By Zane Miller
On Tuesday, November 6th, 1934, the Philadelphia Eagles took down the Cincinnati Reds 64-0, a score which remains the largest margin of victory in a shutout in the NFL’s regular season history. While this is certainly one of the strangest games in the league’s history for multitude of reasons, the primary one is that the Cincinnati Reds football team ceased operations immediately following this contest, ending on about the sourest note possible. However, we need to go back and see how we got to this point to begin with.
The Reds entered the league in 1933, owned by former player and coach Mike Palm. Palm had spent two seasons in the league as a running back for the New York Giants, playing in the team’s inaugural season in 1925 as well as 1926 before retiring to focus on his coaching career. However, in 1933, Palm would end his seven-year hiatus as a player to rejoin the Reds on the field. Not only that, he would take over as the head coach halfway through the season, achieving the rare player-coach-owner feat.
Unsurprisingly given the midseason coaching change, the Reds were near the bottom of the standings, particularly thanks to an anemic offense which had failed to score a single touchdown through their first six games of a 10-game season and would only score a paltry 38 points in total for the season. While the team was able to put together an impressive late-season run, winning three of their last four matchups to end their debut year at 3-6-1, any positive goodwill they had going would come crashing down once the 1934 season went underway.
While 1933 was about what you would expect from a brand new team, where they didn’t set the world on fire but at least were able to get a few victories, the 1934 campaign was a disaster from the start. Somehow, the Reds’ offense got even worse, only managing one touchdown in their first seven games, while the defense, which had been a relative bright spot, dropped to the worst in the league with 179 points allowed.
Not only that, while the team had been able to play in a stable facility in Crosley Field in their debut year, in 1934 the team was split between playing their home games at Crosley, Corcoran Stadium (the home of the Xavier University football team), Triangle Park in Dayton, and Universal Stadium in Portsmouth, which, by the way, is over 100 miles east of Cincinnati. With every one of their home games being played at a different stadium, the already challenging task of gaining fan support and ticket sales was made next to impossible. Keep in mind that all of this is going on in the middle of the Great Depression, so it should not come as a shock that the Reds were hemorrhaging money at this point.
Sitting at an 0-7 record, the team traveled to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, who, like the Reds, were in just their second season of existence. On paper, it looked as though the game would be a close one, with the Eagles holding a similarly disappointing 1-5 record after going 3-5-1 in 1933.
While the contest was originally supposed to be played on Sunday at Shibe Park, the Eagles’ regular home stadium, heavy thunderstorms in the area pushed the game back to Tuesday, making it the first NFL game to be played on that day of the week since 1929. With Shibe Park already being booked for a high school football game that day, the Reds-Eagles matchup was relocated to Temple University’s football field, further adding to the pre-game weirdness. However, the biggest news bombshell in the leadup to the game was yet to come.
As mentioned before, the Reds were in dire financial trouble, so much so that they were unable to pay the administrative fees required to stay in the league. With that, it was decided the morning of the game that the Reds would suspend operations effective the next day. Word of the news quickly spread to the players, presumably sinking the team’s morale in what had already been a demoralizing season. Nonetheless, there was still a game to be played, and a chance for the Reds to win in their final game as franchise was on the table. Needless to say, this did not come to fruition.
After fullback Ed Storm opened the scoring for the Eagles with a 36-yard touchdown run, the rout was on as wingback Swede Ellstrom ran for another touchdown and Ed Matesic picked off a Reds pass for a 44-yard touchdown return. Halfback Swede Hanson ran for a 46-yard score to wrap up the first quarter, giving the Eagles a 26-0 lead.
Despite this hot start, the Philadelphia offense would cool down significantly in the second and third quarters, as the Cincinnati defense seemed to get their footing. While Joe Carter caught a pair of touchdown passes to go along with another touchdown grab from Red Kirkman, the Eagles entered the final frame up 44-0. While it was a next to insurmountable advantage, especially by 1930’s NFL standards, this game would not have its place in the history books if not for what happened in the fourth quarter.
After Ellstrom and Matesic had their turn in the passing game, combining for three touchdown throws, backup Reds Weiner took over to torch the team which shared his name. He quickly found Carter for his third touchdown catch of the day, before Hanson claimed his second rushing score to go up 58-0, just four points behind the previous shutout record set in 1922 by the Akron Pros. This record would fall soon after, though, as Weiner found Hanson for a 20-yard touchdown pass, ending the blowout at 64-0 and setting a shutout scoring record which has yet to be matched. It’s worth noting that this margin of victory could have still been even bigger, as the Eagles missed six extra points throughout the contest.
After the Reds departed the league following this game, their remaining schedule was taken on by the independent St. Louis Gunners, which purchased the Reds for about $25,000. In fact, a few of the former Reds players came over to join the Gunners, which would go on to finish at a 1-2 showing before also folding at season’s end. The city of Cincinnati would have to wait 36 years for another NFL team, until the Cincinnati Bengals joined the league for the 1970 season.
Despite the convincing victory, the Eagles ended the 1934 campaign with a losing record, going 4-7. Regardless, the team was able to put together one of the most dominating performances the NFL has seen to this day, authoring the most convincing shutout in league history.