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1946-1960 Overview: The Rams make the move to Southern California

1946 L.A. Bound

The year 1946 was historical for the Rams organization. Owner Daniel Reeves fought hard to receive approval from the NFL to move to Los Angeles, California when the team’s situation in Cleveland grew dire. Although the league initially denied Reeves’ request, it was forced to allow the move when the Rams’ owner threatened to end his relationship with the NFL. It’s also important to note that Reeves had little choice but to move the franchise after Paul Brown’s fledgling Cleveland Browns won the Municipal Stadium lease.

The Rams became the first NFL team to move west of the Mississippi River, and played their home games at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum until 1979.

The Rams also made history when they became the first NFL franchise to sign African-American players to a contract in the modern day NFL. Kenny Washington and Woodrow “Woody” Strode were innovators in the world of sports. Both of them attended and played for the UCLA football team along with the legendary Jackie Robinson in 1939. Robinson went on to break the color barrier in MLB by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers less than a year after the Rams brought in Washington and Strode. All three of these athletes opened the doors for future African-American stars including Jim Brown, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

The season overall was considered a bust considering the Rams were 9-1 in 1945. The team landed in second place in the West Division with a record of 6-4-1. They finished second in the NFL in scoring, but the defense struggled throughout the season.

QB Bob Waterfield, OG Riley Matheson and WR Jim Benton earned All-Pro honors. Waterfield threw for 1,747 passing yards and 17 touchdowns while Benton finished 981 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Coaches Charles and Adam Walsh resigned after a disappointing year.

 1947- Rams’ Design Revolutionizes the NFL

Owner Dan Reeves had a busy season. First, he took over as the team’s general manager, and then he hired assistant coach Bob Snyder as head coach. Snyder was a credible hire after developing future Hall of Famer, QB Bob Waterfield.

HB Fred Gehrke single-handedly revolutionized the NFL by designing the iconic horn on the Rams helmet. It was the first time in NFL history that an insignia was placed on a team’s helmet. An art major from the University of Utah, Gehrke suggested to Snyder that the team should place an “eye-catching” design on the helmets. Snyder couldn’t quite envision what his player was suggesting, so Gehrke grabbed an old leather helmet and painted a design on it. Snyder loved the idea and submitted the idea to the league. The Rams used the new design the following season.

However, there was a problem with the design:  the NFL was still utilizing leather helmets. Paint chipped off the material as players were hit, which meant that Gehrke would have to take the helmets home with him and repaint the design after each game. This would remain a problem until 1949, when the helmets switched from leather to plastic. By 1960, almost every team in the NFL had a logo on their helmet. The only exception remains the Cleveland Browns. Paint later became obsolete when the league instituted strong adhesive decals on the helmets in 1972.

Unfortunately, this marketing success didn’t translate on the football field. Snyder’s efforts were unsuccessful as the Rams finished in fourth place in the West Division with a 6-6 mark. OT Richard Huffman and OG Riley Matheson were both named as First Team All-Pros.

 1948- Strong Finish

Snyder resigned in the beginning of the season and newly appointed coach/advisor Clark Shaughnessy was named head coach. Shaughnessy faced a tough challenge as the Rams struggled early in the season.

The team lost four of its first seven games as it transitioned into a new set of coaching schemes under Shaughnessy. However, the Rams did finally put it together late and won four of their last five games. The team finished with a record of 6-5-1, which was good enough for a third place finish in the West Division.

Although there were no Rams on the 1948 All-Pro Team, one player set the stage for what was to come. Rookie WR Tom Fears exhibited many of the playmaking skills that would later come in handy when the Rams won the 1951 NFL Championship. Fears caught 51 passes for 698 yards and four touchdowns, including three touchdowns in the Rams’ 44-7 thrashing of the Detroit Lions in the season opener. He even recorded the first and only pick-six of his career.

