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.
"The best thrown pass I ever caught in my life."
1951 NFL Championship Game: Cleveland Browns @ Los Angeles Rams
Rams coach Joe Stydahar used two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks throughout the 1951 season. Seven-year veteran Bob Waterfield started 10 of the twelve games while Norm Van Brocklin, in his fourth year, took the first snap in the other two. Van Brocklin threw more passes than Waterfield - 194 to 176. Their completion percentages were al­most the same, 51.5 for Norm and 50.0 for Bob. Van threw for 1,725y to Waterfield's 1,566.
In the season opener, Van Brocklin set an NFL record that still stands by throwing for 554y in the 54-14 rout of the New York Yankees.

L-R: Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Dan Towler, Larry Brink
Waterfield started the title game against the Browns and played into the fourth quarter as the Rams built a 17-10 lead. The go-ahead touchdown came on a defensive play. Right after the Browns recovered a fumble by RB Deacon Dan Towler on the LA 41, LE Larry Brink broke through and horse-collared QB Otto Graham who was back to pass, knocking the ball loose. Rookie RE Andy Robustelli scooped up the pigskin on the 30, juggled it as he headed toward pay dirt, dropped the ball, picked it up on the run, and continued until FB Marion Motley tackled him on the two. "I never got a really good grip on the ball," Robus­telli said, "because I just grabbed it off-balance and began to run. I stumbled as soon as I started, and it seemed I kept stumbling all the way down the field, trying the keep the ball in my grasp."

L-R: Otto Graham, Andy Robustelli, Marion Motley
It took three tries, but Towler finally rammed over right tackle into the end zone with nine minutes remaining in the third period. Rams 14 Browns 10

Dan Towler scores the Rams' second touchdown.
Another turnover by the defense helped the Rams add to their lead early in the fourth quarter. Under the heavy rush he experienced all afternoon, Graham threw the ball right into the hands of rookie CB Marvin Johnson on the Cleveland 36. Marvin ran untouched down the sideline until knocked out of bounds at the one. Van Brocklin was now under center, having taken over at quarterback late in the third period. Aided by a 5y penalty, the Browns kept the Rams out of the end zone for three downs. So Waterfield booted a 17y field goal. Rams 17 Browns 10
Waterfield's field goal goes through the uprights.
Cleveland bounced right back, driving 70y to tie the game. The key play was a 32y ramble by Graham out of the pocket to the LA 18. Six plays later, Ken Carpenter fought his way into the end zone. Lou Groza's extra point tied the game at 17 with 7:50 left.
It didn't take long for the Rams to regain the lead. After a touchback and a 5y penalty on Cleveland, the ball rested on the LA 25. The Rams coaching staff had discovered a weakness in the Browns pass defense that they could exploit. The safeties were taught to key on the fullback and shift toward the side he lined up on. When Van Brocklin took the snap, LE Tom Fears, lined up on the side opposite the fullback, started downfield covered by Cliff Lewis, who was right with him. Van Brocklin arched a beautiful pass that Fears caught in stride at midfield just out of the reach of Lewis and the other safety, Tommy James, who had shifted a bit to the other side of the field. To make matters worse, the two safeties knocked each other offstride as they went for the ball. Tom easily outraced James to the end zone. Rams 24 Browns 17

L-R: Don Paul, Dub Jones, Bill Willis, Norb Hecker
Fears said of the touchdown, "That was the best thrown pass I ever caught in my life. He laid it right in there when I was going full stride." Afterward Lewis felt he had cost his team the game on the touchdown, but DB Warren Lahr came to his defense. "He missed by an eyelash [of knocking the ball down]. It was that close." James, the other safety, also took some of the blame. "I should have played Fears and made the tackle. But I thought I had a good chance to get it [the ball]."
With eight minutes remaining, the visitors had plenty of time to strike back as they did to pull out the '50 title game. But on the first play after the kickoff, Graham, visibly weary with no backup the caliber of Van Brocklin and under a heavy rush, threw a pass directly into Don Paul's hands on the 40. The linebacker bulled his way to the 14. But the Cleve­land defense rose to the occasion again and forced another short field goal attempt that could have put the game away. But G Bill Willis blocked Waterfield's boot from the 23, the pigskin rolling out of bounds back at the 38.
With plenty of time - five minutes - to move the ball downfield with short passes as they had all game, Graham quickly moved the Browns across midfield. Facing 4th and one at the LA 43 and not gaining much through the center of the defense all day, Graham tossed to HB Dub Jones circling left, but rookie DB Norb Hecker from Baldwin-Wallace Col­lege in suburban Cleveland threw Dub for a 2y loss with 2 1/2 minutes left. After the Rams ran down the clock, the Browns got the ball back on a punt with 15 seconds left but couldn't pull off a miracle.
The Rams on the sidelines hoisted Coach Stydahar, all 275lbs of him, and carried him off the field. The rest of the NFL owners who didn't start in the AAFC exulted as well.

Stydahar and Rams erupt as game ends.