By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
With the longstanding Giants and the Titans, now the Jets, who came into being in the AFL’s inaugural year of 1960, New York has had two pro football teams for more than 50 years.
But nearly a decade and a half before that, just after World War II had ended, Cleveland was almost a two-football town as well.
The Rams were the new NFL champions, having won their first crown on Dec. 16, 1945 as quarterback Bob Waterfield led past over the Washington Redskins, 15-14, at Cleveland Stadium.
It was quite a turnaround for the Rams, who were born in 1937, disbanded for the 1943 season because of the war and had never had as much as a winning record before going 9-1 to capture the Western Division title in 1945 and then topping the Redskins.
While all this was going on, the new Browns, owned by Arthur “Mickey” McBride and with Paul Brown as the coach and general manager, were getting organized to begin play in the fall of 1946 in the first season of the All-America Football Conference.
The Browns were all set to go head-to-head with the Rams to battle for the affection of Cleveland football fans.
But the Rams weren’t interested.
The Rams had never drawn well in Cleveland, and owner Dan Reeves was well aware of the immense popularity of Brown, who had built Massillon (Ohio) High School into a national prep powerhouse from 1932-40 and then took Ohio State to its first national championship in 1942. He knew Brown would draw plenty of fans and interest, and as it turned out, he was exactly right
At the same time, though, Reeves also realized the West Coast was wide open for pro football. No NFL team – or any team in any pro football league, for that matter – had been much west of the Mississippi River. Thus, he thought the Pacific coast provided a golden opportunity for his franchise to really blossom.
And again, as it turned out, he was right about that, too.
The AAFC was also looking at the West Coast and was planning on putting teams into both Los Angeles (the Dons) and San Francisco (49ers). Reeves didn’t think much of the threat of either of those clubs in a start-up league, so, on Jan. 12, 1946, he boldly announced that he was moving the Rams to Los Angeles to begin play that fall.
Goodness, there hadn’t even been enough time for the dust to settle onto their NFL championship trophy and the Rams were already packing up and heading out of town, avoiding a direct confrontation with the Browns.
The Browns had refrained from trying to lure any Rams players to that point, but when the Rams left Ohio, the Browns were only too happy to take any players who didn’t want to uproot themselves and their families and go to Los Angeles.
In their new home, the Rams didn’t slip back into the doldrums they had been in for most of their time in Cleveland. Still, they didn’t win another NFL crown, either, their best season coming in 1949 when they lost, 14-0, to the Philadelphia Eagles in the league title game.
Meanwhile, the Browns dominated the AAFC, winning all four championships in the league’s existence. When a truce between the AAFC and NFL was reached as the 1949 season was ending, the AAFC disbanded and the Browns, 49ers and Baltimore Colts were absorbed into the NFL.
The Browns’ outstanding play continued in their first season in the NFL in 1950 as they advanced to the league title game, and as luck would have it, their opponents were none other than the Rams. The teams played on Christmas Eve at Cleveland with the Browns prevailing, 30-28, on Lou Groza’s 16-yard field goal with 28 seconds left.
The clubs met again in the title contest the following year at L.A., with the Rams winning the rematch, 24-17, on a 73-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Waterfield, the hero of the 1945 title win, added the extra point.
The championship game rubber match was held in the 1955 at Los Angeles, and the Browns rolled to a 38-14 win.
The Browns and Rams have not met in the playoffs since – unless you count the Playoff Bowl following the 1968 season when Los Angeles won, 30-6.
Those three Browns-Rams title games were obviously big, but just how much bigger do you think they would have been had the Rams not left town, leaving the contests as all-Cleveland matchups?
We’ll never know, but it sure is interesting to think about.
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