Golden Football Magazine
AAFC Championship Games
1948: Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns
This series covers the history of the AAFC through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.

49ers QB Frankie Albert
Frankie Albert

49ers HB 
Joe Perry
Joe Perry

49ers HB Johnny Strzula;slo
Johnny Strzykalski

Browns HB Dub Jones
Dub Jones
1948 AAFC Championship Game Program

By 1948, the postwar economic boom that had benefitted pro football had begun to wane.
  • The AAFC teams, most of whom had survived but not thrived for two years, backed off on signing the top available players. As a result, most of the All-Americans ended up in the NFL.
  • The league handled a potential catastrophe in Baltimore in deft fashion. Colts owner Robert Rodenberg, unprepared for the loss of $166,000 in 1947 after replacing the Miami Seahawks, threw in the towel and turned his club back to the league. Baltimore's civic leaders enlisted a number of prominent citizens to contribute to the $25,000 purchase price, making the Charm City the second after Green Bay to sell stock in the team to any citizens who wished to buy.
  • To help the Colts and the Chicago Rockets, another marginal franchise, the AAFC owners agreed to a "lead-lease" program whereby stronger clubs gave some of their players to the weaker teams. Cecil Isbell's Colts picked up twelve players, including five outstanding linemen. Of special help were two QBs, veteran Charlie O'Rourke from the Los Angeles Dons and LSU rookie Y. A. Tittle from Cleveland. After going 2-11-1 in '47, Baltimore improved to 7-7 to tie the Buffalo Bills for the Eastern Championship. However, the Bills copped the victory 28-17 in a game that ended with Baltimore fans mobbing the officials after a controversial call turned the tide against their team.
  • The East race was wide open because the two-time defending champions, the New York Yankees, were hit hardest by the league's lend-lease program, losing eight players, more than any other team. A team that produced over 5,000y of offense in '47 gained less than 3,000 in '48. After the Yanks started 1-3, impatient owner Dan Topping forced Coach Red Flaherty and two assistants to resign. The team improved but finished 6-8, one game behind Baltimore and Buffalo.
The two best AAFC teams, by far, played in the West.
  • Buck Shaw's San Francisco 49ers were an offensive juggernaut, generating 5,767y, a pro football record at the time. QB Frankie Albert threw for 1,990y and ran for another 349. RB Joe Perry began his Hall of Fame career with 563y (7.3 ypc) but trailed Johnny Strzykalski who churned out 915 on the ground and gained another 485 receiving for an even 1,400y from scrimmage.
  • The Niners pulverized opponents, winning ten games by over 200 points, 460-253. The Bay team would have been the talk of the league except for the fact that they couldn't defeat the titans from Cleveland, losing 14-7 in Ohio and 31-28 at home (despite the fact that the Browns were playing their third game in eight days).
  • Paul Brown's team, winners of both AAFC championships so far, outdid themselves in '48, going undefeated and untied in 14 games. Brown wasn't bothered by losing some players to the weaker teams because the core of his offense returned - "cool, imperturbable" QB Otto Graham, massive FB Marion Motley and fleet HB Edgar Jones, and quick WRs Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. In fact, the Browns improved on that side of ball when they acquired HB William "Dub" Jones from Brooklyn for draft choice Bob Chappuis.

The title game between Cleveland and Buffalo failed to generate much interest.

  • The Browns had thumped the Bills 42-13 in Buffalo and 31-14 in Cleveland during the regular season.
  • Cleveland fans, still riding high from the Indians' World Series victory in October, had no doubt their football team would add another trophy to the city's cache.
  • So the Browns ruled as 14-to-17-point favorites to become the first pro football to go through a regular season and playoff unbeaten. The anticipated victory would be the club's 18th in a row and 24th without defeat.
  • Cleveland enjoyed an off week while the Bills battled the Colts for the Eastern championship. As a result, the Browns reported no significant injuries while Buffalo would likely play without HBs Bill Gompers and Al Akins and E Marty Comer.
  • Five Browns learned that they had been selected All-Conference while three more made the second team.
  • The Bills boasted two fine offensive performers in QB George Ratterman, who threw for 2,577y, and HB Chet Murtryn, who compiled 1,617y from scrimmage running and receiving. 32-year-old FB Lou Tomasetti had also enjoyed his best season as a pro, rushing for 716 and 213 more receiving.
  • While Red Dawson's Buffalo offense was nearly equal to the Browns' (360 points to 389), the defense was nowhere near as competent as Cleveland's (358 points to just 190).
  • The league announced that a tie game would not be broken by overtime, and the teams would be declared co-champions.
  • As usual, the Municipal Stadium gridiron was covered all week by a tarpaulin underlaid with straw. The playing field would be dry and soft.
  • Ticket sales indicated widespread apathy by Browns' fans, and only 25,000 were expected.
  • The game was broadcast on a special six-state, eighteen-station network.

