Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1955: Cleveland Browns @ Los Angeles Rams
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.

Ron Waller


Tank Younger


Norm Van Brocklin


Bob Gain

The NFL enacted two new rules affecting play in 1955.
  • The ball is dead immediately when the ball carrier touches the ground with any part of his body except his hands or feet while in the grasp of an oppo­nent. This changed the long-standing rule that the ball carrier could get up and continue running if the whistle had not blown. That possibility had been used to excuse rampant piling on.
  • A new exception was made in regard to scoring a safety: When a defender intercepts a pass and his momentum carries him into his own end zone, and he is stopped before returning the ball back into the field of play, then the ball will be put in play at the spot of the interception.

The Los Angeles Rams returned to the top of the Western Division after four years.

  • The offense of first-year coach Sid Gillman produced 4,004y, second only to the Bears.
  • The Rams started strong, winning the first three, and finished strong, taking the last three to finish 8-3-1 and a half-game ahead of Chicago, who had beaten L.A. both times they played.
  • The Lions didn't recover from their 56-10 thrashing in the '54 title game and sank to last place in the West with a dismal 3-9 record. "Sooner or later it has to happen to every coach," said Buddy Parker, "unless his name is Paul Brown."
  • Although Gillman was known as a passing guru, the Rams ran the ball much better. Ron Waller and Tank Younger combined for 1,360y. That allowed the club to overcome a relatively poor year by QB Norm Van Brocklin, who threw 15 INTs but only 8 TD passes.

The Browns were no slouches offensively themselves.

  • Cleveland finished just 34y behind the Rams but led the league with 349 points thanks to the return of Otto Graham from the retirement he began after the Pro Bowl in January.
  • Watching George Raterman at QB in preseason practice and in the defeat against the College All-Stars, Brown decided he needed to get one more year out of Otto, who was only 33. A $25,000 contract, which made Graham the highest paid player in the league, finalized the deal.
  • With the league's stingiest defense (18.2 ppg), Cleveland won the East by a game and a half over the 'Skins (9-2-1 to 8-4).

The Browns were established as 6 1/2 point favorites.

  • Coach Brown told the press upon arrival in L.A.: To come this far in tough competition, both teams have to be good. The one that makes the big plays - the great catch, the long run - will win. He also hinted that the Rams might be in for some surprises. We managed to work on several new things. They aren't anything drastic, and naturally I can't talk about them now.
  • Gillman cited stopping Graham's long passing as his greatest concern. The figures show that the Browns were primarily a running team this season, and yet about half of their touchdowns were made passing. Graham threw for 15 touchdowns; so you can see why we're worried about his long passes.
  • The weather forecast changed from fair to the possibility of showers. Brown didn't fear the rain. After that snow and cold in Cleveland, I can't see that rain should bother us. The field has been covered, and footing should be good.
  • The Browns were in good shape physically. Bob Gain, who had been both­ered by a sprained ankle, would start at MG, and HB John Petitborn and P Horace Gillom were fully recovered from the flu.
  • The Rams had coped with a lengthy hospital list all season. So why should the final game be any exception? Husky C Leon McLaughlin was uncertain for the Rams after being felled by the mumps but he would get out of his sick bed and handle every snap of the title game. Deacon Dan Towler would replace Tank Younger in the backfield. E Bob Boyd, a 9.5 speedster, would return to give Van Brocklin another deep threat.
  • NBC paid $100,000 to replace DuMont as the national television network for the NFL Championship Game. (DuMont would last only one more year before folding.)

L-R: Coach Sid Gillman, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Bob Boyd

Cleveland was a confident bunch on the seven-and-a-half hour flight to Los Angeles.

