Tag Archives: Bob Waterfield

Put A Historical Marker On This Patch Of Cleveland Land

CLE Stadium Then and Now

The old Cleveland Municipal Stadium (left) and, today, on the very same site, First Energy Stadium.

Okay, quick quiz.

The patch of lakefront land you see in the two photos above is the current home of a benighted football franchise that habitually fails to reach the NFL playoffs. Before that it was a pile of bricks and twisted steel, remnants of a historic stadium reduced to rubble when its petulant landlord mismanaged his own finances and civic standing, failed to secure improvements to same-named stadium, and so paradoxically ended up destroying the very things he reputedly had set out to save—Cleveland Stadium, the Cleveland Browns, and the pride of an already beaten-down municipality.

(Not that I’m bitter.)

But even given all this . . . here’s the quiz:

Which of the following localities has hosted more NFL Championship Games: the site of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and now First Energy Stadium, or (say) the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum?

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Selective Amnesia: Does The NFL Only Remember The 50 Years It’s Been Number One With America?

Benny Friedman

Benny Friedman: The NFL’s first star passer committed suicide in 1982, in ill health and reportedly in despair he never would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In time he was — twenty three years later.

The National Football League turns ninety-five years old next month. Come January, the Super Bowl will be fifty. Take the difference in years between them — forty-five  — and you have the approximate number of seasons which the NFL seems disinclined to remember.

If the NFL encompassed the entire universe (and sometimes, it seems, it thinks it does), the Big Bang would have occurred in 1958 with the so-called “greatest game ever played,” and present-day Earth would have emerged from stardust in 1967 when the Super Bowl was born.

Prior to that, pro football was . . . misty and mostly unknowable. Primitive, prehistoric.

For some time I’ve puzzled over why pro football has such a blinkered view of its own past. Then the primary reason clicked into place as I conducted an interview for my upcoming book on the Cleveland Rams.

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9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the NFL’s Rams Franchise

Rams banner

The Rams are the only NFL team to win championships in three different cities: Cleveland (1945), Los Angeles (1951) and St. Louis (1999). (Photo courtesy Sports Road Trips)

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.

Rams letterhead

A distinctive Rams logo appeared on letterhead within days of the team’s acceptance into the NFL in February 1937. (Courtesy Pro Football Hall of Fame)

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). Continue reading

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Untold Tales of “Waterbuckets” Waterfield and “Jimmy” Gillette of the Cleveland Rams

Rams foursome

Celebrating Cleveland Rams after their 1945 NFL Championship Game victory over the Washington Redskins (left to right): halfback Jim Gillette, quarterback Bob Waterfield, end Jim Benton, and head coach Adam Walsh. (Photo courtesy the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State University.)


Amazing what types of stories you can uncover by sitting down to talk with those who loved
and remember players from the Cleveland Rams.

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Glamour Comes to Cleveland

Waterfield and Russell
The December 17, 1945, cover date of this LIFE magazine profile of Cleveland Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield and his motion-picture starlet wife Jane Russell was propitious if not completely coincidental: Waterfield — a triple-threat quarterback, placekicker and punter — led the Rams to the NFL Championship the previous day by defeating the Washington Redskins, 15 to 14. In the background: the third-base grandstand of Cleveland’s League Park, then home of the Rams as well as the Cleveland Indians. (Photo: LIFE magazine)

 

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Johnny Manziel’s Link to Cleveland Sports History

Manziel.Waterfield
The Browns’ hotly debated drafting of Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel sounds a distant echo to an often forgotten chapter of Cleveland’s colorful sports history.

Manziel jerseyExactly seventy years ago last month the Cleveland Rams — yes, there was another NFL team in the city before the Browns — drafted high-profile rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield and signed him to a lucrative rookie contract. Though Waterfield too had been a college star, leading UCLA to the Rose Bowl in 1942 (then spending several years in wartime military service), howls of protest rose from some Cleveland sportswriters. Waterfield isn’t worth the attention or the money, they said. The Rams were more interested in getting publicity than a quality back, they said.

Waterfield went on to have the kind of rookie year Browns fans can only pray Manziel will replicate. In a glorious 1945 season, in home games at the Indians’ League Park and at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and with “Big Jim” Benton as his primary receiver, Waterfield went on to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.

Even better, the Rams — who like the current Browns had posted years of non-winning seasons — stunned the football world by capturing the NFL Championship over “Slingin'” Sammy Baugh and the Washington Redskins in the title game, 15-14, at Cleveland Stadium.

Two months later, Waterfield and the Rams were gone — moved to Los Angeles as the first major-league sports teams on the West Coast in the postwar era. But the allure of a rookie player coming in and instantly reversing a mediocre team’s fortunes remains in Cleveland.

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