    An article that appeared in newpapers the morning of the game quoted George Halas, owner-coach of the Chicago Bears, as saying something should be done to settle pro football's cold war. Reportedly one of the few NFL owners making money and previously a staunch opponent of any compromise with the new league, Halas revealed that he had discussed the general pro football picture with Dan Topping, owner of the New York Yankees of the AAFC, and Ben Lindheimer, chairman of the AAFC's executive committee. As individuals, we had a meeting of minds on the subject, but nothing can be done until the league officially takes up a discussion of the matter. Many fans concluded from the report that an AAFC-NFL merger would take place before the '49 season.
Cleveland Plain-Dealer cartoon day of championship game
1948 Buffalo Bills
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
21 Felto Prewitt C 5-11 207 Tulsa 3
22 Art Statuto C 6-2 221 Notre Dame 1
23 Jack Baldwin C 6-3 223 Centenary 3
24 Bob Callahan C 6-0 205 Missouri 1
25 Buckets Hirsch C 5-10 207 Northwestern 2
31 Edward King G 6-0 217 Boston College 1
32 Hal Lahar G 6-0 225 Oklahoma 4
33 John Wyhonic G 6-0 213 Alabama 3
35 Rocco Pirro G-T 6-0 226 Catholic 5
37 Vince Scott G 5-8 215 Notre Dame 2
40 Jerry Whalen C-G 6-1 235 Canisius 1
43 Graham Armstrong T 6-4 230 John Carroll 4
45 Jack Carpenter T 6-0 240 Columbia 2
46 John Kerns T 6-3 245 Ohio 2
47 John Kissell T 6-3 245 Boston College 1
50 Ed Balatti E-DB 6-1 195 None 3
51 George Kisiday E 5-11 210 Duquesne 1
52 Paul Gibson DB 6-2 195 N. C. State 2
55 Bill O'Connor E 6-4 220 Notre Dame 1
57 Al Baldwin E-DB 6-2 201 Arkansas 2
58 Vince Mazza E 6-1 216 None 4
61 George Ratterman QB 6-0 192 Notre Dame 2
63 Jim Still B 6-3 193 Georgia Tech 1
74 Carl Schuette C 6-1 206 Marquette 1
75 Vic Kulbitski FB 5-10 205 Minnesota 3
81 Chick Maggioli DB 5-11 178 Indiana 1
82 Rex Bumgardner DB 5-11 193 West Virginia 1
83 Chet Murtryn HB 5-9 179 Xavier (OH) 3
85 Alex Wizbicki DB 5-11 188 Dartmouth 2
87 Lou Tomasetti B 6-0 198 Bucknell 7
88 Bill Gompers HB 6-1 185 Notre Dame 1
89 Don Schneider HB 5-9 170 Pennsylvania 1
1948 Cleveland Browns
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
20 Lou Saban C 6-0 202 Indiana 3
22 Frank Gatski C 6-3 233 Marshall 3
24 Mel Maceau C 6-0 205 Marquette 3
30 Bill Willis G 6-2 213 Ohio State 3
32 Lin Houston G 6-0 213 Ohio State 3
34 Bob Gaudio G 5-10 219 Ohio State 2
35 Alex Agase G 5-10 212 Purdue 2
36 Ed Ulinski G 5-11 203 Marshall 3
38 Weldon Humble G 6-1 221 Rice 2
42 Chet Adams T 6-3 233 Ohio 8
44 Lou Rymkus T 6-4 231 Notre Dame 4
45 Ben Pucci T 6-4 255 None 3
46 Lou Groza T 6-3 240 Ohio State 3
48 Forrest Grigg T 6-2 294 Tulsa 3
49 Lenny Simonetti T 5-11 225 Tennessee 2
50 John Yonaker E 6-5 222 Notre Dame 3
53 Frank Kosikowski E 6-1 200 Marquette 1
56 Dante Lavelli E 6-0 191 Ohio State 3
58 Mac Speedie E 6-3 203 Utah 3
59 Horace Gillom E 6-1 221 Ohio State 2
60 Otto Graham QB 6-1 196 Northwestern 3
62 Cliff Lewis DB 5-11 170 Duke 3
64 George Terlep DB 5-10 180 Notre Dame 3
70 Ollie Cline FB 6-0 200 Ohio State 1
74 Tony Adamle FB 6-0 215 Ohio State 2
76 Marion Motley FB 6-1 232 South Carolina St. 3
82 Tommy James DB 5-10 185 Ohio State 2
83 Bob Cowan B 5-11 185 Indiana 2
85 Ara Parseghian HB 5-10 194 Akron 1
86 Dub Jones HB 6-4 202 LSU/Tulane 3
90 Edgar Jones HB 5-10 192 Pittsburgh 4
92 Tom Colella HB 6-0 187 Canisius 5
94 Dean Sensanbaugher DB 5-9 190 Army 1
99 Bill Boedeker HB 5-11 192 DePaul 3
  • Snow fell most of the morning, then subsided at noon before resuming later. The temperature reached a high of 37° before dropping to 33° by the end of the game. But the wind chill, a measurement not yet in vogue in 1948, was much lower thanks to a breeze off Lake Erie.
  • As a result, the smallest crowd of the season, only 22,981 fans, watched the Browns rout the Bills. Some speculated that all the talk of a merger with an NFL also restricted the attendance.
Browns sideline in championship ame.Browns' sideline in front of scores of empty seats
  • Quarter 1
    The first of two interceptions by Tommy James - and first of five for the Browns - got Cleveland on the way to their first TD in the waning minutes of the period. The Massillon redhead got in the way of a Ratterman toss at midfield and carried the ball back 30y.
    Edgar Jones and Motley divided the work in advancing to the 3. Then Edgar shot through RG for the TD.
    Groza kicked the first of seven PATs. Browns 7 Bills 0
    Buffalo ended the period with an embarrassing 4y of offense.