  • Despite being hampered in practice by bad weather in Cleveland during the week, the Browns ran through a light workout upon their arrival Sunday (the game being played on Monday, the day after Christmas) with no hint of anxiety.
  • All season long, Graham suffered from anxiety on game day, usually eating just a candy bar for breakfast. But as the team waited for the bus to the Coliseum for what he had insisted would be his last game, Otto sat alone in the hotel lobby studying his mimeographed play sheets with no problem keeping his breakfast down.
  • Even Brown, a notorious worry wart, was relaxed and smiling during warm­ups before kickoff.
1955 Cleveland Browns
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
14 Otto Graham QB 6-1 195 Northwestern 10
16 George Ratterman QB 6-0 192 Notre Dame 9
20 Don Paul S 6-0 187 Washington State 6
22 Ken Konz DB 5-10 182 LSU 3
24 Warren Lahr DB 5-11 192 Western Reserve 7
26 Ray Renfro HB 6-1 185 North Texas State 4
30 Maurice Bassett FB 6-1 230 Langston 2
32 Fred Morrison FB 6-2 215 Ohio State 5
34 Walt Michaels LB 6-0 232 Washington & Lee 5
36 Ed Modzelewski FB 6-0 215 Maryland 4
40 Dub Jones HB 6-4 200 LSU/Tulane 10
42 Tommy James DB 5-10 185 Ohio State 8
44 Johnny Petitbon HB 5-11 185 Notre Dame 3
45 Bob Smith KR 5-10 195 Nebraska 1
50 Sam Palumbo C 6-2 225 Notre Dame 1
52 Frank Gatski C 6-3 240 Marshall 10
54 Pete Perini LB 6-0 225 Ohio State 2
60 Harold Bradley G 6-2 230 Iowa 2
62 Herschel Forester G 6-0 230 SMU 2
64 Abe Gibron G 5-11 245 Valparaiso/Purdue 7
65 Chuck Noll G 6-1 218 Dayton 3
70 John Kissell T 6-3 245 Boston College 8
74 Mike McCormack T 6-4 245 Kansas 5
76 Lou Groza T 6-3 240 Ohio State 10
78 John Sandusky T 6-1 255 Villanova 6
79 Bob Gain DT 6-3 256 Kentucky 4
80 Len Ford DE 6-4 254 Morgan St./Michigan 8
82 Carlton Massey DE 6-4 220 Southwestern (TX) 2
83 Chuck Weber E 6-1 230 West Chester 1
84 Horace Gillom E 6-1 225 Ohio State/Nevada 9
86 Dante Lavelli E 6-0 192 Ohio State 10
88 Warren Brewster E 6-3 205 Purdue 4
Rosters from newspapers the day of the game.
1955 Los Angeles Rams
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
9 Billy Wade QB 6-2 200 Vanderbilt 2
11 Norm Van Brocklin QB 6-1 190 Oregon 7
20 Woodley Lewis KR 6-0 185 Oregon 6
21 Skeets Quinlan HB 5-11 175 TCU/San Diego State 4
23 Tom McCormick HB 5-11 185 Pacific 3
25 Don Burroughs DB 6-4 190 Colorado State 1
27 Ron Waller HB 5-11 180 Maryland 1
31 Larry Morris LB 5-11 175 Loyola Marymount 5
32 Dan Towler FB 6-2 225 Washington & Jefferson 6
35 Tank Younger FB 6-3 225 Grambling State 7
40 Elroy Hirsch HB 6-2 190 Wisconsin/Michigan 10
41 Jim Cason DB 6-0 170 LSU 8
43 Will Sherman DB 6-2 190 St. Mary's (CA) 4
48 Corky Taylor DB 5-10 190 Kansas State 1
49 Ed Hughes DB 6-1 185 North Car. St./Tulsa 2
50 Leon McLaughlin C 6-2 230 UCLA 5
57 Bob Griffin LB 6-3 235 Arkansas 3
60 Jack Ellena MG 6-1 225 UCLA 1
61 Duane Putnam G 6-0 230 Pacific 4
62 Bud McFadin DT 6-3 260 Texas 4
63 John Hock G 6-2 230 Santa Clara 6
65 Art Hauser T 6-0 235 Xavier (OH) 2
67 Les Richter G 6-3 240 California 2
68 Sid Fournet G 6-0 235 LSU 1
70 Charlie Toogood T 6-0 230 Nebraska 5
71 Frank Fuller G 6-4 245 Kentucky 3
73 Bobby Cross T 6-4 240 S. F. Austin 4
78 Gene Lipscomb DT 6-6 285 None 3
79 Glenn Holtzman T 6-3 250 North Texas 1
80 Tom Fears E 6-2 215 Santa Clara/UCLA 8
81 Paul Miller DE 6-2 225 LSU 2
82 Bob Boyd E 6-2 200 Loyola Marymount 6
84 Andy Robustelli E 6-1 230 Arnold 5


