Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1950: Los Angeles Rams @ Cleveland Browns
This series covers the history of the NFL 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.

Dan Reeves

Tommy James

Warren Lahr

Bob Waterfield

Norm Van Brocklin

The NFL accepted three AAFC teams into its ranks for the 1950 season.
  • The Cleveland Browns, who won all four championships of the upstart league, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts became members of the older league.
  • The players on the AAFC New York Yankees were divided up between the New York Giants and the New York Bulldogs, the latter team changing its name to the New York Yanks.
  • The Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC merged with the Los Angeles Rams.
  • A portion of the Buffalo Bills roster was absorbed by the Browns.
  • A special draft was conducted by the NFL's 13 teams to allocate the remaining AAFC players.

The NFL divided itself into the American and National Conferences.

  • The American Conference included the Giants, Eagles, Steelers, and Red­skins from the former Eastern Division as well as the Cardinals and Browns.
  • The National Conference included four members of the former Western Confer­ence, the Rams, Bears, Lions, and Packers but added the Yanks (splitting up the New York teams), the 49ers, and the Colts, who were in reality the "swing" team that played each of the other teams once (except for the Bears).
  • With an odd number of teams, one club enjoyed a bye on each playing date.

Only two rules changes of any significance were enacted.

  • The free substitution rule, which had been reinstated for one year in '49, was made permanent. This opened the door to the specialization we take for granted today with separate offensive, defensive, and special teams units.
  • The other change decreed that a backwards pass or fumble that went out of bounds before it was recovered remained in the hands of the team that last had possession of the ball.

The main question circulating through the ranks of pro football teams and fans was, "How will the Browns do in the NFL?"

  • In a ploy that equals any by today's marketing-oriented NFL, the schedule mak­ers made sure the question could be answered quickly by sending the Browns to Philadelphia to play the NFL champion Eagles in the opening game for both teams. The fact that Cleveland won may not have shocked many, but the mar­gin of victory certainly did, 35-10 although Philly played without star RB Steve Van Buren. When the teams met in Cleveland December 3, the Browns won again 13-7. Irritated by the comment of Eagles coach Greasy Neale that "all they do is pass the ball," Paul Brown didn't call a single pass play.
  • The only team that beat the Browns was the Giants, who won 6-0 in the Big Apple and 17-13 in Cleveland. However, Steve Owen's team lost to the Steel­ers and Cardinals to tie the Browns for first in the American Conference. When the teams met December 17 at the Polo Grounds to determine the con­ference title, neither team scored a touchdown, but Cleveland won 8-3.
  • On the same day, the Rams and Bears faced off in Los Angeles for the Ameri­can title. The same scenario as in the American Conference prevailed in that Chicago upended LA in both meetings, 24-20 in Wrigley Field and 24-14 in the Coliseum in the only game all season in which LA failed to score at least three touchdowns. But, like the Browns, the Rams, aided by 90° heat, turned the tables on George Halas's club and also reversed the score of the previous game in the Coliseum, 24-14.
  • The American championship gave pleasure to new Rams coach Joe Stydahar. Despite taking the Rams to the championship game in '49, Clark Shaughnes­sy was fired by owner Dan Reeves the following February because of "internal friction" with assistant coaches, players, and staff. One source said Shaughnes­sy's constant tinkering with the playbook had taken a toll on the players. How­ever, Clark singled out Stydahar for backstabbing him. When Joe was named to replace him, Shaughnessy said, "Stydahar coach the Rams? I could take a high school team and beat him."
  • Even without T formation guru Shaughnessy leading them, LA set a record for points in a season with 466, scoring 43 or more points six times with 70 and 65 in back-to-back games.
    The Rams were the first franchise to televise all their home games. Bad idea. Attendance plummeted nearly 50% from 309,327 in '49 to 158,045. So owner Reeves decided not to televise the playoff game with the Bears. 83,501 packed the Coliseum. It would be many years before any NFL owner expressed a desire to televise home games.

Since the champion of the West Division (now the National Division) hosted the title game in '49, the American Conference winner got the honor in '50.

