1936-1945 - The Cleveland Years

The Forgotten Ones: The 1936 Cleveland Rams

Few people know that the Los Angeles Rams originated in Cleveland before moving out west. Fewer people know the story of how they joined the NFL. And almost nobody knows about the team’s history before joining the NFL. Here is the strange story of the birth of the Cleveland Rams.

The father of the Rams is Homer Marshman, an attorney from Cleveland. In 1936, his friend Paul Thurlow, who owned the now-defunct Boston Shamrocks, informed him that there was a new football league being formed and that it was attempting to bring a team to Cleveland.

After a meeting with a few other investors, Marshman, a man who had never seen a professional football game in his life, decided to be the main bank for the team. When searching for a name, the group decided to go with something short. Nobody came with a name shorter than Rams, which was the nickname for Fordham University. And as simple as that, the Cleveland Rams were born.

The Cleveland Rams played in the American Football League (AFL) before joining the NFL. There may be a quite a few people reading this and thinking that the Rams played in the AFL for a few decades before they joined the NFL during the AFL-NFL merger, but don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. This wasn’t the AFL many baby-boomers grew up with.

This American Football League, sometimes referred to as AFL II, was the third of eight leagues to use the name, and the second of four rival leagues to the NFL. This AFL only lasted for two years and consisted of franchises such as the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Bengals, none of which are related to the current franchises of the same name.

The Cleveland Rams’ inaugural season was a successful one in my eyes. The team went 5-2-2, finishing second in the league behind the powerhouse Boston Shamrocks. Unfortunately for the Rams, the league had no playoff, and the Shamrocks were crowned as champions. Had there been a playoff, who knows? Maybe the Rams could have upset the Shamrocks and became champions in their first ever season.

The Rams were led by Harry “The Toe” Mattos, their RB/WR/K who led the AFL in scoring and would later briefly play in the NFL. The team played its home games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a stadium where the Rams would later win an NFL championship in 1945.

Marshman saw the writing on the wall at the end of the season and decided he would not return his franchise to the AFL. He made the right call: the league disbanded after one more season and not a single franchise who played in the league survived the 1940s, with the exception of the Rams.

Marshman then decided to try and bring his franchise to the National Football League. After a meeting with the NFL, he forked over $10,000 to the league, the Cleveland Rams officially joined the NFL, and the rest is history. The Rams won a championship in 1945, less then ten years after joining the league and moved to Los Angeles the next season.

The AFL II is one of the least important professional sports leagues in the history of American sports. All but one of its franchises folded shortly after the league folded. The 1936 Cleveland Rams may have been good in this lackluster league, but that didn’t translate to success in the NFL. Most of the team wasn’t talented enough for the country’s top football league. In fact, only four players from the team played for the Rams in the NFL: Mike Sebastian, Bud Cooper, Stan Pincura, and Harry Mattos. They aren’t exactly household names in the lore of NFL history, and for good reason: none of these guys had even mildly successful NFL careers.

However, even though it lacked much, if any success, the AFL II was important, because it gave us today’s Rams. Without it, who knows what would have happened to football in Cleveland, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. And for that, we can salute the 1936 Cleveland Rams, a team much forgotten and we can thank them for laying the foundation needed for an NFL franchise.

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