Otto Graham


Ed Hughes


Warren Lahr


Tommy James


Billy Wade



A championship game record crowd of 85,695 in the Los Angeles Coliseum saw the teams warm up with the sun shining and finish the game in a misty rain.
  • Quarter 1
    With a haze enveloping the stadium, the lights were turned on. Although the field had been covered with a tarpaulin for four days, the turf was soft and soggy and was soon cut to shreds.
    The Rams won the toss and elected to receive. After Ron Waller returned Lou Groza's kick to the 20, Van Brocklin attempted three straight passes without coming close to a completion. So he punted.
    Cleveland suffered a setback during the first series when LB Chuck Noll left with an injury to his left leg. Sam Palumbo, a Cleveland native, plugged the gap in fine style.
    The Rams tried to stop the Browns' passing attack with a zone defense, but Graham adapted to it in a hurry. The Browns started rolling and reeled off two first downs to the LA 38. FB Ed (Big Mo) Modzelewski carried the brunt of the attack receiving and running on five straight plays. Facing 4th and 1 at the LA 29, Otto tried to cross up the Rams by throwing a long pass to Ray Renfro streaking down the right side. But Ed Hughes ran with the WR stride for stride and intercepted in the EZ.
    The Rams started moving behind strong running by Towler (15y up the middle) and Waller (another 13 around RE) interspersed with some sharp Van Brocklin passes. But Van's next pass went too high and off the fingertips of Volney "Skeets" Quinlan into the hands of DB Kenny Konz, who returned it 12y to the 24, the line of scrimmage. Gillman later said, If Quinlan had held the ball, we would have had the touchdown, I believe. Getting out in front early means plenty.
    After FB Fred Morrison gained 5, a Graham to Lavelli pass-run landed the Browns on the LA 39. After a series of ground plays moved the ball to the 25. But the advance ran out of gas, and Groza booted a FG from the 26. Browns 3 Rams 0 with 2:22 left in the period.
    Van Brocklin hit Fears for 16y to the 46. The Rams couldn't pierce the Browns' defense any further. So Van punted 45y to the 8 as time ran out.
    Browns 3 Rams 0
  • Quarter 2
    The Browns gained only 9 and punted to the LA 48.
    LA ripped off a quick first down on a pass to Quinlan. On 3rd-and-2, LB Don Paul, obtained from the Cardinals in the off-season, batted a Van Brocklin pass into the air, caught it on the way down, and ran up the sideline untouched 65y to pay dirt. The runback broke the playoff INT return record of 45y set by teammate Len Ford the year before. Browns 10 Rams 0 after 4:12 of the period.
    The Rams struck on the second play after the kickoff. Looking for a chance to redeem himself, Quinlan went straight down the field at top speed while Konz and Warren Lahr played Alphonse and Gaston. As a result, there was no one within 5y of Skeets as he gathered in Van Brocklin's pass on the Cleveland 30. Lahr made up ground and tackled the ball carrier at the 5. Quinlan fell at the 1 and bounced into the EZ before the whistle blew for a TD. The play covered 67y. Browns 10 Rams 7 with 5:06 left.
    Graham started the next possession with a 16y down-and-out to Renfro on the 32. The Rams' momentum continued when LB Larry Morris intercepted Graham and traveled to the Cleveland 28. Towler made 5, then 7 for a first down on the 16. With the crowd relishing a chance to take the lead, two offside penalties put the Rams back to the 24. Then Van Brocklin overthrew Quinlan at the goal line, the ball sailing into Konz's hands for a touchback.
    But Cleveland gained only 7y on three plays, and Horace Gillom punted 52y with the help of a big roll to the 10.
    The Rams got as far as their 45 on passes, including two of the swing variety to Waller, until Tommy James, who played for Paul Brown at both Massillion (OH) High and Ohio State, snared another pass to put the Browns at midfield with less than two minutes on the clock.
    That set up the play that broke the Rams' backs. Graham sent a flanker and a WR down the right side as decoys. The defense shifted to cover them. In the meantime, Lavelli cut across from RE and shouted for "Otts" as he broke clear down the left side. Graham held the ball until the last second, then fired to Dan­te at the 20. The 32-year-old receiver, who was contemplating retirement him­self, motored untouched into the EZ. Browns 17 Rams 7
    With a little more than a minute remaining, Van Brocklin hit Quinlan for 14y, but Skeets left the field injured. When play resumed, Walt Michaels gave Cleveland their fifth INT at the LA 45.
    The half ended after Modzelewski gained 10.
    Browns 17 Rams 7
  • Quarter 3
    Gain didn't return after intermisson with a reoccurrence of his ankle problem. His replacement, John Sandusky, did a fine job.
    The Rams tried man-to-man coverage the second half, with little more success than they found in the first 30 minutes.
    Starting from the 20, Modzelewski tore through for 7, then took flare pass for 14 and a first down at the 41. After he drove through for 5, Ed left the field with an injury after gaining 61y on 13 carries. The march continued to the Ram 41 but, after Graham's 3rd down pass to Renfro misfired, Groza's 48y FG try fell short.
    However, the Rams gained one first down before having to punt. Konz returned it 24y to his 46. The Browns drove from there to their third TD. The new FB, Maurice Bassett, a regular last season who was shunted to the bench by Mod­zelewski, bulled for 33y in two tries up the middle to the 23. Then Graham and Bassett carried the ball to the 15. From there, Otto rolled around RE after a beautiful fake that pulled DBs Jim Cason and Will Sherman completely out of position and rambled into the EZ. Browns 24 Rams 7 with 6:54 left.
    Three plays after the kickoff, Palumbo intercepted yet another Van Brocklin pass and returned it 10y to put the Browns in business at the LA 36. Van Brocklin's sixth INT tied Frank Filchock of the Giants (1946) for most in a playoff game. On 3rd­and-8, Graham passed to Lavelli for 13. Bassett gained 5, then Otto fired un­erringly to Dub Jones for 11 to the 4. Three snaps later, the QB stepped in from the 1 through RG. Browns 31 Rams 7 with 2:16 on the clock.
    The crowd was chanting, We want Wade! Whether influenced by the throng or not, Gillman sent in Billy Wade. But the third time he handled the ball, he fum­bled to Cleveland E Carlton Massey on the LA 41.
    Browns 31 Rams 7