  • The Browns were playing in their fifth straight league championship game.
  • Paul Brown had changed a large percentage of his AAFC roster, adding rookies as well as former Buffalo Bills. But the core of the team remained the same.
  • The Browns were the first offense to use the entire width of the field in the passing game. Their halfbacks flared out wide for passes while the ends ran out patterns as well as the traditional routes across the middle.
  • QB Otto Graham continued to play at a high level, completing 54.2% of his passes for 1,943y, dividing the yardage evenly between his two favorite re­ceivers, Mac Speedie (42 catches/548y) and Dante Lavelli (37/565). Graham also liked to throw to Dub Jones out of the backfield (31/458). The rest of the team combined had only 29 receptions.
  • FB Marion Motley's 810y led the NFL in rushing with Jones a distant second at 384.
  • The Browns' defense led the league in fewest yards allowed and were second in points, just three behind Philadelphia.
  • The ball-hawking secondary was tied with three other teams with 31 intercep­tions, one behind the 1-11 Colts who had 34 simply because opponents threw the ball so much against them. Tommy James had nine picks while Warren Lahr snagged eight.

Los Angeles boasted the most prolific offense in pro football history but were not as good as the Browns on defense.

  • Styhadar continued Shaughnessy's policy of playing two quarterbacks, al­though Joe gave second-year-man Norm Van Brocklin half the starts with veteran Bob Waterfield. Despite playing part-time, Norm finished third in the NFL with 2,061y while Waterfield amassed 1,540.
  • Tom Fears led the league in receptions by a mile, with a record 84 catches, 32 more than the second place finisher. HB Glenn Davis, former Heisman Trophy winner for Army, and E Elroy Hirsch each grabbed 42 tosses.
  • The Rams spread out their rushing yardage among Davis (416y), FB Dick Hoerner (381), scatback Vitamin Smith (250), and Paul Barr (231). It's no wonder the 1950 Angelenos averaged 38.83 points per game, a record that still stands over 60 years later. Five Rams could run 100y in under ten seconds.
  • The Rams offense averaged 436.7y and 38.8ppg, both of which were almost double the league average.
    Offensive coach Hampton Pool explained how the Rams employed a "back­wards offense."
    "We reversed the usual procedure. Instead of our running setting up the pass­ing, our passing set up the runs, such as draws and the statue of liberty. ... Our QB would fake a pass and hand off to one of our quick little halfbacks on a reverse."
    Years later, "Crazylegs" Hirsch said: "Our 1950 Ram team was man for man as fine a football team as I've ever seen."
  • The Blue and Gold defense ranked 9th in points allowed and tenth in yardage.
  • The Browns allowed only 12ppg. So the title game would be a classic irresis­tible force vs. immovable object contest.
Rams Starting Offense

