Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1947: Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Cardinals
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.

Cardinals coach Jim Conzelman and Charlie Trippi
Jim Conzelman and Charlie Trippi

Cardinals RB Elmer Angsman

Cardinals E Malcolm "Mal" Kutner
Malcolm Kutner

Cardinals owner Charles Bidwell Sr.
Charles Bidwell Sr.

Eagles coach Greasy Neale, Cincinnati Reds

Eagles RB Steve Van Buren
Steve Van Buren

Eagles QB Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson

Eagles E Pete Pihos
Pete Pihos

Eagles T Al Wistert
Al Wistert

Broadcaster Harry Wismer
Harry Wismer

1947 NFL Championship Game Program

A glance at the results of the NFL championship games from 1933-46 shows that a few teams dominated.
1933: Chicago Bears 23 New York Giants 21
1934: New York Giants 30 Chicago Bears 13
1935: Detroit Lions 26 New York Giants 7
1936: Green Bay Packers 21 Boston Redskins 6
1937: Washington Redskins 28 Chicago Bears 21
1938: New York Giants 23 Green Bay Packers 17
1939: Green Bay Packers 27 New York Giants 0

1940: Chicago Bears 73 Washington Redskins 0
1941: Chicago Bears 37 New York Giants 9
1942: Washington Redskins 14 Chicago Bears 6
1943: Chicago Bears 41 Washington Redskins 21
1944: Green Bay Packers 14 New York Giants 7
1945: Cleveland Rams 15 Washington Redskins 14
1946: Chicago Bears 24 New York Giants 14
  • Every one of the fourteen games involved at least one of these teams: Bears, Giants, Packers, or Redskins.
  • The only interlopers were the Detroit Lions in 1935 and the 1945 Cleveland Rams.

So imagine the shock waves in the pro football world when the 1947 title game involved two franchises that had never come close to winning division titles.

First, rules changes for 1947:

  1. In recognition of the growth of the passing game, the officiating crew now included a fifth official, the Back Judge.
  2. Officials will not notify a team that has less than 11 players on the field prior to a snap or kick.
  3. A defensive player who uses his hands to block the vision of a pass receiver behind the line of scrimmage will be called for illegal use of hands.
  4. During an unsuccessful extra point attempt, the play becomes dead as soon as failure is obvious.
  5. Roughing the kicker does not apply if the kicker recovers a loose ball on the play.

In the West, Chicago produced the division champion yet again.

  • But this time it was the Windy City's "other team," the Cardinals, that wore the crown. A charter member of the NFL, the Cards won the 1925 championship but had finished over .500 just twice since then.
  • The Cardinals' fortunes reached a low ebb during World War II when the team merged with the Steelers for the 1944 season. "Chi-Pitt" lost all ten games, causing writers to rename them the "CarPitts" since the other teams walked all over them.
  • One of the rare winning seasons came in 1946 when new coach Jimmy Conzelman began assembling a championship contender. Conzelman had coached the Providence Steamroller to the NFL title in 1928.
    The colorful James Gleason Dunn Conzelman from the Irish section of St. Louis had been about everything in his life - author, boxer, sculptor, song writer, actor, baseball executive, piano player, newspaper publisher, radio commentator, band leader, and a gifted after-dinner speaker who could be both funny and inspiring. In fact, one of his talks at West Point during World War II had become required reading for each class of Cadets.
    One of Jimmy's stories, probably aprocryphal, was recounted by Charles Einstein, International News Service sports writer:
    After the last game of a recent season, ... Conzelman boarded a train for his native St. Louis. The Cards had lost in peculiarly uproarious fashion that day, and Jimmy, lost in his thoughts, failed to notice he was in a railroad coach reserved for inmates of a mental hospital who were being returned to the asylum after a day at a concert in town. The train got under way and the patients' superintendent started down the aisle of the car, counting noses to be sure all his charges were there.
    "One, two, three, four, five ..."
    He came to Conzelman.
    "Who are you?"
    Conzelman looked up brightly. "I'm the coach of the Chicago Cardinals."
    The keeper nodded sympathetically.
    "... six, seven, eight, nine, ..."
  • The Cardinals were built around what became known as the "Dream Backfield" composed of four former All-Americans: QB Paul Christman, FB Pat Harder, RH Elmer Angsman, and LH Marshall Goldberg.
  • The result was a 6-5 record achieved by defeating the two Bullies of the West, the Packers and Bears, the last two Sundays.
  • For 1947, Conzelman added a fifth All-American in Georgia's triple-threat back Charlie Trippi.
  • You can't have a successful team without strength of front. E Mal Kutner, T Stan Mauldin, and G Buster Ramsey made multiple All-Pro teams in '47.
  • Dedicating their season to Charles Bidwell Sr., the team's owner from 1933 until his death in April, 1947, the Cardinals didn't lead the league in a single category except one - wins (9). They intercepted four Sid Luckman passes to defeat their crosstown rivals, the Bears, 30-21 at Wrigley Field on the last Sunday of the season to cop the division by one game.
  • No back gained as many as 425y but three topped 350: Angsman (412), Trippi (401), and Harder (371). Christman threw for 2,191y and 17 TD.
    Some Cardinal receivers complained that Christman threw the ball too hard in practice. So Paul cured them by delivering the ball one count too soon, plunking them in the back of their helmets. The receivers got the message.
Cardinals' backs
Chicago Cardinals' Dream Backfield
L-R: Paul Christman, Pat Harder, Marshall Goldberg, Charlie Trippi

