JOURNEYS INTO NEW JERSEY
To football fans, it’s the best time of year. College bowl games non-stop; the exciting NFL playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl.
Football is in the air – and these days often it’s the indoor air.
Super Bowls are routinely played inside (Though the MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands is soon to be host of pro-footballs biggest showcase).
But it was not always that way. In fact, New Jersey plays an important role in the evolution of football played indoors.
The first documented indoor football games were those played at Madison Square Garden in 1902 and 1903 known as the "World Series of Pro Football," considered the first efforts at a national professional football championship. Games were played on a 70-yard by 35-yard dirt field but otherwise adhered to outdoor rules. Poor attendance led to the tournament being discontinued for 1904.
The first major indoor football game was a 1932 NFL Playoff game in the old Chicago Stadium. It was a game originally scheduled for the outdoors, but moved due to a severe blizzard. A dirt floor was brought to make for a 80-yard length field. To compensate the lack of full-sized fields the teams' positions were reset back twenty yards upon crossing midfield.
It was in 1930 that New Jersey enters the historical narrative. At that time, the Atlantic City Convention Center, formally Boardwalk Hall, constructed a full-size indoor football field, and used it for one to three games a year during the 1930s; the stadium stopped hosting games in 1940 and did not resume hosting football games until 1961.
The Atlantic City Convention Hall, though, holds the distinction of having hosted the nation’s first indoor nighttime college game, on October 25, 1930 when Lafayette played Washington Jefferson University.
In the 1960s the Boardwalk Bowl, a post-season game involving small college teams, was contested at the convention center. The Bowl was an attempt to make Atlantic City more of a year-round resort in the pre-gambling era as opposed to a single-season one (the Miss America Pageant, also held at the center, likewise began as an attempt to extend the season beyond Labor Day).
The Philadelphia-based Liberty Bowl game, which had been played at Municipal Stadium from 1959–1963, was moved into the Convention Center in 1964 for the game between Utah and West Virginia. It drew only 6,000 fans, though, and the Liberty Bowl moved to Memphis the next year, where it remains to today.
This game, however, was not technically "indoor football" as discussed here, as the size of the playing surface and hence the rules were essentially the same as in the standard outdoor game. The only actual difference was to be found in the event a punt hit the ceiling, and in that the end zones were slightly shorter—eight yards instead of the standard 10.