Coach Stydahar with (L-R): Don Paul, Tom Fears. Glenn Davis, and Dan Towler
As you would expect, the two title contenders placed a number of players on the All-Pro team as selected by the sportswriters of the league cities.
First Team Offense:
E Mac Speedie, FB Marion Motley
Second Team Offense:
T Lou Rymkus, G Lin Houston
First Team Defense:
G Bill Willis
Second Team Defense:
LB Lou Adamle
First Team Offense:
E Tom Fears
Second Team Offense:
C Fred Naumetz, FB Dick Hoerner
First Team Defense:
T Bob Reinhard
The two title contenders were the teams with the most Black players in the league: five each. The total of ten was more than the other 11 NFL teams combined.
1950 Los Angeles Rams
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
7 Bob Waterfield QB 6-1 200 UCLA 6
9 Paul Barry DB 6-0 208 Tulsa 1
10 Tom Keane E 6-1 190 Ohio State 3
11 Stan West G-C 6-2 235 Oklahoma 1
13 Tank Younger FB 6-3 225 Grambling State 2
17 George Sims DB 5-11 170 Baylor 2
20 Dick Huffman T 6-1 255 Tennessee 4
21 Art Statuto C 6-2 220 Notre Dame 3
22 Fred Naumetz C 6-1 222 Boston College 5
24 Tommy Kalmanir HB 5-8 170 Pittsburgh 2
25 Norm Van Brocklin QB 6-1 190 Oregon 2
27 Mike Lazetich G 6-1 210 Montana 6
30 Woodley Lewis DB 6-0 185 Oregon 1
31 Dick Hoerner FB 6-4 220 Iowa 4
32 Dan Towler FB 6-2 225 Washington & Jeff. 1
33 Jerry Williams HB 5-10 175 Idaho 2
34 Dave Stephenson G 6-2 232 Tennessee/WVU 1
35 Vic Vasicek G 5-11 223 USC/Texas 2
36 Ralph Pasquariello FB 6-2 237 Villanova 1
40 Elroy Hirsch E 6-2 190 Wisconsin 5
41 Glenn Davis HB 5-9 172 Army 1
44 Harry Thompson G 6-2 225 UCLA 1
54 Bob Reinhard T 6-4 235 California 5
55 Tom Fears E 6-2 215 Santa Clara 3
56 Jack Zilly E 6-2 212 Notre Dame 4
57 Don Paul LB 6-1 228 UCLA 3
58 Jack Finlay G 6-1 217 UCLA 4
63 Larry Brink E 6-5 236 Northern Illinois 3
66 Gil Bouley T 6-2 235 Boston College 6
77 Vitamin Smith HB 5-8 180 Abilene Christian 2
79 Bill Smyth E 6-3 243 Notre Dame 4
80 Bob Boyd E/DB 6-2 200 Loyola Marymount 1
86 Ed Champagne T 6-3 235 LSU 4
1950 Cleveland Browns
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
20 Hal Herring C 6-1 210 Auburn 2
22 Frank Gatski* C 6-3 233 Marshall 5
24 Tommy Thompson C 6-1 221 William & Mary 2
30 Bill Willis* G 6-2 213 Ohio State 5
32 Lin Houston* G 6-0 213 Ohio State 5
34 Abe Gibron G 5-11 243 Valparaiso/Purdue 2
35 Alex Agase G 5-10 212 Purdue 4
38 Weldon Humble G 6-1 221 Rice 4
42 Derrell Palmer T 6-2 240 TCU 5
44 Lou Rymkus* T 6-4 231 Notre Dame 6
45 John Kissell DT 6-3 245 Boston College 3
46 Lou Groza* T 6-3 240 Ohio State 5
48 Forrest Grigg T 6-2 294 Tulsa 5
49 John Sandusky DT 6-1 250 Villanova 1
50 Jim Martin G 6-2 227 Notre Dame 1
52 George Young* E 6-3 214 Baldwin-Wallace 5
53 Len Ford DE 6-4 245 Morgan St./Michigan 3
56 Dante Lavelli* E 6-0 191 Ohio State 5
58 Mac Speedie* E 6-3 203 Utah 5
59 Horace Gillom E 6-1 221 Ohio State 4
60 Otto Graham* QB 6-1 196 Northwestern 5
62 Cliff Lewis* DB 5-11 170 Duke 5
70 Emerson Cole FB 6-2 215 Toledo 1
74 Tony Adamle FB 6-0 215 Ohio State 4
76 Marion Motley* FB 6-1 232 South Carolina St. 5
80 Warren Lahr HB 5-11 189 Western Reserve 2
82 Tommy James DB 5-10 185 Ohio State 4
84 Ken Carpenter DB 6-0 195 Oregon State 1
