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When Knights Hosted NFL Games

9/5/2019

By Andrew Fowler

Including “The Greatest Game Ever Played”

(Photo from GettyImages)

Here’s a little known fact – the Knights of Columbus hosted National Football League (NFL) games at their own stadium.

Knights of Columbus Stadium, located on Main Street in East Orange, N.J., was home to the now-disbanded Orange Tornadoes. It has the distinction of being one of 166 arenas that hosted regular-season NFL contests since the league’s founding 100 years ago.

The Knights have had a long history with the NFL, with members including legendary coach Vince Lombardi, Hall of Famer Dave “The Ghost” Casper, Super Bowl Champions Matt Birk and Chris Godrey and current Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

On Sept. 29, 1929, nine thousand fans came to Knights of Columbus Stadium to witness the Tornadoes’ home-opener against the New York Giants. The Giants were led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Benny Friedman, while the Tornadoes fielded 18 rookies out of 27 players in their inaugural NFL season.

And they held their own against the Giants, ending the game in a 0-0 tie.

Rookie Guard Ernie Cuneo recounted a moment of the home-opener in an article he wrote for The American Scholar:

The first time I played against [Friedman] – when the Tornadoes tied the Giants at Knights of Columbus Field – he pretended he was fading to his right to throw a pass. I faded with him, hoping he'd believe I was leaving a big gap in the line. This is called a "mousetrap" and Benny fell into it. He went for the hole, and I went for him. And got him! He was stunned for a bit, but thereafter his ego expressed itself. It was incredible to him that a run-of-the-mill player like me could trap him. So he named me on his All-League Team, and I played on his Blue Gray Bowl team in an exhibition on New Year's Day.

The Giants went on to finish second in the league that season. The Tornadoes didn’t have quite the same success, though they did defeat the Boston Bulldogs 7-0 when Quarterback George Pease connected with wide-out Paul Longua for a 60-yard touchdown pass. It was one of their five touchdowns of the season.

Still, they finished with a 3-5-4 record, ranked 8 out of 12 and their right-tackle, Bob Beattie, was All-Pro.

Although the stadium only held five games, the Knights of Columbus just may be the only Catholic organization to host any NFL regular-season contest at a stadium with their name on it.

The Knights would go on to host more than 100 NFL games at Yankee Stadium when the New York Giants called it home from 1956-1973, since they owned the land during that span.

That means “The Greatest Game Ever Played” — a championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants that was a catalyst to the NFL’s popularity— happened on Knights’ land.

Those games were a bit more significant than what happened at Knights of Columbus Stadium, but c’est la vie.

To learn more about the Knights, click here

Share your story with andrew.fowler@kofc.org