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NFL in NYC: pro football's history in the five boroughs

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From the Polo Grounds to Shea Stadium

The Los Angeles Rams play the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on November 14, 1948. Photo by AP Photo/HH

New York may have three teams in the National Football League, but pro football hasn't been played in New York City since the 1980s, when the New York Jets departed Shea Stadium for the greener pastures of the Meadowlands. (Efforts to bring a new stadium to the city have been wildly unsuccessful, to boot.)

But it's not as if New York City doesn't have a rich history with the NFL: Each of NYC's five boroughs has hosted a pro football team (yes, even Staten Island), with both the Giants and the Jets having long careers in the city before moving to New Jersey. With this year's Super Bowl fast approaching, it's the perfect time to take a look back at the history of football in New York City, from the Polo Grounds to Shea Stadium and beyond.

Manhattan: Polo Grounds


[The New York Giants and the Washington Redskins play at the Polo Grounds in 1938. Photo by AP Photo]

The Polo Grounds in Harlem was originally built as a baseball stadium, but it hosted, at various points, games by the New York Giants and the New York Jets (back when they were known as the Titans), along with those by some of NYC's now-defunct pro football teams—the New York Yanks, the Brooklyn-New York Yankees, and so on. (Seriously, what's with the unoriginal team names, New York?)

In the pre-Super Bowl, pre-National Football League era, several championship games were played at the Polo Grounds, including two Giants wins in 1934 and 1938 (the latter of which was the Giants' final win until 1956).


[In an intercity rivalry, the New York Giants and the New York Yanks face off in 1950 at the Polo Grounds. Photo by AP Photo/HH]

The stadium closed in 1963, and its final event was actually a pro football game: the Titans (before they were the Jets) won in a match-up against the Buffalo Bills on December 14. The Polo Grounds was torn down in 1964, and the site is now home to a NYCHA development that bears the former stadium's name.

Bronx: Yankee Stadium


[In 1950, the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Yanks duked it out at Yankee Stadium. Photo by AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman]

It may have been known as "the House That Ruth Built," but the original Yankees Stadium (which was torn down in 2008) was also home to the New York Giants for nearly 20 years, from 1956 to 1973.

And even before the Giants played at Yankee Stadium, several other football teams shared the space with the baseball team. The first football game held there was a collegiate match-up between Army and Navy in 1923, and some of NYC's pre-NFL teams (including several teams called—again, why—the Yankees) called the stadium home.


[The New York Giants and the Chicago Bears faced off in the 1956 NFL Championship at Yankee Stadium—a game the Giants would go on to win. Photo by AP Photo/Harry Harris]

During the Giants' time playing at Yankee Stadium, they won one NFL Championship (the precursor to the Super Bowl) in 1956, against the Chicago Bears, and lost a few more, including the so-called "greatest game ever played" against the Baltimore Colts in 1958. (The Colts won in overtime, with a much-ballyhooed sudden-death play.)


[An aerial view of Yankee Stadium in 1967, before the New York Giants played the Cleveland Browns. Photo by AP Photo]

Each year, the field would transform from baseball to football by covering up the baseball diamond and erecting goalposts near what would have been home plate and the outfield. But with the construction of Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1976, the era of pro football at Yankee Stadium came to a close.

Queens: Shea Stadium


[The New York Jets play in their first AFL Championship game, against the Oakland Raiders, on December 29, 1968 at Shea Stadium. Photo by AP Photo]

Like its neighbor to the north, Shea Stadium served as the home base for both pro baseball and football: both the New York Mets and the New York Jets called it home for two decades, before the Jets moved on to greener pastures (i.e. the Meadowlands) in the 1980s.

The Jets reached their first Super Bowl in 1969, going on to crush the Baltimore Colts in that match-up; but to get there, they first had to win the AFL Championship, which was held at Shea on December 29, 1968. The Jets won the game, against the Oakland Raiders, handily, with Joe Namath throwing three touchdowns


["Broadway Joe" Namath practices at Shea Stadium in 1971. Photo by AP Photo]

And Namath (also known as "Broadway Joe") was undoubtedly the most popular player during the Jets' time at Shea Stadium; his on- and off-field antics (donning fur coats, partying at Studio 54, dating Hollywood actresses) were the stuff of legend. He's one of six Jets players to have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


[After the Jets's final game at Shea Stadium in 1983, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers—mayhem, predictably, ensued. Photo by AP Photo/Harry Harris]

But like the Giants, the Jets eventually decided to move on to a stadium that they wouldn't have to share with with a baseball team. The team's final game at Shea Stadium happened on December 10, 1983, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers; predictably, fans rushed the field once the game was over, tearing the goal posts out of the ground.

Brooklyn: Ebbets Field


[The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates battle it out at Ebbetts Field in 1935. Photo by AP Photo/Murray Becker]

Ebbets Field hosted several pro football teams in its brief history, including the short-lived Brooklyn Lions, New York Brickley Giants, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Brooklyn Tigers. But it was used more frequently for collegiate match-ups, and was home base for Manhattan College's football team in the 1930s.

Staten Island: Thompson's Stadium

Yes, Staten Island had a NFL team: The Staten Island Stapletons played in the NFL for three seasons, after operating as an independent semipro outfit for about a decade prior. The team's inaugural season was in 1929, and they would go on to face off against NFL heavyweights like the Giants and the Green Bay Packers (often at their home field of Thompson's Stadium in Staten Island's Stapleton neighborhood). According to the New York Times, the team faced financial hardship after the Great Depression hit, and ultimately dissolved after the 1932 season. The stadium was torn down in the 1950s.