85 Ken Gorgal DB 6-2 200 Purdue 1
86 Dub Jones HB 6-4 202 LSU/Tulane 5
90 Rex Bumgardner HB 5-11 193 West Virginia 3
92 Dom Moselle DB 6-0 192 Wisconsin-Superior 1
94 Don Phelps DB 5-11 185 Kentucky 1
The Browns and Rams hadn't met in the regular season.
  • So scoping the game was a challenge. Oddsmakers installed the Browns as 3 1/2 point favorites.
  • The forecast for the 1:30 kickoff called for cloudy and continued mild (mean­ing temperatures near 40°), with no rain or snow in sight. Groundskeeper Emil Bossard said the hard crust covering the field since early in the month might be softened enough to permit the use of football shoes.
  • To the visitors from sunny California, that sounded like as good a prospectus as they could expect. After floundering in the slop on their home field in the '49 final against Philadelphia, they needed a firm, fast track for their vaunt­ed passing game.
  • Only three members of the 1950 Rams had been members of the 1945 Cleve­land team that beat the Redskins for the NFL championship: Water­field, T Gil Bouley, and G Mike Lazetich.
  • Many NFL old timers probably thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if the NFL team that abandoned Cleveland for the West Coast gave the current Cleveland team its comeuppance?"
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Harold Sauerbrei recalled Paul Brown's words to his troops when he assembled his first Browns team in 1946. "Gentlemen, our goal is to become in football what the New York Yankees are to base­ball, what Ben Hogan is to golf." Eleven players who heard those words were still with the club. (They are marked by asterisks in the roster above.)
  • Two defensive starters would play with injuries: LE George Young and LB Tony Adamle. E Mac Speedie had a pulled hamstring but would try to play. He could run once he warmed up but tightened up when he had to stand on the cold sidlines.
  • Some said that a loss to the Rams would invalidate the Browns' four AAFC crowns and their American Conference championships. Brown wanted to leave no doubt that his club was the best in football. Nevertheless, his final state­ment to the press was: "Regardless of what happens, there'll be no regrets. We're playing a really great team and win or lose we'll have a Merry Christ­mas Monday."
  • The Rams reported no major injuries. However, they kept hidden the fact that Van Brocklin had suffered a broken rib in the playoff against Chicago the week before. Stydahar revealed that two of his players who were fulfilling their military obligations, George Sims and Paul Barry, were flying in from Fort Ord CA to participate in the clash. Joe released this statement: "We're as ready as we'll ever be. It'll be a great ball game."
  • Commissioner Bert Bell announced that the radio and television receipts for the title clash would total $45,000, which was $15,000 more than any previ­ous year. However, the game would be blacked out within a 75-mile radius of Cleve­land. Also, the coaxial cable had not yet reached the West Coast. So Los Angeles would receive only the radio broadcast. Bell also stated that sudden-death overtime would be used if the game ended in a tie.

Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoon day of sixth straight title game a Cleveland team played in
The weather forecast turned out to have been overly optimistic.
  • Amid intermittent snow flurries, a 28 mph wind blew in from Lake Erie and the temperature barely reached 30. Mounds of snow were piled up outside the sidelines.
  • The ground stayed frozen, forcing the Browns to wear rubber-soled sneakers. Coach Stydahar told his equipment manager to shave the players' cleats shorter and sharper. However, during warm-ups, the referee checked the shoes and ruled them illegal. So the visitors changed into regulation cleats. Four Rams wore sneakers.
  • A disappointing but enthusiastic crowd of 29,751 witnessed a game that lived up to its hype. Never before had such a collection of receivers peopled a grid­iron. The teams produced one of the greatest games ever, with thrills literally from the first play to the last.
Quarter 1
The Browns won the toss but elected to kickoff to take the wind at their backs. They would quickly regret that decision. Lou Groza kicked off wearing a basketball shoe on his left foot and a football shoe without cleats on his kicking foot. Verda "Vitamin T" Smith, who had three return touchdowns on the season, ran the kickoff back 13y to the 18.
Giants Coach Steve Owen had invented the "umbrella" defense to stop the dynamic passing attack of the Browns. Owen's brain child was a 6-1-4 alignment in which either or both of the ends dropped back into pass coverage. His team toppled Cleve­land in both their regular season meetings, 6-0 and 17-13. And it nearly worked again in the American Conference playoff game the week before. The Browns failed to score a touchdown but eked out an 8-3 victory thanks to their own defense's magnificent effort.
During the week of the title game, Brown talked freely to the press about utilizing the same approach against the Rams' high-powered offense. He wanted LA to waste time preparing for the umbrella defense but planned to show it for just a few plays before reverting to the Browns' base defense.
Rams offensive coach Hampton Pool had a special play ready to take ad­vantage of Cleveland's umbrella defense. QB Bob Waterfield lined up his offense in a standard T formation as shown in the diagram at the right, then sent the RHB Tommy Kalma­nir in motion to the right. LE Tom Fears sprinted toward the middle, forcing RCB Warren Lahr to move over to cover him. That left RLB Alex Agase to cover any back out of the backfield. After pretending to block, LHB Glenn Davis rolled out of the backfield and sped past Agase. Waterfield tossed the ball 30y downfield to Davis who took it in full stride and galloped the remaining 55y for the touchdown. Water­field toed the PAT after only 27 seconds of playing time. Rams 7 Browns 0
Paul Brown was not happy. He prided himself on preparing for everything the oppo­nents could throw at him. Now his defense had made costly mental mistakes on the very first play.
Graham: "When Paul was mad, he wasn't like Lombardi. He never scream­ed or yelled. But, oh, how he could burn a hole in you with his eyes. He just had a certain look."
Brown scrapped the 5-3-3 defense sooner than expected – after one play. He told DE Len Ford to get ready to go in the next time LA had the ball. Joining Cleveland after two years with the Los Angeles Dons, Ford hadn't played since October 15 after suffering a fractured jaw and cheekbone when Chicago Cardinals FB Pat Harder slugged him in the face. With his mouth wired shut and forced to take food through a straw for a good while, Len lost 15 pounds. Ford wasn't sup­posed to play but, with his team facing an uphill battle, he begged his coach to put him in. Given the OK, he donned his helmet with a special plastic padded face mask and headed into the fray the next time the Rams got the ball.

