong
Ken Strong
Green Bay B Arnie Herber
Arnie Herber
Packers E Don Hutson
Don Hutson
Giants Ass't Coach Bo Molenda
Bo Molenda
1939 Championship Game Ticket
1939 NFL Championship Game Program Cover
The NFL suffered a big loss in May when president Joe Carr died.
  • He was instrumental in building the league in the 1920s and '30s especially by his efforts to put franchises in larger cities. Goodbye Canton, Racine, and Portsmouth. Welcome Detroit, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
  • Carl Storck, long-time league secretary, took over Carr's job.
  • The league surpassed one million in attendance for the first time.
  • NBC televised an NFL game from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on October 22 to the estimated 1,000 sets in the New York area. Undoubtedly, the 13,051 spectators outnumbered the TV viewers.
The division races produced the same winners as in '38.
  • The 9-1-1 Giants won the East because of their defense, which gave up only 85 points in 11 games. Coach Steve Owen stressed ball control as evi­denced by the fact that New York led the league in rushing attempts with an even 500, 52 more than the more wide open Green Bay. Their division-clinching win in the finale against the Redskins typified their season. They won 9-7 on three FGs.
    It actually took a highly disputed referee's call to preserve the Giants' victory. With 45 seconds left, Bo Russell lined up a 15y FG that would give Washington the Eastern Division crown. Even some Giants thought Russell made it, but referee Bill Halloran signalled no good. The Redskins bench stormed the field, and one player allegedly punched Halloran. Legend says that Washington owner George Marshall used his connections to get Halloran fired. Whether that's true or Bill decided he'd had enough, he did not return for the '40 season. The brouhaha did lead to the stationing of an official under the posts to help the referee determine whether the kick is good.
  • The 9-2 Packers, by contrast, triumphed with their relentless offense led by as fine a trio of skill players as any team could deploy: E Don Hutson and passers Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell. Green Bay would also prove in the championship game that their defense was underrated.
    The Packers played their first six games at home and the last five on the road - probably to avoid the late fall weather in northern Wisconsin. Their two defeats split - one at home and one on the road. Interestingly, they played both games against Western foe, the Chicago Cardinals, at home.
  • Packers dotted the top five lists in all the offensive statistical categories whereas the only Giants to appear were Tuffy Leemans (4th in rushing attempts and in combined net yards) and Ward Cuff and Ken Strong (1st and 3rd in FGs).
    Strong returned to the Giants after a three-year absence.
  • The star of the 1934 NFL Championship Game refused to re-sign with New York after the '35 season because the club refused to raise his $150/game salary.
  • He signed for $5000 with the New York Yankees of the fledgling American Football League that folded after only four games. But Ken had wisely insisted that his salary be placed in escrow.
  • The NFL suspended Strong for five years because of his "extreme disloyalty." After his AFL stint, the Giants sent him to their farm team in Jersey City NJ and convinced the league to allow him to return after a three-year absence.
  • Hampered by a bad back, Ken primarily contributed to the Eastern champions by his leadership and placekicking.
Since it was the Western champion's turn to host the title contest, Green Bay decided to stage the game in Milwaukee to attract a larger crowd.
  • Since the NFL schedule pitted each team against only three clubs from the opposite division, the Packers and Giants didn't meet during the regular season. So GB coach Curly Lambeau would finally get a shot at revenge for the 23-17 defeat in the '38 title clash.
  • Oddsmakers installed Green Bay as 5-8 choice. The Giants hoped for the upset to become the first team to win two straight championship games.
  • Hosting the championship game for the first, Wisconsin went wild with football hysteria. The 32,279 tickets for State Fair Park sold out the Wed­nesday before the game leaving many thousand potential buyers frustrated. The crowd would be the largest ever to witness a sporting event in Wiscon­sin.
  • Green Bay citizens offered to buy out the stadium there at $10 a ducat in­stead of having to travel 120 miles to Milwaukee where the highest price was $4.40.
    A group of New York scalpers purchased tickets by devious well in advance of the title game in hopes of scalping them to Packer fans. But a Green Bay fan got wind of the scheme and, with the aid of the Mayor of Milwaukee, had 6,000 special tickets printed for a view from the fair grounds track. Since these were sold at a nominal price, Packer backers had no need to purchase the tickets from the scalpers at exorbitant prices.
  • That same day, Steve Owen's mother died suddenly, casting a pall over the squad. Assistant Bo Molenda would direct the team on Sunday.
  • Otherwise, the squads were at full strength. Giants B Tuffy Leemans, who had missed several games because of injuries, practiced all week and planned to play at least part of the game.
  • Hutson, who had missed most of the '38 playoff because of a leg injury, would show the skills that allowed him to set three NFL receiving records during the season: most yards in a single season (846), most career years (2,890), and most career passes caught (159). No defense could cover him one-on-one.
  • In that era of limited substitution, Coach Curly Lambeau made a change at the beginning of the '39 campaign that would add years to Hutson's career. He assigned rookie Larry Craig to play blocking back on offense and end on defense, freeing Hutson to use his speed as a safety.
  • Curly knew his boys were ready the day before the game. He scheduled a 45 minute scrimmage but blew his whistle after only 10 minutes. That's enough for today. I would like to have somebody well enough to carry the football tomorrow.
Milwaukee State Fair Stadium
Milwaukee State Fair Park Stadium with the precarious press box