Edgar Jones scores Cleveland's first TD.
  • Quarter 2
    A weird succession of fumbles, two by Buffalo and one by Cleveland, preceded the next Browns' score. The third fumble came when the ball inexplicably squirted out of the hands of RB Rex Bumgardner while he was running free around LE. George Young grabbed the ball on the 18 and ran unmolested into the EZ with 3:25 gone. Browns 14 Bills 0
    At this point, Buffalo finally threatened. Don Schneider returned the kickoff 27y to his 37. The Bills then marched to the 7, where they faced 4th down. Ratterman decided to pass but was sacked for a 12y loss by John Yonakor.
    Snow began again late in the period and continued intermittently the rest of the game.
    The halftime stats showed the Bills with only four first downs and Ratterman held to -1y because of sacks.

Motley breaks loose.


Buffalo QB George Ratterman
George Ratterman

Buffalo backup QB Jim Still
Jim Still

  • Quarter 3
    On the second play, James struck again, returning this INT 16y to the Bills 22.
    Motley gained 4, Graham connected with Lavelli for 9, then Otto pitched to Edgar Jones in the corner of the EZ. Browns 21 Bills 0 with 2:02 elapsed.
    Ratterman's bad day turned worse when he had to leave the game with an injured shoulder. His stat line showed only 5 completions in 18 attempts for 24y.
    Several minutes later, Cleveland started another drive after Schneider fumbled while fair-catching a punt. T Lou Rymkus recovered at the Bills 43.
    Five plays later, Motley got away for 29y and six points. Browns 28 Bills 0
    The visitors finally got on the board thanks to a roughing the kicker penalty that kept a drive alive. Starting from their 20, the Bills faced 4th down at the 31. Jim Still punted, but the 15y penalty presented the visitors with a first down on their 46. Still hit with two nice passes, one to Bumgardner for 26 and the other to E Bill O'Connor for 19, the latter putting the pigskin on the 10. From there, Still threw to Alton Baldwin, who got his fingers on the ball, fumbled it, then regained possession with a desperation lunge in the EZ. Browns 28 Bills 7
    Dub Jones took the kickoff and traveled 46y to the Bills 29. That started Cleveland's only TD drive that didn't develop from an INT or fumble.
Marion Motley scores one of his three TDs.
Motley scores one of his three TDs.
  • Quarter 4
    The swirling snow made the simplest football tasks difficult.
    After Dub gained 2y around E, Motley, "the Negro fullback" as articles consistently referred to him, with the defense massed in the center, spun off a tackler and bounced around the outside for 31y and his second TD. Browns 35 Bills 7 less than a minute into the period.
    Coach Brown emptied his bench and called off the passing game. Yet his team still scored.
    Next it was Tommy Colella's turn to snare a pass. Starting from their 40, the Browns moved to pay dirt. Ollie Cline entered the game and rambled 20y on a trap. But he was injured on the place and replaced by Motley who soon gained 24. After Ara Parseghian (future Notre Dame coach) ran for 4 and Dean Sensanbaugher for 1, the Bills were penalized for offside. Marion then completed the drive by running wide around LE from the 5. Browns 42 Bills 7