Graham runs.

Ken Carpenter ran the kickoff back 20y to the 30. Graham sent a man in motion to the right and lateraled a long pitchout to Motley, who tried to follow the motion man around right end. But the big fullback gained only 2y. The Rams would key on Marion all day, holding him to just 9y in six attempts. A short pass to Dub Jones at the sideline put the ball on the 42. After hitting Lavelli to the 47, Otto tried a screen to Motley, but the Rams were all over him for a loss of two. Next, Graham ran out of pocket to his left for a 22y gain to the 31. Back in the pocket after the next snap, Otto stepped to his right to avoid the rush and threw a beautiful pass to Jones who caught the ball over his shoulder in the end zone two steps behind the defender and ran into the snow­bank behind the end line. Groza converted with 11:50 left in the period. Rams 7 Browns 7

Rams swarm Marion Motley.
Cleveland again bottled up Smith on the kickoff return, downing him at the 19. Waterfield retreated to let the rush come in and flipped out to right flat to Smith to the 26. On second down, Waterfield just got the ball away incomplete as the rush engulfed him. Davis took a long pitch­out around left end to the 34 for a first down. Bob connected with his favorite receiver, Fears, for 44y to the 32. The Rams then went to the ground attack. After five plays gained 13y, Smith followed LG Jack Finlay for a 16y gain to the three. From there, 210lb FB Hoerner smashed into the end zone with 7:05 on the clock. Rams 14 Browns 7

Hoerner plunges over from the three.
The offensive fireworks continued as Cleveland started on their 35 after the kickoff and marched to their second touchdown after the teams changed ends. Rams 14 Browns 7

Quarter 2
For this drive, Paul Brown sent his halfbacks wide and kept ends Speedie and Lavelli in tight so they could work over the middle between the safeties. The drive was aided by a pass interference call against rookie DB Woodley Lewis on Speedie. Graham went back to Mac for 17 to the 26. After a sack back to the LA 37, Otto saw that the Rams had triple-covered Speedie. So he threw to Lavelli, who split the seam between two defenders, caught the ball in the clear and ran into the end zone carrying the ball against his body with both arms. Everyone expected the Browns to tie the score, but Tommy James was unable to handle the high snap. He recovered the ball and ran to the right. Tony Adamle, the blocker on the right edge of the line, ran into the end zone. Seeing him open, James threw the ball, but Tony stumbled, and the spheroid bounced off his fingers. Rams 14 Browns 13

Lavelli scores the Browns second touchdown
The Rams, with Waterfield throwing to Fears and Hirsch and handing to Hoerner on delays, traps, and even a Statue of Liberty play, drove to the Cleveland seven. But after a holding penalty back to the 26, Waterfield underthrew Fears over the middle, and DB Ken Gorgal snagged the low throw at the 16 and returned to the 49.
But the Browns went backwards, losing 12 on three plays before punting. Horace Gillom, who averaged 43.2y on 66 punts, took the snap but, with Rams coming hard, hurried the kick, which went a mere 9y to put LA in business on the Cleveland 46.
Undaunted by the interception, Waterfield hit Fears for 10 and Hirsch for 8y. He tried the Statue of Liberty play again, but DE Len Ford sniffed it out and threw Smith for a 14y loss. A pass to Fears, one of nine he snared that afternoon, and a personal foul on the defense moved the Rams to the 10 where they faced 3rd-and-eight. Bob called a quarterback draw but gained only two. So he set up for what should have been an easy 15y field goal. But, pushed by the wind, the ball sailed wide.
Waterfield couldn't remember missing a field goal that close.
: "When it looked like they were going to have to settle for three, we were kind of cele­brating. We had no idea they'd come away with nothing."
When the half ended soon after, the thoroughly outplayed Browns ran in happy to be down only one point. Halftime score: Rams 14 Browns 13
Quarter 3
The Browns would play the second half without Speedie, who could barely straighten out his leg after the intermission. Gillom took his place at wideout, and Graham worked him into the attack immediately with a screen pass good for 29y to the Rams 44. Three plays later from the 39, Otto arched a pass over the outstretched hand of DB Tom Keane to Lavelli for the touchdown to put Cleveland back in front. Groza got a chance to kick the extra point this time. Browns 20 Rams 14
Hampton Pool: "The Browns hurt us a lot by isolating their inside ends, Lavelli and Speedie, on our two safeties. Lavelli got a touchdown when Graham had both his halfbacks flare wide out of the backfield." (See diagram at right.) "This occupied our halfbacks. Then Speedie (or his replacement) hooked, to hold one of our safeties, and Lavelli ran a deep post on the other safety. No one man could cover this, if the ball were thrown straight. And Graham was very good at hanging the ball up and letting his receiver run under it."
The Browns' offensive adjustments at halftime had worked, but the defensive changes made no difference as Waterfield and Company quickly answered back. Passes to Smith and Fears registered two more first downs. Then Smith received a strike for 38y to the 17. As he had done on the earlier drive, Waterfield now gave his throwing arm a rest and handed off to Hoerner seven consecutive times, ending with a 1y fourth-down plunge into the end zone. Waterfield's PAT made it Rams 21 Browns 20.