Fears of a blizzard dissipated when Saturday turned out unseasonably warm. The pleasant weather continued Sunday morning, but an hour before kickoff, 25 mph winds winds gusting to 35 blew in.

  • To handle the one hundred reporters from all over, a wooden press box was erected 100' above the ground.
  • The structure swayed continuously throughout the game. Writers stayed still lest sudden movement crash them to the ground. When the band played the Star-Spangled Banner, the scribes dared not rise.
  • They weren't placated when one of the engineers told them that $300,000 worth of liability insurance had been purchased and that the structure could hold nine times as much weight.
  • A New York Times writer described the afternoon as "a nightmare" and "when finally the men descended [after the game] one remarked, 'We're lucky to be alive' and all agreed."
  • Temporary wooden bleachers had also been added in the end zones, but veered at such a crazy tangent that if the spectators looked straight ahead they saw mighty little of the football game.
  • The field was covered with hay for the better part of the week until strong winds blew much of it away.
  • Wearing a light-brown overcoat with a fleece-lined jacket underneath, Lam­beau caught everyone's attention on the sidelines with his bright green gloves. However, his assistant, Red Smith, went further - green fedora, shirt, and tie.
  • Owen wired his charges from Illinois: I am with you wholeheartedly. He added, block and tackle.
1939 Green Bay Packers
# Player Pos. Wgt. Hgt. College Exp.
5 Hank Bruder BB/DB 200 6-0 Northwestern 9
7 Ed Jankowski FB/LB 200 5-10 Wisconsin 3
14 Don Hutson E 183 6-1 Alabama 5
17 Cecil Isbell TB 190 6-1 Purdue 2
19 Carl Mullenneaux C/LB 205 6-4 Utah State 2
21 Pete Tinsley G 195 5-8 Georgia 2
22 Milt Gantenbein E 195 6-0 Wisconsin 9
24 Joe Laws HB 184 5-9 Iowa 6
29 Charles Brock C 192 6-1 Nebraska 1
30 Clarke Hinkle FB 195 5-11 Bucknell 8
33 Dick Weisgerber B 203 5-11 Willamette 2
34 Tiny Engebretsen G/T 245 6-1 Northwestern 8
35 Frank Balasz B 215 6-2 Iowa 1
38 Arnie Herber TB 203 6-1 Regis 10
40 Bill Lee T 224 6-2 Alabama 5
41 Paul Kell T 243 6-2 Notre Dame 1
42 Andy Uram HB 187 5-10 Minnesota 2
43 Buckets Goldenberg QB 222 5-10 Wisconsin 7
44 Buford Ray T 238 6-6 Vanderbilt 2
45 Ernie Smith T 223 6-2 USC 4
46 Russ Letlow G 214 6-0 San Francisco 4
48 Harry Jacunski E 197 6-2 Fordham 1
51 Jim Lawrence B/DB 193 5-10 TCU 4
52 Larry Buhler B/DB 204 6-2 Minnesota 1
53 Bud Svendsen C/LB 183 6-1 Minnesota 2
54 Larry Craig E 205 6-2 South Carolina 1
55 Al Moore E 215 6-2 Texas A&M 1
56 Tom Greenfield C 201 6-1 Arizona 1
60 Charles Schultz T 238 6-1 Minnesota 1
61 Gust Zarnas G 232 5-10 Ohio State 2
1939 New York Giants
# Player Pos. Wgt. Hgt. College Exp.
2 Johnny Dell Isola G 199 5-11 Fordham 6
4 Tuffy Leemans B 195 6-0 George Washington 4
5 Ken Lunday G 215 6-3 Arkansas 3
6 Al Owen B 183 6-0 Mercer 1
7 Mel Hein C 225 6-2 Washington State 9
9 Eddie Miller B 165 5-10 New Mexico State 1
10 Len Barnum B 195 6-0 West Virginia Wesleyan 2
11 Bull Karcis B 225 5-9 Carnegie-Mellon 8
13 Kink Richards B 195 5-11 Simpson 7
14 Ward Cuff B 165 6-1 Marquette 3
15 Hank Soar B 210 6-1 Providence 3
18 Dale Burnett B 187 6-2 Emporia State (KS) 10
20 Leland Shaffer B 208 6-2 Kansas State 5
21 Jim Lee Howell E 200 6-5 Arkansas 3
22 Ed Danowski B 198 6-1 Fordham 6
23 Jim Poole E 215 6-2 Mississippi 3
24 Will Walls E 212 6-4 TCU 3
27 Jiggs Kline E 195 6-0 Emporia State (KS) 1
28 Nello Falaschi B 195 6-0 Santa Clara 2
29 Chuck Gelatka E 190 6-0 Mississippi State 3
30 Ken Strong B 220 6-0 NYU 8
31 Larry Johnson C 225 6-4 Haskell Indians 7
33 John Mellus T 220 6-0 Villanova 2
36 Frank Cope T 215 6-2 Santa Clara 2
39 Doug Oldershaw G 195 6-3 California - Santa Barb. 1
42 Orville Tuttle G 207 5-9 Oklahoma City 3
44 Ox Parry T 230 6-1 Baylor 3
50 Ed Widseth T 220 6-1 Minnesota 3
55 Pete Cole T 223 6-0 Trinity (TX) 3
66 Tarzan White G 217 5-8 Alabama 3
Coach Lambeau and Packer Backs
1939 New York Giants starters

