This Once Was an NFL Stadium, Pt. 2: Shaw Stadium

Shaw Stadium

Shaw Stadium 1938

Illustration of Shaw Stadium, courtesy St. Louis Rams.

There probably is no humbler of a field in NFL annals than Shaw Stadium in East Cleveland, Ohio, very briefly the home of the Cleveland (now St. Louis) Rams.

In 1938 the Rams were in only their second NFL season and struggling to find a fan base. Cleveland Stadium was technically their home, but it was far too big and the rent too high at that stage of the fledgling franchise, so the Rams moved temporarily to this high-school field about eight miles down the Lake Erie shoreline from the Stadium in what was then a leafy Cleveland suburb.

Their home opener here was a 7-6 loss to the Chicago Cardinals, the second of three straight defeats to open the season — 12 consecutive dating back to their inaugural campaign in 1937 — and coach Hugo Bezdek, the only Major League Baseball manager ever to also be an NFL head coach, left his post, either fired or “retired to the farm” depending on which account was to be most believed.

Under Ohio football veteran Art (Pappy) Lewis, however, these “erstwhile cellar occupants” began to turn things around. They pulled off a 21-17 win over the Detroit Lions at Shaw Stadium and, apparently emboldened, moved the following week’s game to larger League Park, the baseball Indians’ home field, where they toppled the dynastic Chicago Bears, 14-7. A second straight victory over the Bears, a 23-21 squeaker, came two weeks later at Wrigley Field and suddenly “all the talk” of pro football turned to “the race-wrecking Cleveland Rams.” Beating George Halas’ Bears twice in one season, said a New York newspaper, “border[ed] on the incredible.” Nearly 19,000 fans — more than double the Rams’ normal attendance — showed up at League Park the following week to see the Rams take on Curly Lambeau’s powerful Green Bay Packers.

Talk of race-wrecking ended quickly. Green Bay routed the Rams, 28-7, to start them on a four-game freefall and drop them safely out of contention. Cleveland went on to finish with a win at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans over the perpetually hapless Pittsburgh Pirates (renamed the Steelers two years later), and their final season mark stood at 4-7.

The Rams resided at Shaw Stadium for those two games only and never returned. In 1939 they were home again at Cleveland Stadium; in 1942 they were back at League Park in a peripatetic search for a home; then incredibly, by 1946 — only eight seasons removed from their brief occupancy of a modest high-school field in East Cleveland — they were the glamorous Los Angeles Rams, defending NFL Champions, playing under the lights of the nearly 100,000-seat L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

Shaw Stadium is maintained to this day as a high-school football field, engulfed now by an economically depressed urban neighborhood. The field bears no marker or indication whatever of its fleeting place in NFL history.

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