Hoerner scores from the one.
Within 21 seconds, the visitors scored again as Motley's bad day got worse. After a touchback on the kickoff, Graham pitched out to his fullback, who cut outside to his right and finally found some daylight. But after gaining 8y, Marion reversed field, looking for an opening that he never found. He retreated all the way to the 14 where ends Larry Brink and Jack Zilly led an assault of tack­lers that knocked the ball loose. Brink scooped up the loose pigskin on the seven and ran into the end zone. Waterfield came in and kicked the point. Rams 28 Browns 20
With no two-point conversion available in those days, the Browns needed to shut down the po­tent LA offense and get two scores of their own. But they gained only five yards in three downs against a defense that was smelling blood in the water.
When the Rams got the ball back after a punt with a chance to seal the championship, Lahr intercepted Waterfield's pass at the coffin corner and returned it to the Browns 35 shortly before the period ended. Rams 28 Browns 20

Quarter 4
With the Rams secondary sitting back to protect against the long strike, Graham completed nine passes, including five short ones to Lavelli near the sidelines. As Brown later said, "The defenders couldn't afford to come up fast, or Graham would have faked a quick one and thrown deep." Along the way, Otto ran for 3y to keep the drive alive on fourth down. Finally, from the 14, the Cleve­land quarterback saw that Rex Bumgardner had gotten a step on LB Fred Naumetz. So Gra­ham threw a low, wide pass that Rex snagged at his shoe tops in the end zone before tumbling out of bounds. Groza converted. Rams 28 Browns 27
The Rams needed to churn out first downs and run the clock. But Ford would have none of it. On consecutive plays, he tackled Smith for a 14y loss, sacked Waterfield for another 11, and topped off the possession by snaring Davis on a sweep to force a punt.
But once again, the Browns could not move. So Gillom's foot launched a rocket 68y to make the Rams start deep in their territory at their 20.
Deciding for some reason that he needed to open up again with five minutes to play, Waterfield went to the air, but LB Tommy Thompson made a diving interception at the LA 47.
Graham hit Jones with a 22y toss into field goal range, sending the fans into a frenzy. Deter­mined to move closer on the cold, windy day, Otto bootlegged around left end to the 21 but fumbled when hit from behind by Milan Lazetich, who recovered the loose ball on the 24. You couldn't blame the Cleveland fans if they viewed the turnover as the last nail in the coffin of their championship hopes. It turned many a stomach to think their heroes might lose because of the missed extra point in the second period.
Graham recalled, "I never saw the guy coming. I wanted to die right there. It could have cost us the game. I wanted to dig a hole right in the middle of that stadium, crawl into it, and bury myself forever. I figured that fumble cost us the game. I got to the sidelines and wanted to hide, but Paul came over, put his arm around my shoulder and said, 'Don't worry. We'll get it back. We're going to win.'"
The Rams took their time in the huddle, using as many seconds as possible before snapping the ball. Twice Hoerner butted into a squirming pack at center and twice he was held to no gain. Next, Davis slithered off right tackle but made only 6y, forcing a punt. Waterfield got the kick away, a magnificent boot 54y into the wind that Cliff Lewis returned 13y, running out of bounds at the 32 to stop the clock.
Only 1:48 remained as Graham led his offense onto the field. He was determined to make amends for his fumble but had to stay cool to avoid another mistake as he executed what would later become known as the "Two Minute Drill."
Hirsch: "I was sent in to play in the deep secondary because we knew that Graham had to throw the ball. But when a field is that slippery, all the advantage is with offense. The defensive linemen can't get a good rush, and the receivers, who know where they're going, can leave their defenders flat-footed."
Unable to find a receiver, Otto showed why he is rated as one of the best running quarterbacks in history. He weaved his way through the defenders for 16y, stepping out at the 48. Next, he threw to Bumgardner in the left flat for 13 to the Rams 39 where Rex wisely ran out of bounds. Moving quickly as the fans shouted "Go, go!", Graham threw an incompletion, which at least stopped the clock. Then he shot a pass to Jones in the right flat for 16 to the 23 and followed that with another quickie to Bumgardner for a first down at the 11 with 0:45 on the clock. With the fans pleading for Groza's field goal act, the Brownscalled timeout. Assistant coach Blanton Collier in the press box talked by phone to the Browns sideline and asked for the timeout to tell Graham to sneak the ball to the right to move the pigskin to the middle of the field for the field goal try into the open end of the stadium where the wind swirled. Brown agreed and told his quarterback the plan.
Collier recalled: "I lived one hundred years for the next few seconds because all of a sudden it dawned on me. 'You crazy nut! You have the ball down there now, and you want to take a chance on someone fumbling it on this frozen ground just to move it in a little better position.'"
40 years later, Graham laughed at Collier's fear. "Are you kidding? After losing that one fumble, there was no way. You couldn't have gotten that ball away from me with a blowtorch."
Otto took the snap, lowered his right shoulder with the ball clutched firmly to his chest, and sneaked diagonally to the right to the 10. As the last half minute ticked off, the Browns field goal team came out. A hush fell over the stadium as the teams lined up. Holder Tommy James knelt at the 16, the same spot, ironically, where Waterfield had missed earlier.
Meanwhile, Groza was the coolest customer in the stadium. "I wasn't nervous. The only thing I thought about was my own little checklist for kicking a ball. I didn't hear the crowd. I blotted out the distance, the time left, even the score. All I had to do was to kick the ball."
Collier said Groza was a creature of routine. "He could kick fifty balls (in practice), and you'd only see one set of cleat marks."
Would the Browns botch the snap as they had on their second PAT try back in the second quar­ter? The pass from C Hal Herring was on the mark, James set it up, and "The Toe" booted it through. Browns 30 Rams 28
The fans stormed the field, but the game wasn't over. 20 seconds remained.
After the field was cleared, Groza kicked off. Jerry Williams nearly gave Browns fans a heart attack as he took the ball on his 12 and raced 35y, shedding tackler after tackler, before Groza took him down to save the day.
Needing what today would be called a "Hail Mary pass," Stydahar asked his long passer Van Brocklin, "Can you throw deep?" Norm replied, "Maybe one or two times." So in he went, broken rib and all, for the first time all day. The Dutchman took the snap and dropped back 7y to let his receivers go long before letting fly. The ball traveled 55y in the direction of Davis running down the sideline. But Lahr had West Point's "Mr. Outside" tightly covered and caught the ball over his shoulder at the 13 as if he were the intended receiver. Davis wrapped his arms around War­ren and tried to wrestle the ball away from him as he pushed all the way into the end zone and out of bounds. Everyone stood motionless as the officials huddled to make the call. If Davis gained joint possession, the Rams could try a short field goal to win. Or would the officials rule it an interception and a safety, giving the visitors a tie to force overtime?
Graham waited on the sidelines with everyone else. "It was terrible. We didn't know what the referee was going to call. We were sure Lahr had intercepted. But what if they gave Davis the ball and a touchdown? And what if they called it a safety or something? That would have been two points and a tie game."
Finally, the referee signaled interception in the field of play.
FINAL SCORE: Browns 30 Rams 28

As soon as the victory became official, Browns fans surged onto the field again.

  • They tore down the goal posts at the end of the field where Lahr's game-saving play occurred.
  • Fans in the center field bleachers built a bonfire from waste paper.
  • Herring, the last Brownie off the field, was surrounded by hundreds of milling fans who ripped his shirt to shreds.

