While watching the Steelers and Jets in the AFC Championship Game today, one of the announcers said that the first Pro-Bowl took place 40 years ago today. I thought, “That can’t be right!” I remember attending a Pro-Bowl sometime in the late 1950s with my dad at the L.A. Coliseum.
Of course, we’re both right. After the 1970 merger of the National Football League with the American Football League, the first NFC-AFC Pro Bowl was held at the L.A. Coliseum on January 24, 1971. The game I remembered was one of the NFL Pro Bowl held between 1951 and 1970, probably the January 14, 1957 contest.
My dad took me to many events at the L.A. Coliseum: football, fireworks, rodeo, and, after the Dodger moved to L.A., baseball. Probably the first ones were when I was 6 or 7 years old. I remember being very impressed with the Coliseum. It is a gargantuan structure.
The earliest football games I remember were L.A. Rams with Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. At that tender age, I tended to take Rams losses too seriously; I remember pacing back and forth between first base and second on the schoolyard fist ball diamond before 1st grade class on Monday trying to figure out what I could do to help the Rams win.
I also remember attending at least one USC-UCLA game there with him. It was seriously colorful; rah-rah-rah and the card sections were amazing to my youthful, not yet pixelated eyes.
But the game that stands out in my mind, and which demonstrates how far he was willing to go to please me sometimes, was the November 10, 1957 Rams-49ers game at the L.A. Coliseum. I guess I had heard about the game on the radio or in the paper. It seems I conceived a desire to go to the game rather late. I must have pestered him terribly to get him to agree to go even though we had no chance of getting there in time for the kickoff. In fact, I think we got there somewhere around half-time.
The Coliseum was absolutely packed. The attendance was 102,368. They had built huge sets of temporary bleachers in the peristyle end of the Coliseum to pack in more people. (In case you’re not familiar the Coliseum, the peristyle end is where they set up fireworks for the 4th of July Fireworks shows because it is so far away from the field and everything else that setting off massive amounts of ordnance there poses no risk to anybody.)
Anyway, somehow, Joe managed to buy 2 tickets for the last half of the game in the nosebleed section of the temporary bleachers in the peristyle end of the Coliseum. We marched in and started heading to our seats at the top of those bleachers. It was scary as hell. The bleachers seemed awfully flimsy and they were filled with thousands of excited people. But having gotten my way, it was way too late to turn back.
When we reached the relative safety of our seats, I turned around to look at the game. Where the peristyle end met the field was about 60 yards in back of the closest end zone. You could kind of see some of the game when the play was near the goal line at that end. When the play got to midfield or beyond, you would have had a better view on the radio.
Looking up the game now, I see that the Rams did win, 37-24. So it must have been a good game. It sure was exciting.
I guess I learned something. I’m not sure what it was though. I don’t think it was to avoid large crowds. I went to see the Boston Pops with nearly a half-million other people on July 4, 1976. Never saw them actually, but I heard them. Oh, yeah. They had some nice fireworks too.