Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Duke was part of historic football game 59 years ago

It was 59 years ago that the first live sporting event was seen coast-to-coast. NBC televised the Duke at Pittsburgh football game on Sept. 29, 1951.

Oddly a big deal was not made of that fact in the 1952 Duke yearbook. However, viewers got to see a good one.

Duke, with Bill Murray in his first year as coach, took an early 7-0 lead but trailed 14-13 at the half. It was beginning to look as if it would end that way but with five minutes left George Grune raced 42 yards with a Pitt punt down to the enemy 26 yard line. Just four plays later, halfback Charlie Smith bulled his way into the end zone to give the Blue Devils the lead. The Duke defense stopped a Panther drive to ensure the Devils 19-14 victory.

The Pittsburgh yearbook claimed that the Panthers outplayed the Devils in "every department" and lost due to "a freak pass interception and a blocked punt." There was no mention of the punt return or the fact that the game was televised across the country. It was Duke's second game of the season and Pitt's first. The Devils would finish the year at 5-4-1 while the Panthers would finish 3-7.

As a bit of trivia, the game was not seen in New Orleans because the coaxial cable wasn't extended there until almost a year later.

Also, Wikipedia says the game was played on Sept. 22 but, as you can see from the football program, the game was actually played on Sept. 29. In addition, the Pitt sports information office says on its athletics website that the game was played at the Rose Bowl when it was really played at Pitt Stadium. Not sure why there is so much confusion.

The game was part of an experiment. The NCAA feared that live telecasts would reduce attendance at games. In January of 1952, after the 1951 season experiment, the NCAA adopted a plan where the NCAA would have total control over one national telecast each week.

1 comment:

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