- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

They postponed a football game Sunday in Blacksburg, Va. If that isn't news, I don't know what is.

Football games are never supposed to be postponed. It's in the bylaws or something. If it rains, you play. If it snows, you play. If Mount St. Helens erupts, you play. And if you don't like it, well, there's always fall baseball.

But when a severe lightning storm hit Blacksburg moments before the start of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game and left the field looking like a rice paddy the decision was made not to play. The two teams, officials said, would try to get together another time.

"Bizarre," one of the organizers of the event called it. He can say that again.

It usually takes something like a comet striking the earth to get a football game postponed. Heck, in 1963, the NFL played on the weekend after President Kennedy was assassinated. (Wake Forest and North Carolina State played on the very night of the assassination.)

The last time a pro football game was called off because of the weather was way back in 1961. It's kind of a funny story. A hurricane was expected to hit Boston the day of a Friday night game between the Patriots and Bills, so just to be on the safe side Pats owner Billy Sullivan rescheduled the game to Sunday. There was only one problem: The hurricane never arrived. Friday night was lovely much lovelier than Sunday afternoon, when the temperature was 35 degrees with 25- to 30-mph winds.

That's probably why no one has postponed an NFL game since. No one has dared.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't always this way. In the early years of pro football, teams would occasionally postpone or even cancel games for a variety of reasons. I've come across games that were postponed because of poor advance ticket sales, a game that was postponed because a team had too many injured players, even a game that was postponed because the field had been ruined by a college game the day before.

The 1926 NFL constitution gave the home team the right to cancel a game "in case of inclement weather," but it had to notify its opponent "at least five hours before the departure of [its] train." If it failed to do so and no game was played, the visiting team was entitled to be reimbursed for "actual expenses (railroad fare, hotel and meals for 20 men)."

No joke: Clubs in those days took out rain insurance to protect themselves against bad weather. The Providence Steam Roller paid $270 for it for a game against the Chicago Bears that was canceled in 1927 and were they ever glad. If they hadn't received $2,500 from the insurance company, they would have had to pay the Bears' $2,200 guarantee out of their own pockets.

Over time, though, rainouts and postponements became rarer and rarer. Why? Because the league thought they hurt its credibility. Then television came along, and calling off games became even more problematical. What's the network supposed to do if the teams decide not to play, show "Knute Rockne, All-American"? (For the record, ESPN2 ran a replay of another Virginia Tech game to fill the airtime Sunday night, but it was a poor substitute for a live performance by Michael Vick.)

Anyway, the NFL's credo and college football's, too, really became: The game must go on. Obviously, though, there were some games that shouldn't have gone on such as the one between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Cardinals in 1940. It poured so much that day that the players should have worn scuba gear. "I thought I was drowning one time," ex-Lion Bill Fisk told me. "I went out for a little buttonhook pass and landed in this puddle of water, with all these guys on top of me, and by the time they got off I was out of breath."

It might have been the worst game in NFL history. The Lions gained 16 yards, the Cardinals 14, and only one pass was completed. The teams simply couldn't move the ball.

"It was impossible for any player, unaided by web feet or outboard motor, to distinguish himself," the Detroit News reported. "Fleet Lloyd Cardwell and lumbering Bill Radovich were on a par as far as speed went."

The Associated Press said the game had "more the flavor of water polo… . The final period saw eight successive exchanges of punts between the two [teams], without a single intervening play [from scrimmage]."

The final score was 0-0 which might have been the score of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game if wiser heads hadn't prevailed. "I think the right decision was made," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. I do, too. Michael Vick is wonderfully talented, but he isn't amphibious.

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