Nice play for the Cleveland Rams in today’s print and digital-edition versions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer . . .
Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals likely don’t know how close they came to gaining an NFL franchise a full twenty-two years before the expansion Bengals started play in 1968.
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.
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?
The St. Louis Rams delightfully acknowledge a bit of their founding history with this recently posted video. Seems especially helpful in educating a big chunk of the Rams’ current fan base who believe the team originated in Los Angeles.
It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say the team played a season at Shaw Stadium, though. As I’ve written elsewhere here at the Flying Lombardi, the Rams played only two games at Shaw before returning to League Park in anticipation of increased attendance. They just had upset the Detroit Lions, NFL champions three seasons before, and thought their fortunes were on the up and up.
Also, playing at Shaw Stadium was not as quaint and homespun as one might think either. As I’ve written in the draft of my upcoming book on the Rams:
The team’s decision to play in Shaw Stadium, if only briefly, made good sense. First, Shaw just had been renovated and enlarged and was lavishly maintained, off limits to high-school practices but available for game-day use by colleges and other high schools. Second, Shaw was “one of the best equipped lighted fields in the state,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. It was “flood lighted by the finest equipment developed by the General Electric Co.,” whose world-class NELA Park electrical research facility – one of the nation’s earliest, if not first, planned industrial research parks – was just a mile-and-a-half away in East Cleveland, a symbol of the region’s industrial might at that time. Third, the stadium’s new capacity of 15,500 was well suited to the team’s small but growing fan base, whose strongest home showing the previous season was not much more than 10,000.
Compliments nevertheless to the Rams organization for digging into its archives in this, the 70th-anniversary year of the franchise’s first NFL championship.
(Excerpt from the forthcoming book, CLEVELAND RAMS: Forgotten NFL Champions)
“Ohio was the anvil,” Los Angeles sportswriter Bob Oates once lyrically observed, “on which professional football was hammered.” It was not an overstatement.
The National Football League was founded in 1920 in Canton, 60 miles south of Cleveland down the Cuyahoga River valley, just past Akron and the overland portage that links the Cuyahoga with the Tuscarawas River.
So it is no surprise that among the 14 teams gathered inside Ralph Hay’s legendary Hupmobile showroom in Canton to form the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, five were from Ohio (see table). These included charter franchises the Cleveland Tigers, a mostly forgettable squad that posted an inaugural record of 1-4-2, and the Akron Pros, the league’s first champions, led by Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, who later became the NFL’s first African-American coach.
Two years later the Cleveland Tigers were a financial failure and were gone from the NFL. But the league hardly was gone from Cleveland. The owners, meeting in Cleveland’s downtown Hollenden Hotel on June 18, 1922, acted on Chicago Bears owner George Halas’ recommendation to strike the word professional from the organization’s name (the word was “superfluous,” Halas said), and to use league instead of association, which in baseball usually applied to second-class teams – and “we were first class,” said the supremely confident Halas.
The “little group” of the AFPA became, in the course of one meeting in Cleveland, the “National Football League.”
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!
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.