In the East, the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed the best season in the franchise's history despite trading star TB Bill Dudley to Detroit.

  • Johnny Clement performed admirably in Bullet Bill's place, leading the Jock Sutherland's team in both passing and rushing.
  • A six-game winning streak in the middle of the season enabled the Steelers to tie another upstart, the Philadelphia Eagles, for first place in the East with 8-4 records. Oddly, the two teams' fortunes had been at such a low ebb in 1943 that the teams merged into the "Steagles."
  • Pittsburgh hosted the playoff on December 21 at Forbes Field. Longtime owner Art Rooney, Sr., saw his championship hopes die as the Eagles dominated, 21-0, to win their first East Division title.
  • Philadelphia had sported winning records every season since 1944 when they made Greasy Neale their coach after the inglorious merger year: 7-1-2 in '44, then 7-3, 6-5, and now 8-4.
    Alfred Earle Neale, the best all-around athlete in West Virginia in his youth, played the outfield for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series against the Chicago White Sox. Curly's close friend Steve Owen, coach of the New York football Giants, kidded him. The only time in his life that Greasy ever hit as high as .357 was in the 1919 World Series - the one that was fixed.
    Since the Reds wouldn't permit Neale to play pro football in the off-season, his name never appeared on a pro roster. But the name of Foster did. In fact, Foster looked enough like Neale to be his twin brother - or Neale himself.
  • The undisputed star of the team was RB Steve Van Buren, whose injury in '46 that caused him to miss three games may have cost them the championship. Steve led the league in '47 in rushing attempts and yards (217/1008), becoming the first man to run for over 1,000y since Beattie Feathers of the Bears in 1934 (1,004). Steve also topped the NFL in TDs (14) and kickoff return average (29.4).
  • Such a player took the pressure off the passing attack as the Eagles threw only 223 passes compared to 474 rushing attempts. QB Tommy Thompson compiled efficient numbers: 106-for-201 (52.7%) for 1680y and 16 TD with 15 INTs.
    Neale had to convince owner Lex Thompson that Tommy was the right QB for the Eagles offense. The owner and many players preferred Roy Zimmerman. But Greasy traded Zimmerman to the Lions before the '47 season, and Tommy rewarded his coach's faith with a fine season. I'd take Thompson over any QB, including Baugh and Sid Luckman, crowed Greasy. He can stand up under pressure, and he thinks clearly when the going is toughest. You can knock him down a hundred times, and he still comes back for more. He has more courage on a football field than any man I know.
  • Rookie E Pete Pihos, "The Golden Greek," led the team in receptions (23) and receiving yards (382).
  • The mainstay of the forward wall was "The Big Ox," T Al Wistert, a Steagles veteran who earned first string all-pro status on four different '47 all-star teams.
    A great trap blocker, Wistert regularly opened holes for Van Buren. One of three brothers who were All-America tackles at Michigan, Al played all 60 minutes almost every week. On defense, Neale took advantage of Wistert's speed by sometimes assigning him to shadow a back in motion.

