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Today in Philly Sports History: O’Brien-Led Eagles Lose First Ever Televised Pro Football Game

Oct 22, 2011, 10:47 AM EDT

It was on this date, October 22, in 1939, that a pro football game was first televised. The Eagles played (and lost to) the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, 23-14. More on the game and the 'back' who threw a TD for the Birds below.

The Eagles are off this week, hopefully figuring out a way to make the post-bye portion of the season resemble what we were all hoping for in 2011. As a result of the bye, it’s a pretty slow weekend in Philly sports, with the Flyers the only team in action when they face-off against the Blues later tonight. More on that and the day in college football later, but for now, a look waaaay back at some Eagles, pro football, and television history.

It was on this date, October 22, in 1939, that a pro football game was first televised. The Eagles played (and lost to) the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, 23-14. More on the game and the ‘back’ who threw a touchdown for the Birds below.

This post at the official site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame has some pretty cool stuff on the first televised game, including that only about 500 people in New York likely saw it, given that most people didn’t have TVs at the time. This Football Digest article, archived at ProFootballResearchers, has that number at 1,000 sets. Others watched it on monitors at the World’s Fair in New York (which has a whole new meaning to me after reading Devil In The White City).

Parts of the telecast had to be dumped to radio due to lighting issues—natural lighting issues—obscuring the picture. Considering I’ll be spending at least some of my bye week Sunday watching every scoring play around the league, as it happens, on NFL Red Zone in HD, I’d say the telecasts have in some respects come along way. Then, of course, there’s the Fox robot still being around, now complete with its own twitter account. Sometimes I think I’d prefer blinding sunlight and a radio broadcast to a robot with its body parts highlighted to illustrate where Michael Vick has sustained injuries this season, as if “hand” and “finger” are some obscure medical terms best explained to Americans using glowing pink on a robot model.

To the game itself, the Football Digest article is worth a read, if for no other reason than to wish we still had players named Pug, Ace, and Bruiser on the field. That and there was a guy smaller than me throwing passes for the Eagles, and he was exceptionally good. Davey O’Brien, listed at 5-7, 150 lbs, threw a touchdown pass for the Birds that day. O’Brien, the namesake of college football’s Davey O’Brien Award, was drafted by the Eagles earlier that year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Award at TCU. He went on to break a passing record and be named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. In another sign of very different times and the relative prestige of football stardom, O’Brien left the game after the 1940 season to join the FBI.

Here’s a look at O’Brien in action, not in that first televised game, but in his final day as an Eagle in 1940:

Vince Young won the O’Brien Award in 2005, and Cam Newton won it in 2010.

You can read more about O’Brien and the first televised game in Les Bowen’s new Eagles Illustrated History book, reviewed by Kulp here.

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