The Los Angeles Rams have seen their share of legends don the horns. One name that is rarely mentioned in this generation is Bob Waterfield. Actually, Waterfield played for the Rams while the franchise was in Cleveland. Here’s a look back at a forgotten legend:
UCLA and the Army: Waterfield played football at Van Nuys High School before moving on to UCLA. Waterfield wasn’t a highly sought recruit, but that didn’t stop him from making a huge impact as a Bruin. He contributed to UCLA’s Pacific Coast Conference championships in 1942 and 1943, and then led the Bruins to a Rose Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Later that year, Waterfield joined the Army to help support the U.S. during World War II. He was later discharged after sustaining a knee injury. He went back to UCLA in 1944, and made a name for himself in the East-West Shrine game in the early part of 1945. Waterfield led the West to a 13-7 victory over the East scoring their only two touchdowns and punted an average of 59.6 yards from the line of scrimmage, which earned him the William M. Coffman Trophy.
Technically, Waterfield was drafted in 1944 by the Cleveland Rams in the fifth round (42nd overall). He was still enlisted in the Army when he was drafted and didn’t play his rookie season until 1945.
Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams (1945-1952): If there ever was a pure football player, it was Waterfield. He could do everything, including serving as a punter, kicker, defensive back and occasionally running back and wide receiver. He eventually started at four positions during his rookie campaign, including quarterback.
Putting so much responsibility on a young rookie that wasn’t even their first round pick seemed to signify a hopeless season, but the team finished first in the NFL West Division with a 9-1 record. Waterfield successfully led the Rams to a 15-14 win the NFL Championship game over the Washington Redskins. He earned All-Pro honors after passing for a total 1,609 yards and 21 touchdowns. Waterfield was also named MVP, which was the first time in NFL history a rookie earned the award by unanimous decision. His impressive rookie season put him in line for a new contract, and Waterfield became the highest paid player in the NFL when the Rams signed him to a 3-year, $60,000 contract.
Fresh off the championship year, the Rams left Cleveland and moved to Los Angeles. Owner Daniel Reeves had already made the decision before winning the championship, but at least the Rams left on a memorable note. Waterfield returned to the west coast, but he and the Rams didn’t exactly pick up where they left off in Cleveland when the team finished with a 6-4-1 record. Waterfield led the league in passing yards with 1,747 and recorded 18 total touchdowns, which was enough to name him an All-Pro.
Waterfield wouldn’t see another championship game until 1949, when the Rams drafted fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin was too talented to keep off the field, and the Rams decided to alternate playing the two quarterbacks. It wasn’t the ideal situation for either player, but both respected each other enough to accept their limited roles. The Rams made it to the championship game after finishing with an 8-2-2 record, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 14-0. Waterfield was named an All-Pro and finished with 2,168 passing yards and had 18 touchdowns.
In 1950, Waterfield lost his starting quarterback position to Van Brocklin, but he still contributed enough to earn him a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. The Rams went on to lose to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game, 30-28.
It was all business for the Rams in 1951, when they won their first NFL Championship in Los Angeles after beating the Browns, 24-17. Both Van Brocklin and Waterfield earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Waterfield threw for 1,566 yards and recorded 16 touchdowns.
Waterfield retired following the 1952 season. He finished his career with 814 completions, 11,849 passing yards, 97 touchdowns, 60 field goals, 573 total points, 20 interceptions and averaged 42.4 yards per punt. Waterfield was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame 1965, the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984, and had his No. 7 jersey retired by the Rams franchise.
Rams Head Coach (1960-1962): The Los Angeles Rams needed some sort of spark to snap them out of one of the worst stretches on team history, and they looked to their fan favorite legend Waterfield to take over as head coach on 1960. It made sense considering his Hall of Fame career, but he was a much better player than a coach. In almost three seasons, Waterfield compiled a 9-24 record, and never once did he win more than four games. The Rams fired him after beginning with a 1-7 record in 1962; the Rams finished 1-12-1 that season.