Video on 1947 Eagles

The Eastern playoff game pushed the championship game back to December 28 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the latest playing date in NFL history to that point.

  • The Cardinals beat the Eagles 38-21 in a preseason game and also trampled Philly 45-21 in The City of Brotherly Love the second-to-last game of the regular season.
  • For that reason and because the Cards got a week off while the Eagles played the Steelers, oddsmakers established Chicago as the favorite by 12 points.
  • The Western champs would play without T Caleb Martin, hospitalized by injuries suffered in the Eagles game and E Frank "Pop" Ivy, who suffered a shoulder separation in the finale against the Bears. Reserve E Clarence Esser would also miss the game, but G Buster Ramsey, out of action six weeks because of an injured leg, was ready for action.
  • The only Eagle who wouldn't play was rookie back Noble Doss, nursing broken ribs from the December 7 meeting with the Cards.
  • Since the teams finished second and third (behind the Bears) in points scored in the league, a high-scoring game was anticipated.
  • Eagles coach Curly Neale, whose serious demeanor caused Arthur Daley of the New York Times to consider him the perfect straight man for vaudeville comic Conzelman, exuded confidence. The way we are going, we're likely to beat anybody.
  • Conzelman adopted a more cautious approach. There is no doubt about our job. We've got to play our best football to win. One slight letdown against players like Thompson and Van Buren would be fatal. No doubt about it, they're the class of the East. They are rough and tough and will be hard to stop. But I'm sure we'll be up for this one.
  • Intent on pressuring Christman to blunt his passing, Neale decided to mass his defense at the line of scrimmage. The strategy would backfire on him though.

The Comiskey Park field had been covered all week by eighteen tons of straw and a huge tarpaulin.

