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New Orleans Pro Football at 50: New era begins in 1960 for pro football in New Orleans

Bobby LayneBobby LayneAfter the isolated incident that brought the NFL to the city for the first time, the New Orleans flirtation with pro football would subside for the rest of the 1930s through the 1950s as it continued to be a proud minor league baseball town thanks to the Pelicans.

However, the Pelicans would close shop after 77 seasons following the 1959 campaign primarily due to dwindling attendance.

From demise of the Pelicans came a new direction as Jack DeFee, the Pelicans last general manager, started Louisiana Professional Sports Inc. where he would serve as vice-president with Jack Cillino as president.  The duo decided to experiment with hosting an NFL exhibition game in the city as a way to gauge the chances of landing a pro franchise one day.

And so on August 13, 1960, an 8 p.m. kickoff matched the Pittsburgh Steelers returned, this time under head coach Buddy Parker with star quarterback Bobby Layne (pictured), against the Green Bay Packers led by second-year head coach Vince Lombardi.

A crowd of 16,500 would watch this relatively evenly-matched game at City Park Stadium.  After a 6-6 halftime score, Green Bay’s “other” quarterback, Lamar McHan, broke the game open in the 3rd quarter with an 80-yard drive capped off by a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tulane product Max McGee to make it 13-6.

On the following drive, Layne was intercepted by Hank Gremminger.  The turnover would set up the Packers' next touchdown, a ten yard pass from “Golden Boy” Paul Hourning to Boyd Dowler to make it 20-6.

Later, Steelers star running back John Henry Johnson scored the game's last points on a run from four yards out to make the final score 20-13 in favor of the Packers.

The longest play of the night was a 76-yard missed field goal return by Green Bay’s John Symank that would eventually lead to the first field goal for the Packers.  LSU alumnus Jim Taylor would rush for 111 yards on the night.

At game’s conclusion, both teams had some issues with the high humidity.  Cramps were reported to affect many members of both teams in their respective locker rooms.

Jack DeFee told the Times-Picayune that he was disappointed in the gate, hoping for at least 20,000 to attend.  Some think this may have been the reason no game was held here in 1961.

Interestingly, Vince Lombardi said after the game that he wasn’t sure about the club’s starting quarterback position. Joe Francis was out with a broken leg, and Lombardi still had a few pre-season games left to decide who was the better remaining quarterback; Lamar McHan or Bart Starr.  History would later prove Lombardi made the right decision in tabbing Starr.

Sports writer Pete Daschbach stated in his game summary, “In this day of immense popularity toward the National Football League, that doesn’t seem like an earth-shaking gate (of 16,500).  Yet, it represented at least an “even” financial night for the group (L.P.S.).  Simply, it was a good indication that New Orleans could, were the opportunity presented, become a successful professional football town..."
 

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