Graham scores from the 1.
  • Quarter 4
    As the fog and mist rolled in, a large portion of the record crowd rolled out, their spirits as gloomy as the weather.
    The home team reclaimed possession when Graham rolled right and fired a pass that richocheted to DB Don Burroughs, who returned 24y to the 39.
    But Wade's pass was batted into the air by DE Len Ford, who gathered in the pigskin before it hit the ground on the LA 32.
    The first play saw Graham lead the gold-shirted rushers on a merry chase, first to his right, then to his left, before hurling a pass into the EZ where two Browns and three Rams converged on the ball, which bounced away incomplete. A penalty and a sack moved the Browns back to 4th-and-34. Woodley Lewis ran the ensuing punt back to his 26.
    On his third series, Wade lost 23y in two plays before Van Brocklin came in to punt on 4th down.
    The Browns seemed content to run out the clock. But facing 4th-and-10 on the LA 35. Graham elected to pass and fired to Ray Renfro who took it on a button hook at the 21 on the left sideline and raced into the EZ. Browns 38 Rams 7
    Lewis returned Groza's seventh kickoff 43y from the goal line. Wade, rolling left to escape the ru sh, hurled the ball all the way to the goal line where it was batted away. But officials called interference and placed the ball at the 13. Two plays later Waller plunged to the 2. After a loss of 2, Waller finished off the day's scoring by running around RE. Browns 38 Rams 14 with 2:18 showing
    Then came a hilarious play. The Rams tried an onside kick which bounced off hands of the Browns' Don Paul. He finally corraled the pigskin while running toward his own goal. When he finally turned around, the defenders smothered him on his 21.
    As he had done in Cleveland the year before, Brown pulled Graham from the game on Cleveland's next possession. The partisan Coliseum crowd gave Otto a strong round of applause. On the sideline, the coach greeted his alter ego with a smile and a firm handshake. Graham's heir apparent, George Ratterman, took the final snaps.
    Final: Browns 38 Rams 14
Final statistics:
  • First downs: Browns 17 Rams 17
  • Yards rushing: Browns 48-169 Rams 26-116
  • Passing: Browns 14-25-3/196 Rams 11-28-7/143
  • Return yardage: Browns 7-68 Rams 9-224
  • Fumbles-Lost: Browns 0-0 Rams 1-0
  • Penalties: Browns 5-74 Rams 2-10
  • Punting average: Browns 3-42.7 Rams 4-45.0
Ram receivers Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch, who hurt the Browns in the '51 title game with Fears scoring the winning TD, caught just two passes for 25y. Since Crazy Legs had announced his retirement before the game, it was not the way he wanted to go out.
Postgame