  • Delayed by a snowstorm, the Philly squad arrived in the Windy City three hours late but seemed no worse for the wear.
  • When the Eagles arrived to work out the day before the game, they had to do it on an uncovered area behind the bench.
  • During their practice, the grounds crew removed the tarp to line the field and prepare it for the big game. Then they left it uncovered.
    Eagles captain Al Wistert couldn't believe what he was seeing. I asked the crew chief what was going on. The guy said, "We have to take it off now because we won't be here tomorrow." I said, "What do you mean you won't be here? This is the championship game." He said, "Tomorrow is Sunday. We'd have to pay double time and a half." I was so angry, I couldn't see straight.
  • The coaches agreed the game should be a close, exciting, wide-open struggle in which anything might happen. Conzelman: You have to throw out the exhibition and then recall that two of our touchdowns in the other contest were the result of interceptions and another resulted from a recovered fumble.
  • 30-year-old Cardinal B Marshall Goldberg, a seven-year NFL veteran, might be playing his last game, having expressed a desire to retire and devote all his time to business. Conzelman had discussed the matter with the former Pittsburgh Panther and said the Cardinals would be hard pressed to replace him. Goldberg is the best man on pass defense I have ever seen. He did not play at all in two of our losing games, and in another he played only six or seven minutes.
  • The forecast for Sunday called for a temperature around the freezing mark but no snow or rain for the 1:05 PM kickoff.
  • The Cardinals hoped to attract a crowd of at least 40,000 in their 48,000-seat park.
  • The NFL announced that the teams would enter a sudden death overtime if the regulation contest ended in a tie.
  • The game was broadcast nationwide with Harry Wismer doing play-by-play and all-time great Red Grange providing color commentary.
Comiskey Park set up for football
Comiskey Park during a football game
1947 Philadelphia Eagles
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
10 Allie Sherman QB 5-11 170 Brooklyn 5
11 Tommy Thompson QB 6-1 192 Tulsa 6
15 Steve Van Buren HB 6-0 200 LSU 4
30 Bosh Pritchard HB 5-11 164 VMI 3
31 Art Macioszczyk FB 6-0 208 Western Michigan 2
33 Russ Craft DB 5-9 178 Alabama 2
35 Pete Pihos E 6-1 210 Indiana 1
36 Joe Muha FB 6-1 205 VMI 2
37 Ernie Steele DB 6-0 187 Washington 6
39 Bill Mackrides QB 5-11 182 Nevada-Reno 1
41 Gil Steinke HB 6-0 175 Texas A&M-Kingsville 3
43 Jack Hinkle B 6-0 195 Syracuse 7
44 Ben Kish B 6-0 207 Pittsburgh 7
45 Noble Doss HB 6-0 186 Texas 1
49 Pat McHugh DB 5-11 166 Georgia Tech 1
51 Boyd Williams C 6-3 218 Syracuse 6
52 Vic Lindskog C 6-1 203 Stanford 4
53 Alex Wojciechowicz C 5-11 217 Fordham 10
60 Don Weedon G 5-11 220 Texas 1
61 Duke Maronic G 5-9 209 None 4
63 Al Baisi G 6-0 217 West Virginia 2
65 Cliff Patton G 6-2 243 TCU 2
66 John Wyhonic G 6-0 213 Alabama 2
70 Al Wistert T-G 6-1 214 Michigan 5
71 Otis Douglas T 6-1 224 William & Mary 2
72 T. J. Campion T 6-2 235 SE Louisiana 1
76 Bucko Kilroy G-T 6-2 243 Notre Dame 5
77 Jim Kekeris T 6-1 257 Missouri 1
79 Vic Sears T 6-3 223 Oregon State 6
80 Neill Armstrong E-DB 6-2 190 Oklahoma State 1
81 Dick Humbert E 6-1 179 Richmond 4
83 Jack Ferrante E 6-1 197 None 5
86 Hal Prescott E 6-1 199 Hardin-Simmons 2
88 Jay MacDowell T-E 6-2 217 Washington 2
89 John Green E 6-1 192 Tulsa 1
1947 Chicago Cardinals
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
7 Elmer Angsman HB 5-11 200 Notre Dame 2
11 Chet Bulger T 6-3 260 Auburn 6
15 Bob Zimny T 6-1 233 Indiana 3
19 Charles Smith DB 5-11 170 Georgia 7
20 Buster Ramsey G 6-1 220 William & Mary 8
22 Ray Mallouf QB 5-11 180 SMU 3
24 Red Cochran B 6-0 190 Wake Forest 1
32 Vince Banonis C-T 6-1 230 Detroit 4
33 Dick Plasman E-T 6-3 218 Vanderbilt 8
34 Pat Harder FB 5-11 203 Wisconsin 2
36 Walt Szot T 6-1 222 Bucknell 2
37 Vic Schwall HB 5-8 190 Northwestern 1
39 Bill deCorrevont B 6-0 186 Northwestern 3
41 Billy Dewell E 6-4 208 SMU 5
42 Walt Rankin B 5-11 197 Texas Tech 6
44 Paul Christman QB 6-0 210 Missouri 3
50 Joe Coomer T-G 6-6 280 Austin 4
51 Pop Ivy E 6-3 208 Oklahoma 6
53 Bill Campbell T-C 6-0 195 Oklahoma 3
55 Jack Colhouer G 6-1 225 Oklahoma State 2
57 Bill Blackburn C 6-6 228 Southwestern La. 2
62 Charlie Trippi B 6-0 185 Georgia 1
66 John Doolan HB-E 6-1 190 Georgetown 3
67 Clarence Esser E a6-0 190 Wisconsin 1
68 Plato Andros G-T 6-0 240 Oklahoma 1
73 Hamilton Nichols G 5-11 210 Rice 1
75 Ray Apolskis C-G 5-11 205 Marquette 5
76 Loyd Arms G 6-1 215 Oklahoma State 2
77 Stan Mauldin T 6-2 225 Texas 2
80 Mal Kutner E-DB 6-2 195 Texas 2
81 Joe Parker E 6-1 220 Texas 2
82 Caleb Martin T 6-4 245 Louisiana Tech 1
87 Babe Dimancheff HB 5-11 180 Butler 3
99 Marshall Goldberg B 5-11 190 Pittsburgh 7
Only 30,759 gathered in Comiskey Park in sub-freezing weather to see which team would get the glass slipper as 1947's Cinderella.
  • With no tarpaulin covering it overnight, the frozen gridiron afforded such tough footing that the Cardinals wore custom-made sneakers with cork cleats.
  • In the Eagles' locker room, Neale told his players to sharpen their cleats. One problem - that was against NFL rules. When an official came in to give the 10-minute warning before kickoff, he saw what the players were doing and warned that it was illegal.
  • The Eagles started in their regular shoes but were penalized 5y twice for illegal use of equipment after they were charged with filing their cleats. They then pulled on tennis shoes, keeping the coaching staff and helpers on the sidelines busier than bargain basement salesmen.
    Eagles E Jack Ferrante recalled: Comiskey was like a skating rink. I hadn't seen anything like it before, but we had taken the weather into account as we got ready in the pregame. We had on regular football shoes, but the cleats were filed to pretty sharp points. That gave us the traction we needed. I thought they'd work better than the tennis shoes the Cards were wearing. Everything was great until early in the game, when one of their guys got cut by one of our filed cleats and raised hell with the officials. They made us change into basketball shoes right on the spot. I'll tell you this. Sneakers might have won for the Giants in the 1934 championship game, but they weren't worth a darn to us. We just couldn't get any traction. We were wearing leather-soled shoes on a hockey rink the way we were slipping and sliding.
    Eagles G Jack Maronic: I think if we'd have been able to keep our regular football shoes on, we'd have won. But they really were illegal. Just a little too sharp. The thing I had a tough time figuring out was why Steve [Van Buren] couldn't run in the basketball shoes. We opened nice holes for him, but he was like a guy on roller skates for the first time. He just kept slipping whenever he'd make the slightest kind of move.
The Cardinals used the first of four big plays to score first.
  • Quarter 1
    The Eagles took the opening kickoff and began to move. But the penalties for illegal cleats forced them to punt.
    The Cardinals marched to the Philly 44, where lightning struck. Trippi, on a delayed buck, burst up the middle behind C Vince Banonis's block through the Eagles' eight-man line and broke into the secondary. With LBs Alex Wojciechowicz and Joe Muha playing wide, only DB Russ Craft had a shot at catching Trippi but he couldn't. Harder booted the PAT with 6:27 left.
    Cardinals
    7 Eagles 0
Cardinals-Eagles action
Eagles' E Jack Ferrante catches a pass from QB Thompson (upper left) as Cardinal defenders close in.
  • Quarter 2
  • With the ball on the Card 30, Angsman took a handoff on the same play Trippi had run in Q1. Elmer broke over G through the jam-packed D and sprinted to pay dirt, with only DB Pat McHugh anywhere close to him. Cardinals 14 Eagles 0
    The Eagles cut the lead in half before the break when "Tommy Gun" Thompson tossed 43y to McHugh who sprinted the remaining 10 without threat of being tackled. Cliff Patton added the conversion with 6:54 on the clock.
    Cardinals 14 Eagles 7
  • Quarter 3
    Midway through the period, Trippi snagged Muha's punt and rambled 75y through the entire Eagle gang to score. After bursting past one group of tacklers after another, the Cards' $100,000 investment - playing his finest game of the season - was momentarily spilled to his knees at the 30. But with no "down by contact" rule and no official blowing his whistle, Charlie got up and continued. He stumbled again at the 22 but once more regained his balance and kept going to cross the goal line 15y ahead of his nearest pursuer. Some defenders got two shots at Trippi during his zigzag run that may have covered 150y. Cardinals 21 Eagles 7
    Before the quarter ended, the Philadelphians fashioned a 75y, 15-play drive fueled by five straight completions. Thompson hit E Jack Ferrante and Muha in succession for a total of 39y. Then Tommy delivered to E Neil Armstrong. Soon after, Van Buren, hemmed in throughout the day, squeezed in from the 1. Cardinals 21 Eagles 14

