Tag Archives: Cleveland Browns

A Baseball Man in the NFL? Here’s What Happened the Last Time a Cleveland Team Did That

Billy Evans

Billy Evans was a success as general manager of the Cleveland Indians but knew next to nothing about pro football when he came to the NFL’s Cleveland Rams in 1941. He lasted six months. (Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame)

With the Cleveland Browns making news this week by hiring baseball analytics guru Paul DePodesta of Moneyball fame, their fans may be interested to know this is not the first time the NFL in Cleveland has reached out to America’s pastime for help in running a team.

In 1941 the Cleveland Rams were doing a reasonable impersonation of the contemporary Browns by posting consecutive losing seasons and cycling through head coaches in search of the right formula. Then Daniel F. Reeves and Fred Levy Jr. bought the team and almost immediately made a high-profile hire: bringing in future Baseball Hall-of-Famer Billy Evans as Rams general manager.

Like DePodesta, Evans had worked in the Cleveland Indians’ front office. As general manager from 1928 to 1935 he signed stars Hal Trosky and Bob Feller and brought the Indians back to the first division of the American League.

Evans, however, had no practical experience in pro football. This didn’t seem to trouble Reeves and Levy. They teamed him up with Rams head coach Earl “Dutch” Clark, a future Hall of Famer in his own right.

The Rams won their first two games — and proceeded to lose all the rest of them to finish 2–9 and in the basement of the Western Division.

The Rams may have had Hall-of-Fame caliber men in the front office, but their talent on the field was middling at best. The Cleveland Rams, Franklin Lewis of the Cleveland Press noted with words that may sting with familiarity to today’s Browns fans, had “some good players, some inefficient players. Some of the time they had teams good enough to play close games with the league leaders.”

Not good enough. But Evans apparently thought more highly of his own abilities than the owners did. On New Year’s Eve 1941 he abruptly resigned because he and Reeves were too far apart on 1942 salary teams. After only six months in the NFL, Evans returned to baseball.

Was the signing of Evans mostly for show? At one least one sports writer at the time thought it was. With the hiring of Evans the Rams owners had “won the wholehearted support of the city’s football fans,” the Plain Dealer editorialized. But it was just as likely a shrewder motive was at work. Reeves and Levy — the former from New York City, the latter from Kentucky — were “outsiders,” Plain Dealer sports editor Sam Otis noted just before Evans’ resignation, who were “strongly suspected when they first took over” of moving the Rams franchise out of Cleveland. Otis thought hiring Evans, a local favorite, “went a long way toward allaying this fear.”

Time would show that the Rams already had in their organization a far superior assessor of football talent than Evans had been. Charles “Chile” Walsh, toiling at the time as an assistant coach under Clark, soon would be elevated to succeed Evans as GM, then would draft future Hall-of-Famers Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears, and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch as he pointed the Rams toward two NFL championships in seven years — and a new home in Los Angeles.

Browns fans likely will be praying that baseball man DePodesta is a far more assured path to winning in the NFL than Evans had been.

 

 

 

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This Pins the 1945 Cleveland Rams As NFL Champs

Rams pin

Press pin from the 1945 NFL Championship Game, which the Cleveland Rams won over the Washington Redskins, 15-14. (Courtesy Donald Gries Collection)

It may not be the Lombardi Trophy, but seventy years ago this was about as close as you got to NFL-championship swag and bling. This is a press pin issued by the Cleveland Rams, who won the 1945 NFL Championship Game over the Washington Redskins in a near-zero-degree nail-biter at Cleveland Stadium.

The pin belongs to Donald Gries, who is an avid collector of Rams (and Cleveland Browns) memorabilia who also happens to be a grandson of founding Rams owner Robert H. Gries. Don generously provided me access to his collection as background for my forthcoming book about the Rams.

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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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The Last (And Only) Attempts To Make Old Cleveland Stadium Hospitable For Football

Cleveland Municipal Stadium 1964

Cleveland Stadium in its usual gridiron configuration, with vast acreages of empty space separating the sidelines from the stands, save for two short-lived experiments: one in 1937, the other in 1941.

The Cleveland Indians just have reduced capacity and reconfigured Progressive Field to make it more accommodating to smaller crowds than it originally was intended for. But it’s not the first time a pro sports team in Cleveland has done this.

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Cleveland Football: Leading the League in Management Meddling Since 1937

Cleveland Rams president Edward Bruch

Cleveland Rams president Edward Bruch (far right) at Cleveland Stadium in 1940, the last season the team was held by local ownership. Bruch had his own management meddling moment a few years earlier while wintering in Arizona: He stepped on a practice field at the University of Arizona to evaluate a Rams prospect personally and was ejected “bodily, and with scant ceremony” from the campus. (Photo courtesy Cleveland Press Archives at Cleveland State University)

Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer has drawn headlines (and the threat of league penalties) for texting plays to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — during games!

Unprecedented, right?

Well, maybe it was unprecedented in the use of technology. But the NFL’s tenure in Cleveland has an inglorious history of management meddling, and it didn’t start with Jimmy Haslam and the drafting of Johnny Manziel, or even Art Modell and his firing of Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown.

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5 Myths About the NFL in Cleveland: It’s Not Quite the Football Town You Think It Is (Or Was)

1948 AAFC Championship Game.CLE

See those empty seats in the background? This is a Browns championship game. A scant 22,891 at the 1948 AAFC title game in Cleveland watch as Marion Motley and the 14-0 Browns down the 7-7 Buffalo Bills, 49-7. Three years earlier the supposedly less-liked Cleveland Rams drew 50% more fans to a taut 1945 NFL Championship Game, in arctic weather that was nearly 30 degrees colder and as servicemen were returning from World War II.

Historical facts often are no match for the selective memories of football fans and the relentless myth-making machine of the National Football League. Think Cleveland is a football town nonpareil, conceived by a sainted Browns playoff juggernaut of long ago? After debunking these 5 myths about the NFL in Cleveland you may think the real story is a little more…uh, complicated.

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