Cleveland Locker Room

  • Brown: Don't give me too much credit for the win. It's a guessing game, and when you guess right you look good. When asked to compare this team to his previous titlists, Paul demurred. They won the championship and that's good enough for me. He called Graham "the greatest quarterback" and admitted he would be sorely missed in 1956. I imposed on him this year. That's enough. Brown added a quip about Rams C McLaughlin, who played after suffering from the mumps. How about that guy? None of our guys wanted to make contact with him. They were so scared they wanted me to come up with a new defensive formation for them.
  • Graham insisted he would not return for 1956. Nothing could induce me to come back again. It's been a grand and glorious ten years. I'm glad I ended with a good one. He added: We had to fight more for this game than we did in 1954. We were luckier last year, and it was an easier game.
    Looking back on his last game years later, Graham praised his coach's willing­ness to listen to his players' suggestions. We told him a spread offense would really murder them, and he agreed to put it in. We always took a great deal of pride in feeling that we were architects of that great victory.
  • The Browns, who had been somewhat subdued in their dressing room, broke into song for their leader. Hurrah for Otto! Hurrah for Graham! Hurrah for Otto. For he's a helluva guy.
    Lavelli played one more season before joining Graham in retirement. Otto en­tered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1956, ten years before Dante.

Graham and Brown after the game
 
The last four Browns remaining from the original 1946 AAFC Team
L-R: Dante Lavelli, Otto Graham, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza
Los Angeles Locker Room
  • Rams owner Dan Reeves came down and patted all his players on the back, saying he was as proud of his team this day as he was when they clinched the division title two weeks earlier. And that goes double for Sid Gillman, added Reeves.
  • Gillman belabored the obvious when he called the Browns "the best team we faced all year." We felt we could throw today, but then we just had one of those days. I don't want to take anything away from the Browns. They had a fine defense and deserve all the credit in the world. Graham is a great football player. He's a tricky runner and we all know how well he can pass. Just because we lost this ball game, though, don't forget our bunch. Our gang had a great year, and we're very proud of them, every one of them.
  • Van Brocklin took the blame for the defeat. I fouled up. The protection was all right, the receivers were in the open, but I just threw too many bad passes. I can't explain why. I just had a bad day.

Graham won wide acclaim for leading the Browns to their 7th championship.

  • The Chicago Tribute put it this way: Never before has one player so dominated. There may have been greater runners. Graham has faced rivals who were superlative for­ward passers. But no man has combined these skills with his intellectual mastery of the precepts of the "T" attack.
  • However, a New York paper proclaimed in a cynical headline, Otto Graham's Annual Farewell Game.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer blared, Graham and Brown Firm Dissolution Marks End of Era in Pro Football.
    The headline writer didn't know how right he was. Paul Brown would never win another NFL championship. The city of Cleveland has also not had another champion in any of the major professional sports since 1955.
Thanks to the huge crowd, which topped the previous maximum by nearly 30,000, re­ceipts totaled a record $504,257.
  • Each member of the Browns earned $3,508, over $1,000 more than the previous high winners' share the year before.
  • Each Ram took home $2,316.
References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
Pro Football Championships before the Super Bowl: A Year-by-Year History, 1926-1965, Joseph S. Page (2011)
Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach, Andrew O'Toole (2008)
Paul Brown: The Man Who Invented Modern Football, George Cantor (2008)

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