1949- Statement Season

The Rams came out of nowhere to capture the attention of the entire nation when they went undefeated in their first six games. The team even drew a record crowd of 86,080 on Oct. 30, 1949, against the Chicago Bears. The game didn’t disappoint; it was a close, exciting matchup that ended in a Rams 27-24 victory.

Los Angeles went 2-2-2 down the stretch and finished with a record of 8-2-2, which put the Rams in the NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, an NFL title wasn’t meant to be as the Eagles beat the Rams 14-0 on Dec. 18, 1949.

QB Bob Waterfield and OT Richard Huffman were named First Team All-Pros and WR Tom Fears emerged as one of the best receivers in the league when he racked up 1,013 yards receiving.

Future Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch also made his mark on the team after spending three years with the Chicago Rockets. He became an integral part of the “Three-End Formation” the Rams began running in the late 1940s. This new offensive style gained popularity due to its innovative wide-open offense and would hit the peak of its popularity in the 1950 season.

1950- League Expansion

The NFL merged with the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) in 1950 and introduced three new teams as a result of the expansion:  the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. Furthermore, the New York Bulldogs name was changed to the Yanks, and the Los Angeles Dons merged with the Los Angeles Rams.

The change didn’t affect the Rams. The team continued its dominance and took first place in the new National Conference with a record of 9-3.

The “Three-End System” continued to be a success, and the Rams became one of the league’s biggest draws. In fact, the 1950 Rams were the only team in the history of the NFL to be televised for all 14 games, including the postseason.

One of the most exciting Rams’ games of the year came on Oct. 22, 1950 against the Baltimore Colts. The Rams scored the most points in franchise history in a 70-27 victory. There wasn’t a quarter that the Rams didn’t score at least two touchdowns.

The Rams faced the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game. It was the team’s second straight appearance in the title game, and once again, the Rams lost. However, the game went down as one of the more exciting title matchups of the era as the Browns won 30-28 on a late field goal.

The 1950 Rams had plenty of talent on the roster, including QB Norm Van Brocklin. He finished the season with 2,061 passing yards while Bob Waterfield finished with 1,540 passing yards. Both quarterbacks split time and became Hall of Famers.

The NFL reinstated the Pro Bowl, which featured many Rams players including Van Brocklin, Waterfield, HB Glenn Davis, FB Dick Hoerner, TE Tom Fears, DB Woodley Lewis and DE Larry Brink. Fears was also named as an All-Pro.

1951- Champions

The Los Angeles Rams entered the season missing one thing:  an NFL Championship. Second-year head coach Joe Stydahar entered the season with the franchise’s most talented team to date. If the Rams were going to win a title, 1951 was the year to do it.

There were some changes in the NFL, including new standard issue plastic helmets, but one thing that didn’t change was how the Rams and Browns still dominated the league. The Rams finished on top of their division for the third consecutive year with a record of 8-4. The Browns took first place in the American Conference and finished with a record of 11-1.

The Rams lost 38-23 at home to the Browns early in the season, but the two rivals faced each other again in the NFL Championship game. It also marked the third appearance in the title game for the Rams. This time, the team brought home championship gold by stopping the Browns 24-17 when QB Norm Van Brocklin threw the game winning touchdown pass to WR/TE Tom Fears.

Van Brocklin had one of the best seasons of his career. He also made history when he set the NFL record for most passing yards in a game when Van Brocklin threw for 554 yards in the season opener against the New York Yanks on Sept. 28, 1951. The Rams won in a blowout, 54-14.

The Rams won their first and only championship in Los Angeles, and their second title overall, by running their dominant “Three-End System.” The offense lead the league in points scored with 392 and had multiple players put up outstanding numbers, including Elroy Hirsch’s 1,495 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. The team had a total of seven Pro Bowlers:  Van Brocklin, Hirsh, Brink, RB Dan Towler, FB/LB Paul “Tank” Younger, QB Bob Waterfield and LB Don Paul. Younger, Brink and Hirsch were also named to the All-Pro team.

