Saturday, February 2, 2013

Football in Wartime

Albert Henry Soar, #15, NY Giants
Passion and Patriotism in WWII

As a small token of your Super Bowl weekend, I would like to share a brief article from the December 21, 1944 edition of The New York Times.  As you know, World War II was an all-encompassing event that consumed every aspect of American life on the home front--including football.  Hundreds of professional players served in the Armed Forces during the conflict.  Twenty-three of them were killed.  So many former athletes were in the ranks of the military that there was an extreme shortage of players to participate in the games.  Many believed the NFL would not survive as a result.  In 1943, this predicament led to the creation of "The Steagles," a cross-bred team consisting of Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers players.  With a 5-4-1 record for that season, the era marked the beginning of powerful franchises for both teams.  In addition to playing games and practicing, the teammates worked forty hours per week to help with war production.  Most NFL members, however, enlisted.  They included Hank Soar, a running back for the New York Giants.  Enlisting June 29, 1943 in Providence, Rhode Island, Soar became a private in the United States Army.  His civilian occupation on his enlistment papers was marked as "Athletes, sports instructors, and sports officials."  A year and a half later, Soar wrote the following letter to teammate Steve Owen from the ice-covered landscape of Greenland.  He makes his conviction in his military work evident, although his desire to return to the game appears equally great.  "I can't wait for this war to get over with so that I can be back playing next year," he said with a mix of enthusiasm and regret.  Check out his correspondence in its entirety:

Soar's letter as described in the Dec. 21, 1944 edition of The New York Times.

Soar survived the war and returned to professional football for a short time.  For nearly thirty years following that, he served as an MLB umpire with the American League.  He died in 2001 at age 87.  World War II-era players such as Soar are vivid reminders of a very different time in professional sports--when athletes put the greater good ahead of their own prospects of fame or fortune.  In conjunction with Super Bowl XLVII, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans have created a special temporary exhibit entitled Gridiron Glory.  The exhibition explores the sport during the Second World II.  Before the big game on Sunday, I hope plenty of New Orleans visitors stop by the museum to check out this unique and often overlooked aspect of the sport.

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