On December 9, 1934, the New York Giants win the NFL championship by beating the Chicago Bears, 30-13, in the famous “Sneakers Game.” With the temperature at 9 degrees and the Polo Grounds field a sheet of ice, the Giants open the second half wearing basketball shoes and score 27 points in the final period to overcome a 13-3 Chicago lead.
“The field was not only frozen but it was corroded,” Giants future Hall of Famer Mel Hein told NFL Films years later. “…[Our] cleats would not hold….”
With the Giants down 10-3 at the half, a New York assistant named Ray Flaherty had an idea. Flaherty pointed out that, when he was at Gonzaga, the college team won a game played in similar conditions partially because the players wore sneakers, or “basketball shoes,” as former Giants owner Wellington Mara put it. Flaherty wanted the Giants to do the same thing.
But there was a problem.
“It was a Sunday,” Mara told NFL Films decades later, “and you couldn’t find a sporting goods store open in the whole city.”
Mara said they put a tailor named Abe Cohen in a cab to find basketball shoes at Manhattan College. “I think he had to break open the door of the locker room, break open many of the lockers,” Mara said. “He got back, and I think he had about eight or 10 pairs of sneakers.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame reported that wasn’t accurate:
“Closer to the truth is that the Giants trainer Gus Mauch, who also worked at Manhattan College, had arranged the loan [of the shoes] and Cohen had the sneakers ready and waiting in the Giants locker room if not by the start of the game, soon thereafter.”
The switch didn’t work initially, as the Bears pushed the lead to double digits with a field goal. However, in the fourth quarter, New York scored 27 points.
“Right away, we sensed something was wrong because they had good footing,” Bears legend Bronko Nagurski told NFL Films decades later, “and we didn’t have good footing… they just outsmarted us I guess. It was legal.”
In 1956, New York beat Chicago again in the NFL Championship Game. Again, the Giants wore sneakers to adjust to the field conditions.