In doing research for my book on the Cleveland Rams I repeatedly come across an old, amusing sports column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s archives titled “It’s New to Most of You” — as in, this may not be a world-beating exclusive but here you are. In the spirit of that unpretentious name, here are 9 things you may not have known about the Rams, one of the NFL’s oldest and most nomadic franchises. It begins with the biggest one: where the team actually was founded.
1. The Rams did not start in Los Angeles. And they certainly didn’t originate in St. Louis where they currently reside. The Rams began in Cleveland in 1936 as an American Football League team, joined the NFL in 1937, moved to Los Angeles in 1946, and moved again in 1995 to St. Louis. (And they may well move again, back to L.A.)
2. The Rams originated the NFL’s first helmet logo. Thank Cleveland / L.A. running back Fred Gehrke for that; he had an art degree and worked as an aircraft illustrator before he designed, and personally painted on every single Rams helmet, the iconic ram’s-horn logo.
3. The Rams are the only franchise to win NFL championships in three different cities: Cleveland (1945), Los Angeles (1951) and St. Louis (1999).
4. The Rams are the only NFL team — ever — to win a championship one season and play in a different city the next. One month after winning the 1945 title game, owner Daniel F. Reeves announced he was moving his team from Cleveland to L.A. He cited financial losses and poor attendance in Cleveland, but just as likely he’d had his eye on the booming L.A. market since buying the team in 1941. He also feared competition in the Cleveland market from the incoming Browns of the All America Football Conference.
5. The Rams’ 1945 championship team featured a Hall of Fame quarterback and his Hollywood starlet wife. The legend of Bob Waterfield — a three-way wonder who excelled in offense, defense and kicking — is largely lost today. He and wife Jane Russell became one of America’s first celebrity power couples — subject for another book, perhaps.
6. Four Hall-of-Famers, in fact, passed through the Rams franchise in nine short seasons in Cleveland: Waterfield, Reeves, Dutch Clark and Sid Gillman. Five if you count Gehrke’s Hall of Fame Pioneer Award for helmet design.
7. The Rams were the first big-league franchise on the West Coast. Major League Baseball caught up more than a decade later — the Dodgers in 1957, the Giants in 1958.
8. The Rams’ transfer from Cleveland to L.A. triggered the reintegration of African-American players in the NFL. Reeves was forced to integrate the team as a condition for his team renting and playing in the publicly owned Los Angeles Coliseum.
9. The Rams are the NFL’s ninth oldest continuously operating franchise, exceeded only by the Cardinals (1898), Packers (1919), Bears (1920), Eagles (1924), Giants (1925), Lions (1930), Redskins (1932) and Steelers (1933).