Groza's winning kick
Final statistics:
  • First downs: Browns 22 Rams 22
  • Yards rushing: Browns 25-116 Rams 36-106
  • Passing: Browns 33-22-1/298 Rams 32-18-5/312
  • Return yardage: Browns 5-80 Rams 7-140
  • Fumbles-Lost: Browns 3-3 Rams 0-0
  • Penalties: Browns 3-25 Rams 4-48
  • Punting average: Browns 5-38.4 Rams 4-50.8

Sporting News cartoon
When the Browns reached their dressing room, Tony Adamle, who had taken over the captain's role when Lou Saban retired after the 1949 season, gathered the team. "Fellows, this is Christmas eve. We have plenty to be thankful for. I don't believe we won this ball game all by ourselves. Let's pause for a minute of silence, during which I'd like to have each of you offer thanks, and a little prayer, each in his own way." The squad bowed their heads for a few moments before erupting.
Tackle coach Weeb Ewbanks, who would savor championships with the Colts and Jets, roared: "These kids just wouldn't admit they were licked!"
Stoic Paul Brown, his battered hat mashed flat by exultant fans, didn't hide his emotions. "There never was a game like this one. This one will be remembered a long time. We're very proud. They're as good and game a team as we ever played. It took a little bit of luck to win one like that, and we had it. ... I never gave up. There has never been a team like this one. There never was a game like this one. Next to my wife and my family, these guys are my life."
Asked why the Browns didn't go for a touchdown in the final minute, Paul replied: "We had the ball, with a first down, on the Rams' 12, but the clock was running out. We have the greatest placekicker in the world in Lou Groza. So we sent in word to run one play to the right, with QB Otto Graham handling the ball, to get it right in front of the goal posts. Otto did a good job of it, and Lou booted the ball for the three points we needed. And that was the ball game. We felt we could hold the Rams after the kickoff ...And speaking of those three points, I'd like to pay tribute to Ernie Godfrey of Ohio State, the finest teacher of placekicking I've ever known. Ernie taught Lou the art of placekicking when Groza was a freshman ..., and I'll be eternally grateful to him for it."
When Graham stripped off his jersey, the physical beating he had taken from the huge LA line­men was plain to see. His face displayed cuts and bruises, and he limped on a twisted knee. "Somebody hit me in the back toward the end of the first half, he said. I thought I was going to fold up right there. My knee buckled, but luckily it didn't stiffen up. It's just getting stiff now. It'll probably be plenty sore tomorrow."
on his winning kick: "Honestly, I wasn't nervous. Not any more than last week" (in the 8-3 playoff win over the Giants).
Groza didn't act like a hero. "There really wasn't a formal celebration. Me, personally, I got in my car and drove to Martins Ferry, where my parents lived. The next day was Christmas. It was a long drive. Next day, in the afternoon, people found out I was home. And they drove me around in the fire engine."

Lou Groza kissing his shoe with Paul Brown and Browns' owner Mickey McBride
Few of the Rams wanted to talk.
Waterfield: "It was just one of those things."
: "You've got to hand it to a ball club like the Browns. They won simply because they refused to quit." In response to a question, Joe said he didn't consider the weather an important factor. "Just say it was a hellulva good ball club that beat us."
When reporters followed the team to their chartered bus, Joe shooed them away. "Please let the boys alone."
Commissioner Bell, visiting both teams, called the contest "the greatest football game I ever saw. In Los Angeles, we probably have the finest personnel any professional club ever boasted. But in the Cleveland Browns, we probably have the most intensely coached club in history. This was an instance in which a magnificently coached club, which just wouldn't give up, overcame great opposition. The Browns overlook no detail in coaching or preparation for a game - they are ready for anything, and they have that extra something of which champions are made.
"I would like to pay tribute to Joe Stydahar ... who did a great job in his first year as head of the Rams. He did an outstanding job, and we'll be hearing from him in the future. It was unfortunate that one of those two truly great teams had to lose."
The consensus in the press box agreed with Bert. "There has never been one like it, and probably there never will be."

The players split 70% of the net receipts of $108,160.

  • Each Brown made $1,113.
  • Each member of the losing Rams took home $686.
    When the Rams plane landed in Los Angeles at 4 AM, someone asked Waterfield how he felt. "Like I owe everybody on this team $750," he said. He was probably thinking about the three interceptions he threw as well as the missed chip shot field goal.
References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
NFL Top 40: The Greatest Pro Football Games of All Time, Shelby Strother (1988)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, selected by Chris McDonell (2004)
100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History, Joe Garner and Bob Costas (2011)
Pro Football Championships before the Super Bowl: A Year-by-Year History, 1926-1965, Joseph S. Page (2011)
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