Nice play for the Cleveland Rams in today’s print and digital-edition versions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer . . .
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.
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.
Today we take it as a given: A professional sports team will play an even number of games at home and on the road across the course of a regular season.
Not so the National Football League in the 1930s and 1940s. This was an era in which there were distinct winners and losers both on the field and at the box office and when actions by the league office had a way of widening the divide.
Amazing what types of stories you can uncover by sitting down to talk with those who loved and remember players from the Cleveland Rams.
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)
With Cleveland’s downtown skyline on the horizon, vestiges of historic League Park and its freshly restored ticket office (above, right) are prepared for a grand reopening this summer as a public baseball facility — though with nary a mention of the pro football history that was made here.