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On This Date in Sports November 6, 1929: The NFL at Night

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Professional football goes under the lights for the first time, as the Providence Steam Roller host the Chicago Cardinals at Kinsley Park in the NFL’s first night game. The game was originally going to be played on Sunday but moved after heavy rains made the field unplayable. The ball was painted white to aid the players, looking like a giant egg as the Cardinals hatched a 16-0 win.

The early days of the NFL were more like that of a glorified sandlot league, as teams could make their own schedules and came and went in NFL. The Providence Steam Roller was a successful team that won the NFL Championship in 1928. However, it was a different story in 1929 as the Steam Roller scuffled, especially during a stretch when they played four games in six days during November.

The tough stretch would begin on November 3rd, but heavy rains turned the Steam Roller usual field at the Cycledrome into a quagmire. The game was rescheduled for Wednesday Night three days later with the temporary floodlight used to illuminate the field at Kinsley Park, a nearby minor baseball park. Fearing the ball would still be hard to see, officials had the ball painted white, making the ball look like a giant egg. The Steam Roller, coached by Jimmy Conzelman, entered the game with a record of 2-2-2, and the Chicago Cardinals, coached by Dewey Scanlon, were also struggling at 1-4-1.

After a scoreless first quarter, Chuck Kassel scored the game’s first touchdown on a 30-yard pass by Ernie Nevers to give Chicago a 7-0 lead. Nevers also added the point, as often quarterbacks also served as kickers in the NFL’s first decade. Nevers added a 33-yard field goal later in the second quarter to build a 10-0 halftime lead. Neither team scored in the third, while Ernie Nevers added a two-yard run, missing the point after, in the fourth quarter for the game's final score as the Cardinals blanked the Steam Roller 16-0. As 6,000 fans filled the seats, the game was a success, while players reported that the lights made it easy to see the ball.

The game marked a turnaround for the Cardinals as they finished the season strong and posted a record of 6-6-1, while the Steam Roller finished with a disappointing record of 4-6-2. The Steam Roller would play just two more seasons as the NFL transitioned from its gritty routes into traditional stadiums in larger cities. While they are a part of the forgotten NFL, they played a significant role in the league’s growth by showing football at night could draw fans, while the lightning issues that were feared never panned out. It’s appropriate the first ball looked like an egg because 40 years later, it was the seedling for primetime games, including Monday Night Football.