Hutson snares a pass.
Hutson snares a pass.

The Packers stifled the Giants' offense from the beginning but took a while to get their own attack cranked up.
  • Quarter 1
    The referee, none other than Giants' savior Bill Halloran, toss­ed the coin, but the visitors called it wrong. Green Bay elected to defend the north goal with the gale at its back rather than receive the kickoff.
    After not moving on their first possession, the New Yorkers stopped the Packers, then blocked Clarke Hinkle's punt as Jim Poole crashed through. But the defense held at the 35 to force Cuff's 42y placement that sailed low and wide into the teeth of the wind.
    The next time Hinkle dropped to punt, he boomed it 63y. A few plays later, the punt back against the wind traveled only 24y to set up GB on the NY 47.
    Ten plays later, the Packers scored. Two passes from Herber to Hutson totaling 27y covered the bulk of the ground. When the Giants became so engrossed in watching Hutson that three de­fenders trailed him into the left flat, Herber looked toward Don, then swung around and fired a strike over the middle to Milt Gantenbein standing in the EZ for the final 7y. Tiny Engrebret­sen converted to make it 7-0.
Packers Milt Gantenbein
Milt Gantenbein

1939 NFL Championship Game - 11939 NFL Championship Game - 2
L: Packers in a typical offensive set in the '39 championship game; R: Hutson gains 10 after catching a pass.
  • Quarter 2
    With the wind now at their backs, the Giants' best chance to score until the game was out of reach came when Ed Danowski completed a 36y pass to Tuffy Leemans to put the ball on the 9. Facing an excellent shot at tying the game, the Giants threw an INT on the very next play.
    NY also got close enough twice to attempt FGs. Because of the breeze advantage, Len Bar­num tried a 53-yarder and later Cuff propelled one from the GB 41 that missed by inches.
    As Packer LG Russ Letlow limped off the field at the end of the half, trainer Dave Woodward told him, Let me see your knee. Get away from me, Letlow barked.
NFL Championship Game - 4
1939 NFL Championship Game - 3
Kink Richards runs against the Packers.
Packers B Joe Laws
Joe Laws
Quarter 3
Joe Laws corraled a Giants' wind-aided punt at his 15 and returned it 30y. Isbell and Clarke Hinkle carried seven times through the line to the 23. On fourth down, Tiny Engebretsen place-kicked a 29y FG to make it 10-0.
A few minutes later, GB got excellent field position following Milt Gantenbein's INT of Ed Danowski's short pass and 4y return. It took only three plays to traverse the 33y. After Laws failed to gain and Hinkle pushed to the 31, Isbell took the pass from C and screened the ball with his body as if a spinner play was in process. He then faded back, turned, and lofted a wobbly pass to Laws racing down the middle with Leemans and Danowski chasing far behind. At the 7, Joe merely reached over his head and pulled down the ball with the nonchalance of Joe DiMaggio back­ing to the center-field flagpole for a long fly (Arthur J. Daley, New York Times). Tiny's boot made it 17-0 as fans refused to return the football that landed in the EZ stands.
Late in the period, the G-men got their first real scoring chance after Leemans punted 58y to the EZ. A 15y holding penalty forced a Packer punt, which John Dell Isola partially block to give NY possession on the 16. But on the first play, Charles Brock stole Danowski's pass on the 10 and returned 3y. The Packers then punted out of danger.

