The first pro football game I remember attending was played on the last Sunday of the 1956 season.
Dec. 16 … Bears vs. Lions … Wrigley Field … Sitting in an aisle halfway up the grandstands … Western Conference title at stake … winner goes to NFL championship game.
Moving ahead, this weekend news arrived that the New Orleans Saints had a bounty system paying players to knock out opponents.
Dots can be connected from the Saints' conduct all the way back to that day 55 years ago, when Bears defensive end Ed Meadows concussed Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.
Two weeks earlier the Bears lost to Layne's Lions 42-10. Without Layne, the Lions lost to the Bears 38-21.
This much I remember: I saw Meadows level Layne, cheered the violence and later celebrated the Bears' victory.
Nobody in Chicago much cared that the perception was Meadows -- a certified bad boy -- blindsided Layne late and well behind the play. What I had forgotten was the series of events that followed, including this description from Wikipedia:
"The game at Wrigley Field was marked by numerous fights, including a fourth-quarter melee involving players, fans and police … "
I should have remembered that, because the Bears and the Lions often ended their seasons against each other in the 1950s, usually while wrestling around in the snow and the blood and the mud.
Lions head coach Buddy Parker was so incensed by Meadows' attack on Layne that he appealed to NFL Commissioner Bert Bell.
"Why didn't Meadows bring a blackjack?" Parker reportedly moaned.
Meadows' reputation preceded him to that game. He reportedly tried to hurt teammates in practice, so you can imagine what he tried to do to opponents in games.
The NFL investigated the hit on Layne and decided not to punish Meadows -- no fine, no suspension, no nothing, though he was ejected during the fourth-quarter brawl.
One theory for Meadows getting off was that the Bears ran the NFL and the commissioner was Papa Bear George Halas' puppet.
Anyway, who knows whether the Bears had a bounty system administered by players, coaches, Halas or all of the above, and whether Meadows earned a few bonus bucks for slamming Layne to the ground?
But there is this note on profootballreferences.org:
"Amid all the charges and countercharges, one interesting piece of historical trivia surfaced when a former Los Angeles player revealed that the '51-'53 Rams had a get-the-quarterback pool in which a cash award went to the player who knocked the rival QB out of the game."
Doesn't that sound awfully familiar to what has been said the past few days about the Saints?
Meanwhile, you might also hear a former NFL coach say this week what former coach Greasy Neale said about the league's prevailing mood back in the 1950s:
"All you've got to remember is that once you step out on the field, it's every man for himself."
That NFL era and that specific Bears-Lions game were my introduction to pro football.
I'm not shocked by the Saints' scandal because that's the football embedded in my psyche, for better or worse, probably worse.
Bounties … edgy bone crushers like Ed Meadows … concussed quarterbacks ... players needing to watch their blind sides … league commissioners accused of personal agendas … ugly vs. nasty …
This sure does seem like a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.