1952- The Youth Movement

The 1952 season saw a changing of the guard in Los Angeles. The team’s quarterback changed as Van Brocklin entered the peak of his career while Waterfield’s began to slow down. The offense was no longer as dynamic as it had been in the past, but the defense began contributing more after the front office built a younger, more athletic squad.

Part of the Rams’ youth movement meant trading for Dallas Texans’ rookie LB Les Richter. The Rams wanted Richter enough that they sent 11 players to Dallas in the deal. The players were:  RB Dave Anderson, HB Billy Baggett, OT Jack Halliday, FB Dick McKissack, C Aubrey Phillips, C Joe Reid, DB George Sims, LB Vic Vasicek and TE Richard Wilkins. Most of the players didn’t contribute much to the Texans, but the central parts of the deal were the remaining two players, FB Dick Hoerner and DB Tom Keane. The Rams would wait two years for Richter to join the team due to his service in the Korean War.

The Rams opened the season with a rematch against the Cleveland Browns. It ended up being head coach Joe Stydahar’s last game with the team; he retired after the Browns crushed the Rams 37-7.  The team hired assistant coach Hampton Pool to replace Stydahar.

The Rams lost two of their next three games but then went on an eight-game winning streak to finish with a 9-3 record. However, the Rams didn’t make it back to the title game as the Detroit Lions eliminated them in the playoffs, 31-21.

The Rams featured many Pro Bowlers including the likes of Van Brocklin, FB Dan Towler, LB/FB Tank Younger, WR Elroy Hirsch, LB Don Paul, DT Stan West and DT Jim Winkler. Towler and West were named to as First Team All-Pros.

Oddly enough, DB Dick “the Night Train” Lane was left off the Pro Bowl team. Lane set the NFL record for most interceptions in a season with 14. This came after he was initially brought in as a tight end, but he was found athletic enough play in the secondary.

One final note:  Waterfield announced his retirement following the season and was later voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1953- Results of a Tough Division

The Western Conference was so strong in 1953 that the Rams finished the year with a record of 8-3-1 and still didn’t make the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers finished ahead of the Rams with a record of 9-3, and the Detroit Lions won the conference title despite losing both games against the Rams.

The Lions and Rams made history in 1953 when they played before a record crowd of 93,751 in November. Los Angeles won a close, exciting game, 37-34.

The team had several Pro Bowlers:  QB Norm Van Brocklin, LB Don Paul, WR Elroy Hirsch, DE Andy Robustelli, FB Dan Towler and LB/FB Tank Younger. Hirsch, Paul and Robustelli earned First Team All-Pro honors.

1954- Disappointing Season Calls For Clean Slate

The Rams struggled in 1954 and finished fourth in the Western Conference with a record of 6-5-1, which led to the resignation of Coach Pool and his staff.

Despite a disappointing season, there were a few bright spots. QB Norm Van Brocklin was named Player of the Year after putting together a spectacular regular season with 2,637 passing yards.

Furthermore, LB Les Richter finally returned from the Korean War, and he proved to be a worthy investment. Although not technically a rookie, he earned a spot on the Pro Bowl team in his first active year in the NFL. His best years were still ahead of him.

The Rams still had many talented individuals on the roster, and the proof was in the amount players selected to the Pro Bowl:  Van Brocklin, Richter, FB Dan Towler, HB Volney “Skeet” Quinlan, WR Bob Boyd, OG Duane Putnam and C Leon McLaughlin. However, only Boyd was named to the All-Pro team.

1955- One Last Shot at the Title

The Rams entered 1955 with a new coach and a new attitude. The team hired famous University of Cincinnati coach Sid Gillman to lead the team into the future. Gillman had quite the reputation as a college head coach after compiling a career record of 81-19-2 with the Bearcats.

