Eagles record-setting game in 1934 was against doomed Cincinnati Reds

111610-desean-jackson-400
The Eagles 59 points on Monday night were not the most in franchise history. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

The 59-point explosion that Michael Vick ignited against the Washington Redskins on Monday night was so eye-popping that it was surprising to learn another Eagles team once had done better.

The 1934 Eagles scored 64 points in what remains the biggest regular-season blowout in NFL history, a lopsided shutout of the Cincinnati Reds.

But don't be too impressed.

That 10-touchdown romp came against a doomed and dispirited opponent, one whose surrender was so blatant that its defenders, according to Inquirer sportswriter Stan Baumgartner, played as if the Eagles "had recently contracted smallpox."

Seen from the perspective of 76 years later, the second and last meeting between the Eagles and the Cincinnati Reds looks more like a beer-league contest than a modern-day NFL game.

It was played, because of heavy rain the previous two days, on an Election Day afternoon, Tuesday, Nov. 6. The crowd was tiny. And the venue, Temple Stadium, spoke volumes about the stature of the NFL, a league still woefully short on respect and reputation.

The game was moved to the East Mount Airy facility because at the Eagles' Broad Street home, the Baker Bowl, a high school football game between Central and West Philadelphia took precedence.

The midweek matchup of the 1-5 Eagles and 0-7 Reds did not exactly electrify the city's sports fans. Though that morning's Inquirer predicted a large holiday crowd - many of the city's factories gave workers a half-day off so they could vote - only 2,000 fans turned out, an estimate that was nicely rounded off and almost certainly inflated.

In 1933, the Eagles and Reds had been closely matched, Philadelphia emerging with a hard-fought 6-0 triumph. This time, the Reds, who had been in the city since Saturday night, ran up the white flag immediately.

The reason was clear.

Cincinnati's players had learned that morning that the team would be disbanded after the game.

 

Dreary season

The young NFL was a far cry from the money-printing enterprise it became decades later. Rag-tag franchises came and went with an alarming regularity, especially after the advent of the Great Depression in 1929 tightened budgets everywhere.

In Philadelphia, the league's Frankford Yellow Jackets had folded in 1931. Two years later, former University of Pennsylvania teammates Bert Bell and Lud Wray bought a franchise for $2,500 and named their team the Eagles, after the familiar symbol of President Franklin Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration.

The Reds, too, came into existence in 1933. But their debut season was so dreary - 38 points in 10 games - that Cincinnati's football fans quickly soured on them.

By 1934, things had grown worse. The Reds scored a total of 10 points in losing their first seven games. Attendance was so poor that their owners weren't paying league dues.

Finally, on the day of their rain-delayed matchup with the Eagles, the league, which had rejected a previous sale attempt, approved the sale of the Reds to the owners of a semipro team in St. Louis, the Gunners.

The switch was going to take place in time for the following Sunday's game, and the Gunners' owners planned to go with the players they already had - although six Reds eventually would join them.

By the time the Reds took the field at the six-year-old stadium in Northwest Philadelphia, word of their fate had leaked to the players.

The Eagles, as a result, encountered little opposition in accumulating 10 touchdowns (kicker Red Kirkman missed six extra points), three each by halfback Swede Hanson and end Joe Carter.

Coach Wray's team outgained Cincinnati, 407 yards to 89.

Hanson, the former Temple star from Navesink, N.J., whom a Bulletin writer described as a "rawboned, lantern-jawed easygoing New Jersey farmboy," rushed for 170 yards; caught passes for 75 yards; and, though the exact total wasn't kept, returned punts for more than 100 yards.

Hanson, noted the Bulletin writer, "could run like a stag at bay."

Philadelphia running back Ed Storm scored on the game's fifth play. The Eagles, as was the case with their 2010 successors on Monday, scored four touchdowns in the first quarter launching themselves to a 26-0 lead.

Philadelphia threw 18 passes, completing seven, which was seven more than the Reds managed in eight failed attempts. They kept piling up the points against an opponent that Baumgartner suggested appeared to be participating in one of "Pop Warner's dummy scrimmages."

The lopsided victory helped make the Eagles' 1934 season a little more respectable. They won two of their four remaining games and finished at 4-7.

But it was no harbinger of better days. The Eagles went 16-70-3 from 1935 through 1942. Wray left in 1935, replaced by his partner, Bell.

It wasn't until the wartime Eagles combined with the Steelers to form 1943's Steagles that the franchise finally managed a winning record, 5-4-1.

Hanson, meanwhile, finished that '34 season as the league's second-best rusher, with 805 yards. He played four more years in the league before retiring. He worked for years at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and died in 1970.

Carter, a Texan, tied for the lead in receptions with 16 and was second in receiving yards, with 238.

As for the Reds, led by player-coach Algy Clark, they were done. The final three games of their schedule were played by the Gunners, who then folded, too.

Clark, in a curious twist, finished the 1934 season with the Eagles.

After the Gunners' demise, St. Louis didn't get another NFL team until the Chicago Cardinals moved there in 1960. Cincinnati's years in the football wilderness ended in 1968 when the expansion Bengals came into existence.

But neither the Cardinals nor the Bengals have ever been beaten quite as badly.

 


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.