Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1950: Graham Leads Last-Minute Drive to Beat Rams
1950 NFL Championship Game: Los Angeles Rams @ Cleveland Browns
The first year of the NFL-AAFC merger saw the Cleveland Browns, champions in all four years of the All-American Football Conference, win the Eastern Conference over the defend­ing NFL champion Phila­delphia Eagles. The Los Angeles Rams, with new coach Joe Stydahar replacing the ousted Clark Shaugnessy, won the West to set up an offensive showdown at Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the league crown. Some said that a loss to the Rams would invalidate the Browns' four AAFC crowns.
The Rams had played in Cleveland from 1936-1945. Despite winning the '45 NFL championship, owner Dan Reeves decided to move the team to Los Angeles, citing five years of financial losses, including $64,000 in the championship season. Another reason for the move was the start of the Cleveland Browns franchise in the All-America Football Conference in 1946.
The Rams won the NFL Western Division championship in 1949 but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the championship game. They repeated as champs of the West in 1950 and, ironically, had to return to Cleveland to play the Eastern Division champion Browns, the team that replaced them in C-town.
The weather would be a challenge for the visitors from sunny California. Between intermittent snow flurries, a 28 mph wind blew in from Lake Erie and the tem­perature barely reached 30. Mounds of snow were piled up beyond the sidelines. The ground stayed frozen, forcing the Browns to wear rubber sneakers. How­ever, only four Rams donned tennis shoes.
How would the frigid conditions affect the high-powered Ram offense, which scored 466 points (38.8 per game), 100 more than the second place New York Yanks.
Rams Strike First
Offensive coach Hampton Pool had a special play ready to take ad­vantage of Cleveland's "umbrella" defense that Coach Paul Brown had copied from the New York Giants. LA lined up in a standard T formation, then sent RHB Tommy Kalminir in motion to the right. LE Tom Fears sprinted toward the middle, forcing RCB Warren Lahr to move over to cover him. That left the 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 the linebacker. QB Bob Waterfield tossed the ball 30y downfield to Davis who gal­loped the remaining 52 for the touchdown. Waterfield toed the PAT after only 27 seconds of playing time. Rams 7 Browns 0
Coach Brown Changes Defense
Cleveland coach 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. So he scrapped the 5-3-3 defense he installed for the Rams sooner than expected - after one play.
To put more pressure on Waterfield, Brown told DE Len Ford to get ready to go in the next time LA had the ball. 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.

L-R: Glenn Davis, Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears
Browns Retaliate
The Browns came right back thanks to the all-around artistry of QB Otto Graham. With the Rams keying on 235lb FB Marion Motley to stifle Cleveland's running and screen passing game, the Browns faced 3rd and five at their 47. 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 HB Dub 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. Rams 7 Browns 7

L: Rams swarm Marion Motley. R: Otto Graham runs. Note the tennis shoes.
The Browns scored the only touchdown in the second quarter on Graham's 37y pass to WR Dante Lavelli. But a bad snap on the PAT attempt kept the Rams ahead 14-13.
Another key decision was made in the second quarter. Cleveland's 6'4" 245lb DE Len Ford hadn't played for two months since suffering a fractured jaw and cheekbone when Chicago Cardi­nals FB Pat Harder slugged him in the face. 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, the future Hall of Famer donned his helmet with special padding and headed into the fray.
Waterfield Misses Chip Shot
Late in the period, Waterfield led a drive that bogged down at the Cleveland 8. So Bob set up for what should have been an easy 15y field goal. But, pushed by the wind, the ball sailed wide.
When the half ended soon after, the thoroughly outplayed Browns ran in happy to be down only one point.

L-R: Dub Jones, Len Ford, Tommy Thompson, Elroy Hirsch
Cleveland Regains Lead But Not for Long
The Graham-Lavelli struck again in the third period, this time from 39y out, to put Cleveland up 20-14.
But the lead didn't last long as the Rams scored the next two touchdowns. The first came on a 1y run by FB Dick Hoerner. 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. Rams 28 Browns 20
Browns Pull Within One
With the Rams secondary sitting back to protect against the long strike, Graham completed nine passes, including five short ones to Lavelli. As Brown later said, "The defenders couldn't afford to come up fast, or Graham would have faked a quick one and thrown deep." 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
Teams Trade Turnovers
The Browns still trailed 28-27 as the clock moved under five minutes. They got a break when 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 nail in the coffin of their championship hopes.
Graham recalled, "I never saw the guy coming. 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.'"
Rams Milk Clock
The Rams took as much time as they could, running the ball three times before punting. 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." Making the challenge more formidable, the Browns were out of timeouts.
The Rams sent in their fleet All-Pro WR Elroy Hirsch to play in the deep secondary. "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."
Graham Leads Last-Ditch Drive
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 Rex 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 were pleading for Groza's field goal act, the Browns called 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 Brownsfield goal team came out. A hush fell over the stadium as the teams lined up. Holder Tommy James knelt at the 16. Meanwhile, Groza was the coolest customer in the stadium. "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

Lou Groza's winning kick
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 before Groza tackled him to save the day.
Needing what today would be called a "Hail Mary pass," Stydahar asked his long passer Norm 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 and placed the ball at the five with Cleveland in possession. FINAL SCORE: Browns 30 Rams 28
The Browns had answered all detractors who said their success in the Mickey Mouse league wouldn't carry over to the NFL.
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