  • Quarter 4
    The home team threatened again, but Trippi fumbled and the Eagles recovered on their 17.
    After several first downs, Thompson completed a long pass to Pihos for 35y to the Chicago 23. But a holding penalty negated the gain.
    After fizzling on several punts, one of which went only 4y, Muha compensated with a 69y quick kick out of bounds on the 10.
    Christman hit Trippi for 20y. Then, unbelievably, Angsman ripped off a carbon copy of his earlier 70y quick opener. The path again went up the center, and McHugh chased him for 30y before diving vainly at Elmer's heels.
    Cardinals 28 Eagles 14
    Thompson filled the air with passes in an attempt to get back in the game. He connected on three passes and had another one ruled good because of interference in the EZ. That put the ball on the 1. Looking to score fast, the Eagles were thwarted by the Cardinal D which stopped plunges by Van Buren and Craft within inches of the goal. Finally, Craft took it over with 4:30 to go. Cardinals 28 Eagles 21
    The Chicagoans killed as much time as they could, then punted.
    With one last chance, Thompson threw his 44th and last pass, which Goldberg intercepted.
Final statistics:
  • First downs: Cardinals 10 Eagles 22
  • Yards rushing: Cardinals 39-282, Eagles 37-60
  • Passing: Cardinals 14-3-2/54, Eagles 44-27-2/297
  • Return yardage: Cardinals 240, Eagles 73
  • Fumbles-Lost: Cardinals 2-1, Eagles 2-0
  • Penalties: Cardinals 10-97, Eagles 7-55
  • Punting average: Cardinals 32.0 Eagles 34.5

