While baseball marked the time at Hinchliffe Stadium, the stadium was built for football. In 1930, the famed Thanksgiving clash between arch rival central (later Kennedy) and Eastside High Schools was played on a parcel of available land near the Great Falls. The football field was graded on the exact location where Hinchliffe Stadium stands today.
Temporary seating was erected on that cold yet auspicious Thanksgiving Day in 1930. The stadium would become a certainty and would open its doors to the public on July 8, 1932.
Almost as soon as local athletes dug their cleats into the new stadium turf in 1932, Hinchliffe was declared the home stadium to no less than three professional football teams: the Silk City Bears, the Paterson Giants, and the Paterson Nighthawks. Hinchliffe became the home of the Paterson Panthers in 1934. The team played at Hinchliffe Stadium through 1950, except for a break during World War II.
Bethlehem’s Walt Zirinsky, who played halfback for the 1945 champion Cleveland Rams, scored a touchdown and kicked a field goal. The Bulldogs attained 273 total yards of offense on the day compared to the Panthers’ 156 yards.
In 1948, the Paterson Panthers redeemed themselves and were crowned American Football League champions after defeating the Wilmington Clippers by a score of 24-14 in front of a crowd of about 10,000 fans at Hinchliffe Stadium.
Paterson’s head coach was Allie Sherman. The 1948 season was Sherman’s first as a coach after a five-year career as a professional player. His time in Paterson was short lived as he was offered to serve as the New York Football Giants running backs coach for the 1949 season. He would later be named the head coach of the Giants from 1961 - 1968.
Although the Panthers first season was in 1934, in 1936, they joined the newly-formed American Professional Football Association (APFA). The Panthers faced the Brooklyn Eagles on September 24, 1939. Future Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi was a player for the Brooklyn club, but did not get into the game. Paterson won 17-6.
After four years of down time during World War II, the Panthers returned to Hinchliffe from 1946 - 1950. On September 15, 1946, their first game in their return season, the Hinchliffe faithful saw Hall of Famer Bill Dudley score two touchdowns and complete a touchdown pass to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 55-0 rout of the home team.
In 1947, the Panthers had a successful season and hosted the American Professional Football League championship game at Hinchliffe Stadium. The Bethlehem Bulldogs were crowned champions in a 23-7 drubbing of Paterson in front of a crowd of 10,587.
Other Professional Teams
The Silk City Bears played the Elizabeth Pros in the stadium's first professional football game on September 20, 1932, three days after the stadium’s ceremonial dedication. The Bears were also a part of Hinchliffe's first Thanksgiving blowout, a doubleheader on November 24, 1932, featuring the Central vs Eastside high school in the morning, then a second game pitting Paterson’s two professional teams against one another, the Paterson Nighthawks routed the Silk City Bears, 25-0.
In a stadium first, on October 23, 1932, the Paterson Giants faced the Portsmouth Spartans (later to become the Detroit Lions) on the new hometown field. Patersonians were so proud to see a major league team in town that before the game, they staged a parade from their “hotel” at the Y.M.C.A. to the stadium. Portsmouth went on to win 6-0, with the big advantage of future Hall of Famer Earl "Dutch" Clark playing on their squad.
In another first on September 17, 1933, the Paterson Nighthawks hosted the New York Football Giants. Within the next two weekends (September 24/ October 1) the Nighthawks welcomed two more notable football squads, first the Brooklyn Dodgers football team and then the Philadelphia Eagles, to Paterson's proud new stadium.
Thanksgiving was virtually Hinchliffe's reason for being, and among locals it has remained a large part of its reason for being remembered. The first ever Thanksgiving Day Classic in the completed stadium resulted in Central High School defeating Eastside 24-0.
The annual game between Eastside and Central (Kennedy High School beginning in 1964) is one of the oldest rivalry games in the State of New Jersey, which still continues today.
On Thanksgiving Day 1941, Eastside player, Larry Doby (you may have heard of him?), gave his Central High School counterparts indigestion on Thanksgiving Day in a 45-6 drubbing of their intra-city rivals in front of 12,500 spectators.
On the day, Doby participated in every way imaginable. Not only did he score two touchdowns but he also had a snap at quarterback and threw a pass to set up a touchdown on the ensuing play, returned a kickoff for 32-yards, and kicked an extra point.