Pivotal Pro Football Plays
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1949: Browns Complete Sweep of AAFC Titles
1949 AAFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers @ Cleveland Browns
Marion Motley was the Bronco Nagurski of the All-America Football Conference. At 6'1" 230lb, the Cleveland fullback was bigger than most of the defensive linemen who were trying to tackle him. Like Nagurski, Motley was fast and an excellent blocker. Coach Paul Brown frequently used Marion as a linebacker, especially in goal line defenses. Fellow Hall of Fame RB Joe Perry of the San Francisco 49ers called Marion "the greatest all-around football player there ever was."
Motley met Brown while both were in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Marion was a member of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station football team that Paul coached. After the war, when Brown was forming the Cleveland team in the new All-America Foot­ball Conference, he signed Motley and G Bill Willis as the first two Black players in the league.
Marion led the Browns in rushing all four seasons of the AAFC, including 1948 when his 964y led the league. He led all rushers in each of the four championship games, scoring five touchdowns including a crucial one in the '49 championship game against San Francisco, the only team to beat the Browns all season - an embarrassing 56-28 rout in Week 7.

L-R: A 49er hitches a ride on Marion Motley, Paul Brown, Bill Willis, Otto Graham
The Brown defense played much better in the title game rematch. As a result, the teams were embroiled in a defensive struggle on the muddy, slippery turf of Cleveland's Lakefront Stadium. The home team clung to a precarious 7-0 lead nine minutes into the third quarter. Given the field conditions and the way the Cleveland defense was controlling the 49er offense, the visitors could not afford to give up another touchdown.
That's when Motley struck suddenly. The Browns started a possession at their 37 after a 49ers punt. After throwing an incompletion, QB Otto Graham handed the ball to Motley on a trap play. Held in check by the Niners during the first half, "the big Negro, who runs like a bull moose" (New York Daily News), broke through a hole up the middle created by guards Ed Ulinski and Lin Houston and C Frank Gatski and was deep in the SF backfield before anyone saw him. When 195lb DB Lowell Wagner caught up at the seven, Motley turned around just in time to apply an effective stiff arm. He was thrown off stride but still made it to the end zone.

L-R: Ed Ulinski, Lin Houston, Frank Gatski, Warren Lahr
The 14-0 deficit was too much for the 49ers to overcome. They came close to scoring on their next possession, but DB Warren Lahr produced the defensive gem of the day on a pass from SF QB Frankie Albert intended for E Paul Salata. Lahr knocked the ball away just as the 49er receiver was about to make a catch for a sure touchdown. The effort even drew praise from Salata, who patted Lahr on the back as he returned upfield.
Albert connected with Salata for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make it 14-7. But the Browns responded immediately with a 69y drive, mostly on the ground, to ice the game, 21-7.
Coach Brown praised his team and Motley in particular. "They were a dogged team out there. ... It was their greatest game, especially in defensive play." When a writer comment­ed that Motley, who had battled injuries, "looked like his old self" on his 63y touchdown run, Brown replied, "He's always that good but can't always show it. Marion isn't a picnic for anybody. In setting up defenses for us, the first thing they do is concentrate on Marion. But they seldom stop him. Out there today, the 49ers looped their line and shot linebackers in an attempt to stop him. But they didn't."