The numbers were somewhat misleading.

  • The Cardinals held Van Buren to only 26y in 18 carries. That's why Thompson threw so much, setting a title game record for attempts as well as his 27 completions for 297y.
  • On the other side, Angsman also established a playoff mark by gaining 159y on only 10 totes. The previous mark had been 150y in 10 tries by Bill Osmanski in the Bears' 73-0 rout of Washington in 1940.
  • Never behind the whole game, Christman attempted just 14 passes and completed only 3 for 54y.
Cardinals rejoice - 1Cardinals celebrate - 2
L: Cardinals rejoice after their victory. R: Assistant coach Phil Handler, Angsman, Conzelman, and Trippi
Postgame
  • Conzelman pranced around the dressing room and hugged every player, particularly Angsman and Trippi. Then Jim explained the long runs. They were delayed smashes that caught Philadelphia entirely off guard and left their secondary badly faked out of position. The white-maned coach reminded reporters that he coached Providence to the league title back in '28.
    He also said that, in his pregame pep talk, he hadn't mentioned the late Charley Bidwell nor HB Jeff Burkett, who was killed in a plane crash in October. These boys were plenty grim without trying to inject a maudlin note.
  • Mrs. Violet Bidwell, the former owner's widow, broke into tears. It's just too bad that Charley couldn't see this.
  • Card FB Harder didn't join the jubilation as he was receiving a physician's care for a badly bruised eye.
  • Greasy had a bone to pick with the officials for calling his team for illegal equipment. But he indicated the poor footing hurt his team even after they put on the tennis shoes. We had our defensive men all set, but they just couldn't recover on the slippery field when Angsman and Trippi set sail. It won't show in the final score, but at the start of the game we were penalized five yards for illegal equipment when we could have made a first down, and that cost us plenty.
    When asked about the Cardinals, Neale replied: They're a great team and more poer to them. I hope they win the Western title next year, too, so that we can have the pleasure of knoking them off in Pennsylvania.

The players split 70% of the net proceeds of $159,498.

  • The Cards divided 60% of the pool or $1,132 per man.
  • Each Eagle walked away with $754.
  • The second place clubs in each division split $8,388.
  • All NFL totals were less than the AAFC finalists earned in their title game the week before.

The Cardinals didn't receive a parade, just a celebratoin at a South Side bar after the game and a formal dance and dinner thrown by the team. The players didn't receive rings until the franchise presented them to the surviving members 50 years later.

The '47 title remains the only one the Cardinals franchise has won through its days in Chicago, St. Louis (1960), and Arizona (1988).

References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
What a Game They Played: An Inside Look at the Golden Era of Pro Football, Richard Whittingham (1984)
"Philadelphia Memories," Jim Campbell (1979 NFC & AFC Championship Game Programs)
The Eagles Encyclopedia, Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons (2005)
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