Shirley Povich wrote about sports for The Washington Post for 75 years, until the day he died at 92--June 4, 1998. With the 20th century drawing to a close, a review of Povich's columns and stories from the past seven decades provides a picture of the people and events that dominated the century of sports in America. With great pleasure, we'll present some of his writings, continuing today with Povich's story filed on Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the details of which were being learned as the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles played that same afternoon at Griffith Stadium.
"Keep it short."
That innocent-sounding order flashed to its football reporter at the Redskins-Eagles game by the Associated Press headquarters downtown prefaced the jolt that was to follow later in the afternoon for 27,102 exiting fans at Griffith Stadium yesterday.
If the reporter was wondering at the sudden insignificance of his football "lead," he understood fully a few minutes later in the first quarter when his office flashed this intimate message:
"The Japanese have kicked off. War now!"
Unaware of the bombing of Hawaii and war in the Pacific, the bulk of the 27,102 in Griffith Stadium sat through the 2 1/2-hour plus game, thrilling to the three touchdown passes of Sammy Baugh.
But to the jabbering press box workers and eaves-dropping fans in the vicinity, the action on the field below was a blur in the light of events in the Pacific. Somehow, with America at war and lives already lost, a football game had lost its importance.
For the crowd, though, there was a hint of something of importance in the air. As early as the first eight minutes of the opening quarter, the public address system began a field day of its own. Important persons were being paged, too many important persons to make it a coincidence.
Intermittently the public address announcer interrupted his football spiel to summon big-shot fans from their seats.
"Admiral W. H. P. Bland is asked to report to his office at once!" the big horns blared midway of the first quarter. To the knowing, that meant the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance of the United States Navy.
"The Resident Commissioner of the Philippines, Mr. Joaquim Eilzalde is urged to report to his office immediately!" came another announcement a few minutes later.
By the end of the half, there was a buzzing in the grandstands, but Redskins officials, appraised of the news, refused to permit a public address announcement of the outbreak of war.
"We don't want to contribute to any hysteria," said General Manager Jack Espey in forbidding the announcement.
Grid Fans to the End
The reports that did reach the customers were set down as the most part as incredible rumor and gossip. There was no lessening of volume in their cheers for the Redskins. At the game's end there was a rush for the goal posts by hundreds of exuberant fans.
But by the end of the first half, a lone photographer was working the ball game. All other camera men had been hastily summoned by their offices to speed to the Japanese Embassy and other points of interest.
The paging of notables continued throughout the second half. "Jospeh Umglumph of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is requested to report to the FBI office at once," came an undistinct announcement during the between-half ceremonies.
"Capt. R.X. Fenn of the United States Army is asked to report to his offices at once," was announced preceding the second-half kickoff.
Papers Call Reporters
Newspaper offices loaded the public address system with frantic calls for star reporters who were at the game. The names of circulation managers were blared through the big horns, commanding them to return downtown immediately, as the news offices prepared to hurry extra editions on the streets.
Before the end of the first quarter, the radio-listening wife of one newspaper editor demonstrated her own news sense and took no chances that her football fan husband might not know of the war. She telegraphed this message to Griffith Stadium:
"Deliver in section P, Top Row, Box 37. Opposite 35-yard line, west side. Griffith Stadium: War with Japan. Get to office."
In a box on the 50-yard line, Cabinet Member Jesse Jones was handed a message and departed from the game.
And for the 27,102 customers the only thing in progress was the football game they were watching. They were on their feet in high glee when big Joe Aguirre took Baugh's third touchdown pass for the winning points.
At the exits of the stadium at the end, though, news of war broke like a thunderclap as departing football fans encountered cab drivers and park employees who had been listening to radio reports of Japan's attack on Hawaii.
"That settles it," cracked one indignant football fan. "I'm going right home and tear down those Japanese lanterns."
CAPTION: Whether at the White House, lower left, or at Griffith Stadium, Washingtonians were stunned by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.