    An unlikely source capped off the scoring for the Browns in the final minute when spectators lined the field and pelted the players with snowballs. After the Bills received the kickoff, captain and LB Lou Saban intercepted a short toss in the left flat and rambled 39y for the final TD, the first of his pro career. As he reached the EZ, he started to throw the ball into the bleachers, then changed his mind, and clutched it firmly as he trotted to the bench. The ball would undoubtedly go in his trophy case. Browns 49 Bills 7
Final statistics:
  • First downs: Browns 15 Bills 12
  • Yards rushing: Browns 40-215, Bills 33-63
  • Passing: Browns 26-11-1/118, Bills 26-11-5/104
  • Fumbles-Lost: Browns 6-3, Bills 3-3
  • Penalties: Browns 9-90, Bills 7-27

Mutryn, Buffalo's all-conference HB, was held to 8y in as many rushing attempts by the Brown D: Yonakor and Young at the ends; Chet Adams and Chubby Grigg, tackles; Weldon Humble and Bill Willis, guards; Saban at LB, and James, Colella, Tony Adamle, and Cliff Lewis in the secondary.

  • Brown said he was ready to meet the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles "any time and any place" but suggested the best time for a match of the newly-crowned kings be in an exhibition just before the 1949 season opens.
  • When asked if he would still be the boss of the Browns instead of taking a collegiate job as had been rumored, Paul answered, I don't know. Next season is pretty far off, and right now I'm thinking about a vacation in Florida.
  • On his FB, who scored three TDs: That Motley, he really was a snoot full, wasn't he? He's the greatest fullback in history, and that includes Bronko Nagurski.
  • On his team being ready to play: They were fired to the limit, as anxious as a kid to drive his dad's car for the first time.

Because of the small turnout, the players split just $68,967, about a third of the 1947 pot in Yankee Stadium.

  • The Browns took home $594.18 apiece.
  • The Bills earned $386.22 per man.
Articles on the title game in Monday's newspapers were accompanied by a piece on the meeting of five AAFC owners, including Arthur McBride of the Browns and Dan opping of the Yankees, with a corresponding group for the NFL in Philadelphia. For the first time, the two sides sat down at the same table together the day after the title games. The older league's representatives, much better prepared than the AAFC contingent, controlled the agenda. The NFL pitch was simple: They would welcome the Cleveland and San Francisco franchises but no others. While some AAFC owners were happy to go quietly into the dark night with no further losses, Buffalo and Baltimore wanted an opportunity to buy into an NFL franchise. But the NFL reps stuck to their guns - take it or leave it. No offer of a common draft was ever on the table. McBride and Tony Morabito of the 49ers stayed loyal to their colleagues. Unless everyone agreed to dissolve the AAFC, they would forego the opportunity to jump to the NFL. The joint statement after ten hours of stalemate held out hope that future meetings might provide some formula for a common understanding between the two leagues.

1948 AAFC Champion Cleveland Browns
1948 Cleveland Browns
References: History of the All-America Football Conference, David A. Bene (2005)
When All the World Was Browns Town, Terry Pluto (1997)
Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach, Andrew O'Toole (2008)
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