There was a time when Cleveland had two pro football teams.
Although they never took the field in the same season as Cleveland-based teams, they both existed at the same time.
The Rams, now in St. Louis, trace their roots to Cleveland. They were born here in 1937 and stayed through ’45, taking the 1943 season off because of World War II.
They never really had much success in Cleveland, except for their final season, when they finished 9-1 to capture the Western Division title and then won the NFL championship by edging the Washington Redskins, 15-14, on Dec. 16 at frigid Cleveland Stadium.
But the celebration party didn’t last long -- less than a month, in fact. On Jan. 12, 1946, Rams owner Dan Reeves announced he was moving his team to Los Angeles to begin play that fall at Memorial Coliseum.
There were several reasons for that.
First of all, the West Coast was wide open. There were no NFL teams west of the Mississippi River. Reeves saw that as a gold mine to market his team to an entire region with absolutely no competition -- at least from the NFL.
However, the new All-America Football Conference was getting ready to begin play in the fall of 1946, and as such was placing two teams on the West Coast in the Los Angeles Dons and San Francisco 49ers.
So much for the Rams having the place totally to themselves.
Then there was the fact that the Rams had never drawn well in Cleveland. Reeves thought they might do better in the big market of Southern California.
But maybe the biggest reason was the looming presence of the Browns, who were also gearing up to play in the AAFC’s inaugural season of 1946. The Browns had hired the highly popular and highly successful Paul Brown as their head coach and general manager.
Brown had strong Ohio ties, having played at Massillon High School and then returning there to coach in 1932, turning the Tigers into a national power in a nine-season tenure that lasted through 1940. He did so well, in fact, that Ohio State, with the urging of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, hired him as its coach, and after only two seasons, he took the Buckeyes to their first national championship in 1942.
The Browns hadn’t even played a game yet -- they had just begun signing players -- but Reeves could plainly see that with Brown, they were already a bigger deal in Cleveland than his NFL champion Rams.
So instead of competing with the Browns for the city’s affection, as Browns owner Arthur “Mickey” McBride had hoped would happen, the Rams just packed up and left -- surrendering without even putting up a fight.
The Browns won all four AAFC championships from 1946-49, in effect putting the league out of business because their domination was not entertaining outside of Northeast Ohio. Along with two fellow AAFC members, the 49ers and Baltimore Colts, the Browns were then absorbed into the NFL in 1950.
And as luck would have it, they ended up playing the Rams for the NFL championship -- in Cleveland on Dec. 24 -- in that first season. Down, 28-20, after three quarters, the Browns rallied to win, 30-28, on Lou Groza’s 16-yard field goal with 28 seconds left.
The teams met again in the 1951 title game at Los Angeles, with the Rams winning, 24-17, on a 73-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
The championship game rubber match was played on Dec. 26, 1955 at Los Angeles, and this one wasn’t close. The Browns won in a rout, 38-14, as quarterback Otto Graham ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more. One of the original Browns from 1946, he then announced his retirement after having led the team to the league title game in each of his 10 seasons, with seven victories.
So it appears Reeves did the right thing by not staying in Cleveland and trying to compete with that kind of success.
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