Indoor Football, Atlantic City-Style

50 years ago, the University of Utah and West Virginia University squared off in an epic indoor bowl game, right in AC.

The 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City.
The Great Indoors: The 6,059 fans were close to the action at the 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City.
Photo courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention Center

It’s been 50 years since Bob Dunlevy took the field in the Liberty Bowl at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall, but the former West Virginia University wide receiver still has vivid memories of the day.

“It was like playing on cement,” Dunlevy recalls of the game against the University of Utah on December 19, 1964. Dunlevy isn’t exaggerating. The indoor playing field consisted of 4 inches of grass atop 2 inches of burlap laid across the hall’s concrete floor.

The Liberty Bowl had been played in Philadelphia’s Memorial Stadium beginning in 1959, but ticket sales had fallen due to cold weather. Bowl president Bud Dudley wanted a new location. Atlantic City officials offered Convention Hall, a site immune to the cold with a game temperature of 60 degrees. They also offered $25,000 to bring the game to their town. ABC-TV purchased the broadcast rights for the first indoor bowl game.

Indoor football required adjustments. Both end zones were reduced from 10 to 8 yards because of the hall’s confines. “There was a concern going into the end zone. You had to make sure to slow down,” says Ron Coleman, the Utah halfback who rushed for a 53-yard touchdown.

“I thought it was something special to play indoors,” adds Roy Jefferson, a Utah receiver and future NFL star who kicked two field goals and an extra point in his team’s 32 to 6 victory before dislocating his left shoulder.

The 6,059 fans in attendance were close to the action. “When you were in the game, you felt like the upper balcony was over the field,” says Donnie Young, a defensive lineman for West Virginia. People watching on TV got to see an aerial view of the plays unfold, thanks to an ABC camera installed in the hall’s vaulted ceiling.

Although the game turned a profit, the Liberty Bowl moved to Memphis in 1965, where it is still played today. While Utah cleaned up on the field, washing up afterward was a chore.

“The locker rooms were not set up for football,” Dunlevy remembers. “There was no place to hang your clothes. At most, there were three or four showers. It took a long time for everyone to shower.”

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