Packers E Harry Jacunski
Harry Jacunski

  • Quarter 4
    Herber flicked a 31y aerial to Harry Jacunski to the NY 25. Andy Uram picked up 2, but Herber lost 4, then fumbled on the next snap, Carl Mulleneaux recovering on the 32. So Ernie Smith split the posts from the 42.
    Down 20-0, the desperate Giants had to take to the air - not their strong suit. LB Bud Svendsen pilfered Barnum's pass at the NY 30 and weaved his way until hauled down at the 15.
    After Uram hit center for 3, Jacunski took a double reverse to the 1. From there, Eddie Jankowski punched over on a crossbuck. Smith converted to make it 27-0.
    The Giants mounted their only sustained march in the last three mi­nutes against reserves. Hank Soar and Eddie "Muscles" Miller finally entered the game and moved the ball from their 47 to the 14 with passes and runs. Then Miller passed in the flat to Leland Shaffer who battered his way to the 3 where the Packers knocked him out of bounds into the folding-chair section, scattering the customers. The gun cracked, and a deliriously happy crowd stormed the field.
Packers B Eddie Jankowski
Eddie Jankowski
The statistics were surprisingly close considering the Packers' dominance.
  • First downs: 10-9 Packers
  • Yards rushing: 131-70 Packers
  • Passing: Packers 10-7-3/93y, Giants 26-9-6/89y (Yards lost attempting to pass counted against the passing yardage)
  • Return yardage: Giants 135, Packers 74
  • Fumbles lost: Packers 0, Giants 0
  • Penalty Yards: Packers 50, Giants 16
  • The Giants, who had thrown only 11 INTs in 11 games, fired six into Packer hands.
  • NY intercepted three passes themselves and blocked two punts but could not take advan­tage of the breaks.


  • With no showers in the locker rooms, the teams boarded their busses in their smelly uni­forms. As the story goes, the exhausted Giants were silent until E Jim Lee Howell called out, Come on, smile. We're lucky we got out alive. Just then a Packer fan threw a bottle at the bus, shattering a window. Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.
  • Meeting the press later, Lambeau revealed the reason for his team's dominance: There wasn't a team in the world that could beat our club today. We were hotter today than we ever have been before. Everything worked to perfection. No matter who we sent in, they all performed like champions. No club could beat our team today. I don't want to take anything away from the Giants. They have a great ball club, make no mistake about that. Week in and week out we cer­tainly are not that much better than them. But today our boys were out to avenge that beating of last year. They had keyed themselves as few teams I have ever seen were keyed.
  • To a man, the Giants conceded that Green Bay was much the better club and fully deserved to win. Molenda: They were up for the game and we were down. Some of their veterans, like Bill Lee, Tiny Engebretsen, Buford Ray, and Buckets Goldenberg, played a whale of a game on the line, and it was in the line that they really ripped us apart. ... They rushed our passers all the time, never allowing them to get set, stopped our running attack cold and opened tremendous holes for their ball carriers. Beyond a question, that Green Bay line was the best we'd seen in years. We have no alibis at all. Twice we blocked kicks and failed to capitalize.
  • Such expert NFL observers as Potsy Clark (Brooklyn coach), Dutch Clark (Cleveland Rams major domo), George Halas (Bears head man), and Hunk Anderson (Halas's assistant) con­curred that Green Bay's overwhelming victory could be traced to the magnificent work of the line.
  • Owen, who heard part of the game on radio, was disappointed but held no regrets. We met a very good Green Bay team and losing was not a disgrace. The boys can't be condemned. They had a long, tough schedule and were bound to run up against defeat here and there. Furthermore, Molenda's handling of the team cannot be criticized. He did as well with the men as I would have done had I been there.
  • Giants president Jack Mara: Steve has no contract with us and never has had one, but he has a life job with the Giants. (Owen would continue until retirement after the 1953 season.)

The game earned a record gross of $83,510.35, the Wisconsin papers bragging that Milwaukee out­did mighty New York at the box office as well as on the field.

  • The Packers split $23,231.06 for $703.97 each.
  • 34 Giants each took home $455.57 as their losers' share.
  • Louis Effrat in his report from Milwaukee to the New York Times: The record gate caused Tim Mara to undergo a change in diet. The genial founder and president emeritus of the Giants, whose favorite dish is filet mignon, was forced to switch to felt and therein lies a story. When it was decided to play this game here, Tim said it would not draw $65,000. "If it does," he averred, "I'll eat my hat."
    Late this frigid afternoon Tim was seen to shake hands with Curly Lambeau and then sneaked off to some isolated corner. His reputation as a sportsman is well known. It is, therefore, to be assumed that he went somewhere to "eat my hat" with or without paprika, tartar sauce, etc.
1939 NFL Champion Green Bay Packers
1939 NFL Champion Green Bay Packers

References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
The Green Bay Packers, Arch Ward (1946)