Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pillars of the NFL: 1950 Cleveland Browns Season

In Patrick McCaskey's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships  he covers the ten greatest NFL coaches of all-time.  Among the pillars is Paul Brown who formed  the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati  bengals.  Brown coached Cleveland to four AAFC titles and three NFL titles.  Brown was an incredible organizer and was a successful coach on every level, high school, college, the pros and even military during the war.  He also was an early proponent of black athletes.  This post comes from Pillars and tells the story of one of Brown's seasons. 

Browns’ 1950 Season

The solid Browns’ defense got a big boost figuratively and literally when they acquired Len Ford in the disbursement draft. The disbursement draft was held in June to place the top players of the AAFC whose teams were not picked up by the NFL. Ford was a 6-foot-4, 245 pound end, who added extra muscle to the Browns’ defense. Brown would use the Hall of Famer as a defensive specialist. Ford would be one of the first pass rush specialists in professional football. 

The Browns’ first game was against the two-time defending league champion Philadelphia Eagles before a huge crowd of 71,237 in Philadelphia. The game was publicized as a true test of the former AAFC Browns against a solid NFL stalwart. The Browns convincingly beat the Eagles 35–10. The following week, the Browns hammered the Baltimore Colts, 31–0. Many teams had trouble defending against the Browns’ powerful offense. They crushed another former AAFC opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, 34–14, later in the year. They would go on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 45–7, and the Washington Redskins, 45–21. 

The coach of the Eagles, Alfred Earle “Greasy” Neale, criticized the Browns as a passing-only team after their first meeting. Brown sought retribution by defeating the Eagles, 13–7, in their second meeting of the year without throwing a single pass.  The New York Giants were the one team that challenged the Browns. In fact, they beat the Browns 6–0 and 17–13 during the regular season. Three times was the charm for the Browns as they defeated the Giants 8–3 in the divisional playoff game.
The 1950 NFL Championship Game 

The Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams played the title game on Christmas Eve in front of 29,751 screaming fans at Municipal Stadium. The Rams had an awesome offense. They scored 466 points for an average of 38.8 per game; they passed for 3,709 yards for an average of 309 per game.   They featured two Hall of Fame receivers in Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. The Rams also featured two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, starter Bob Waterfield with Norm Van Brocklin in the wings. College football superstar, Glenn Davis, who had won both the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award while playing at Army, was the Rams leading rusher. 

The Browns would mix up their offensive plays to include pitchouts, short sideline passes, and a screen pass when needed. Graham would also run for good yardage when he scrambled away from the rush. A long pass had always been part of the Browns’ arsenal as well. 

Early in the game, Waterfield hit Davis on an 82-yard pass play for the first score. Graham used a number of intermediate passes and a forced scramble to bring the ball downfield in a hurry. A pass to Dub Jones gave the Browns their first touchdown and with the extra point, tied the game at 7–7. Hoerner scored for the Rams on a one-yard rush and with the extra point, the Rams took the lead at 14–7. In the second quarter, Dante Lavelli snagged a Graham pass for a 37-yard touchdown, but the Browns missed the point after. Lavelli scored on another reception at the beginning of the second half to put the Browns ahead 20–14. Hoerner scored again for the Rams on a 1-yard plunge. The extra point was successful. After a Motley fumble, Larry Brink took the ball in from 6 yards out. Another extra point and the Browns were behind by 8 points, 28–20.  After Warren Lahr intercepted a Rams’ pass, the Browns worked their way downfield and Graham hit Rex Bumgardner in the corner of the end zone for a score. 

With the Browns trailing 28–27, Graham fumbled and it looked like the game was over. But the Browns’ defense held and with a little under two minutes Cleveland took possession with one last chance to pull out a victory. Graham drove down the field with several precision sideline passes and a critical toss to Bumgardner that got the Browns down to the 19-yard line. A Graham quarterback keeper brought the ball a few yards forward  into the center of the field. All business and concentration, Lou “the Toe” Groza kicked a 16-yard field goal. The Rams’ Van Brocklin was given his chance at last minute heroics, but another Lahr interception ended the game with the score, Browns 30–Rams 28.  When the game ended, exuberant Cleveland fans flooded onto the field to congratulate the players.  Both goal posts were triumphantly taken down and carried off outside the stadium.

Quarterback Otto Graham touchdowns and passing yards dropped in 1950. Paul Brown was adjusting to the NFL, taking what he was given, and still winning. Marion Motley gained 810 yards on 140 carries. Dub Jones gained 384 yards on 83 carries and he had 31 receptions for 431 yards. Mac Speedie topped the club in receptions with 42 for 548 yards. Groza was 13-of-19 on field-goal tries and led the Browns in scoring with 74 points. The Browns had the second best defense in the league. Each Browns’ player received $1,113 for the championship win—about $10,600 in 2013 dollars.  After the championship game, Browns’ owner Mickey McBride said the Browns would “keep on building and winning.”  

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