Perspective | Pandemic has disrupted football, but World War II shook up the league even more


The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their scheduled Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Baltimore Ravens postponed three times because of an outbreak of the virus among the Ravens.

So it might be a good time to look at some other NFL seasons that were disrupted by a historic event.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within a few days, the

United States was at war with Japan and Germany.

For the next four years, everything in America changed, including the NFL.

More than 600 NFL players served in the armed forces during the United States’ involvement in World War II (1941 to 1945). Twenty NFL players were killed in the fighting.

This was a huge percentage of NFL players in the 1940s, when there were far fewer NFL teams. In 1941, for example, there were only 10 teams (now there are 32).

In addition, most of the college players who would be expected to play in the NFL also went into the armed forces to serve their country.

Teams were desperate to fill their rosters. George Halas, the head coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, recalled that his team would hold tryouts and sign “anyone who could run around the field twice.”

In 1943, the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles had so few players that they merged their teams. Fans called them the “Steagles.” The combined team finished behind Washington and New York in the NFL’s Eastern Division.

That season, the Cleveland Rams (who later moved to Los Angeles) disbanded operations entirely. They returned to the NFL in 1944.

In 1944, the Steelers joined forces with the Chicago Cardinals. Fans called this team the “Car-Pitts.” Whatever they were called, the team was terrible. They lost all 10 of their games and were outscored 328 to 108.

Still, there were some outstanding players during the war years. Washington quarterback “Slinging Sammy” Baugh led the NFL in pass attempts, completions and percentage of passes completed in 1943. Baugh also led the league in punting and interceptions. (Players played offense and defense in those days.)

So keep watching. There could still be exciting games and historic performances during these strange times.

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