DEEEE-FENSE. And it ended with two astounding victories by the American Football League when the brash Joe Namath helped the New York Jets win Super Bowl III and the powerful Kansas City Chiefs spoiled the NFL’s golden anniversary celebration by winning Super Bowl IV, and positioned pro football for its last great realignment. That second quarter century began when the Cleveland Rams found a wonderful tailback at UCLA named Bob Waterfield whose gorgous movie star wife Jane Russell elicited more publicity than he did — even on the sports pages. Waterfield not only was named NFL rookie of the year in 1945, but he led the Rams to the NFL championsip on the margin of a fluke safety scored when a pass thrown by Washington’s Sammy Baugh from his own end zone struck the cross bar of the goal posts and fell to the ground. Under the rules of the time, that was an automatic safety and brought the Rams a 15-14 victory.
Before the next summer rolled around, the Cleveland Rams were the Los Angeles Rams . . . and the face of pro football was changed forever bcause expansion had become a heady proposition and suddenly the Mississippi River barrier (there were no major league teams in any sport west of St. Louis in 1945) disappeared.
A NEW RIVAL:THE ALL-AMERICA FOOTBALL CONFERENCE The NFL was not the first to place a major league team on the west coast because, before the war ended, already primed and ready to begin operations in 1946 was the All-America Football Conference, with a farseeing image that included two of its eight franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco; and a shattering of the racial barriers that heretofore had made the sport an all white entity since 1933. The AAFC lasted just four years, but it was a seminal influence on the post-war growth of pro football because it forced changes in the sport that prepared it for the up tempo era of sports in post-war America. This new league was the brainchild of Arch Ward, the renowned sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and father of both baseball’s All-Star Game and the Chicago College All-Star football game. He wanted a structure in pro football that matched that of major league baseball — two separate leagues who decided a champion with a world series. He mistakenly believed the two leagues would coexist without problems, as major league baseball did. But it never happened beause he underestimated the importance of the player draft and instead of peace and harmony, the two leagues fought each other with dollars for new players.
More importantly, the AAFC also brought new minds and ideas that propelled the sport’s popularity. THE NEW NFL The merger of the NFL and AAFC in 1950 produced a truly national football league that had two West Coast teams in the Rams and 49ers, two in New York with the Giants and Yanks (a combination of the Bulldogs, and Yankees from the AAFC) and the original franchises in the middle. The AAFC’s Colts lasted just one year; the Yanks were transferred to Dallas in 1952 but lasted only part of that season and then became the Baltimore Colts in 1953. When the Browns entered the NFL, they were target No. 1 for all the old NFL teams, which had belittled their AAFC rivals as being less than worthy.
So Bell matched the two league champions–Cleveland and the Eagles–against eachother in the season opener and the Browns clobbered the proud NFL champions 35-10. The NFL’s old guard was stunned but Bell was delighted. The Browns then went on to win their first NFL championship with a thrilling 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams which, had there been national television on the scale of today, would have been remembered as one of the greatest games in league history. The Browns came from behind in the final minute to win on Lou Groza’s field goal after a magnificent two minute drill by Graham set up the winning score. Paul Brown called it the most memorable game of his career because it validated all that his team had accomplished, and because so many of the game’sgreatest players competed on the same field.
The Browns ran their consecutive title game appearances to ten through 1955 and once again threatened to dull a league, even with three consecutive title game losses to the Rams on Van Brocklin’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Tom Fears midway through the fourth quarter of the 1951 game, and to the Lions in 1952-53 (the latter on Bobby Layne’s late, game-winning pass to Jim Doran). They snapped the losing streak by pounding the Lions 56-10 for the 1954 title after which Graham retired. When Brown was unable to find a suitable replacement, he induced Otto to come back for one final year, and they combined to win one last title, defeating the Rams 38-14. DEEEF-ENSE LEADS THE WAY .. AND SO DOES JIM BROWN One great change was occuring in the NFL at that time — an equalization of emphasis on the defense. Cleveland’s great offense had forced teams to come up with new defensive schemes and the New York Giants were the first to succeed in 1950 when coach Steve Owen developed an Umbrella Defense to try and counter the Browns’ great passing offense.
He put the concept on the blackboard and then told a young player-coach named Tom Landry to fill in the blanks. Landry did, and seven years later, faced with another threat in Cleveland named Jim Brown, he did it again by winnowing a 43 defensive concept to counter the game’s greatest running back of all time. Soon historic Yankee Stadium shook with thunderous cries of DEEEE-FENSE as the Giants brought a new dimension to pro football that keyed their own dynasty run from 1956-63; and because all of this happened in New York City, the nation’s media capitol, the Giants defense became renowned and so did many of its principals, including middle linebacker Sam Huff who made the cover of Time Magazine and was the subject of a prime time CBS documentary, The Violent World of Sam Huff, which for the first time, took viewers rightinto the melee on the field. This became part of a three-way equation. Part Two occurred in Cleveland where Paul Brown drafted running back Jim Brown from Syracuse in 1957.
He was a six-foot, 230-pound physical marvel who really was a halfback in a fullback’s body because he was more powerful than any of the game’s bigger fullbacks yet he possessed world-class speed with great open field running ability. So many of his runs were incredible that even his great performances became commonplace and Paul Brown, with whom he feuded during some of their time together, said he was the greatest back he had ever seen. He played for Cleveland for nine seasons and finished as the NFL’s all-time rusher with 12,312 yards (he now ranks No. 4), a figure that stood until Walter Payton broke it inthe 80s. However, Brown’s most enduring statistic is his still No. 1 5.2 yards per carry average.
Brown’s running made Cleveland an instant contender (had they a quarterback of Graham’s caliber, they would have begun another long dynasty run) and that brought them into immediate conflict with the Giants for supremacy in the Eastern Division. The Giants had smothered the Bears for the 1956 NFL title and won division titles in 1958 and ’59. The 1958 title was decided in a playoff game that followed a season-ending 13-10 victory over Cleveland when Pat Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal through the swirling snow and darkness in Yankee Stadium to snatch the win. A week later, the Giants defense shut out Brown and his team 10-0 and set up the title clash with Baltimore. That was the third part of the equation. Baltimore’s football fortunes were resustitated when Carroll Rosenbloom purchased the Dallas Texans franchise after the 1952 season. Two years later, he hired Browns’ assistant Weeb Ewbank to coach his team, and a year later, stumbled into a young quarterback named Johnny Unitas who had played sandlot football the previous year for five dollars a game.
Unitas sported a crew cut, a baby face and the toughness of a Marine drill sergeant. He didn’t have the strongest arm, he wasn’t a nifty runner but he had the daring of a riverboat gambler and the great attribute of turning apparantly lost games into last-minute wins. It didn’t take long for an aura of invincibility to build around him and rub off on talented teammates such as Lenny Moore, Alan (The Horse) Ameche, Raymond B …