I can’t say for sure which specific NFL game I saw in person because I was very young—only 7 or 8—and I didn’t save the ticket stub or program. But I know it was at Yankee Stadium seeing the football Giants because my dad shared a pair of season tix with a friend.
But I definitely remember the first college football game I saw in person because it was a distinctive event in a memorable venue—an event and place I never went back to.
It was the Shriners North-South All-Star Game at the Orange Bowl on Christmas Day 1964 when I was 11 and I can’t begin to describe how exciting it was for me at that age and stage.
First of all, it happened on what was by far and away the longest trip of my childhood up to that point; we drove from Connecticut to Miami Beach for Christmas vacation, so that was quite an experience in itself.
But then to see all of these stars in person who I primarily knew about from reading the sports section in the newspaper—and maybe seeing them once a year on the national TV game of the week.
And, in what might have been a first: the starting quarterbacks were both Heisman winners—Roger Staubach as a junior in 1963 and John Huarte of Notre Dame in 1964. And I don’t think it mattered too much which college team you were a fan of—everyone seemed to like and admire Staubach back then. He was deemed a real role model.
Huarte’s top target from ND, Jack Snow, also played that day. Notre Dame had been number one for the latter part of the season until suffering a narrow loss to USC in its final game of the year.
One of Staubach’s teammates on the South squad was Bob Hayes, who played football at a relatively obscure black college, Florida A & M, but had achieved renown as “the world’s fastest human,” having won the 100-meter dash at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. And another top player on the South was the All-American running back from Auburn, Tucker Frederickson.
The stars all lived up to the hype. It was a wild game that was decided in the last minute.
Their are a lot of memories that have blurred together over the years but I can still picture sitting in the Orange Bowl in 1964.