The Rams’ new head coach didn’t disappoint. He led the team to a first place finish in the Western Conference and compiled a record of 8-3-1. What was once a team of offensive specialists became a defensive team as the Rams used the “Three-End System” for the final time.

The Rams earned a spot in the NFL Championship game and once again faced their rivals, the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, the Browns were the better team and beat the Rams, 38-14. It was the last time the Rams challenged for the title in years.

The team featured multiple Pro Bowlers,  including  QB Norm Van Brocklin, RB Ron Waller, FB Tank Younger, LB Les Richter, DT Bud McFadin, S Will Sherman, DE Andy Robustelli, and DE Paul Miller. Robustelli and Sherman were also selected to as First Team All-Pros.

Sherman led the team in interceptions with 11, but the untold story was Richter’s impact and the defensive line. Their contributions to the 1955 team were immeasurable.

1956- The Dark Ages Begin

Unfortunately, the franchise spent much of the next 10 years trying to return to its championship roots. It all began with DE Andy Robustelli’s trade demand.

Robustelli was in the prime of his career and a major part of the Rams’ promising defensive front. However, Robustelli’s relationship with the team broke down when Gillman turned down his request for time off when his child was born. Robustelli demanded a trade, which led to him being sent to the New York Giants for a 1957 first round pick (Baylor University WR Del Shofner).

The deal cost the Rams one of their best defensive linemen, and it helped the Giants add one of the final pieces they needed to win a title. Meanwhile, the Rams finished last in the West Division with a record of 4-8.

The year did have some positives. QB prospect Billy Wade flashed his vast potential during the season, and LB Les Richter continued to dominate the league. Richter was named to the Pro Bowl once again alongside teammates TE Leon Clarke, OG Duane Putnam, DT Bud McFadin and DE Paul Miller. Richter was the only Ram to earn a spot on the All-Pro Team.

1957- Another Attendance Record

The 1957 Rams exhibited some signs of improvement, and with a little more luck, they would have made the playoffs. They lost close games on the road to the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers, which cost them dearly as both teams barely finished ahead of the Rams in the Western standings. The Rams finished fourth in the conference with a record of 6-6.

There was one game that stood out above the rest. On Nov. 10, 1957, the Rams beat the 49ers 37-24 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in front of a crowd of 102,368, which set the NFL record for highest attendance. The record still stands today.

Considering the close games that were lost, the standings certainly did not tell the whole story. The Rams had more than their share of Pro Bowlers on the roster, which included RB Tommy Wilson, HB/KR “Jaguar” Jon Arnett, OG Duane Putnam, LB Les Richter and LB Dick Daugherty.

1958- Goodbye Future Hall of Famer

The Rams made one of the most memorable transactions in NFL history in 1958. During the preseason, the team traded “The Dutchman” QB Norm Van Brocklin to the Philadelphia Eagles for OT Buck Lansford, DB Jimmy Harris and a first-round pick in the 1959 NFL Draft. The pick would later become RB Dick Bass from Pacific University.

Despite the trade, the Rams still put together a winning season as QB Billy Wade started in place of the departed Van Brocklin. Wade didn’t disappoint as he threw for 2,875 passing yards and connected on 18 touchdowns.

The media attention surrounding the transaction drew even larger crowds. The Rams eclipsed the 100,000 crowd mark twice at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The team gave the fans their money’s worth as Los Angeles won both games in shootouts. Overall, the Rams tied for second in the Western Conference and finished with an 8-4 record. Sadly, the team didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

There were plenty of Pro Bowlers on the roster, including Wade, HB/KR Jon Arnett, WR Del Shofner, S Will Sherman, LB Les Richter and OG Duane Putnam. Shofner also earned All-Pro honors by recording 1,097 receiving yards and eight touchdowns during his rookie season.

1959- Rock Bottom

The 1959 Rams put together their worst season since 1937 when it finished 2-10. The team lost its final eight games of the season, which put the nail in the coffin for head coach Sid Gilman. He and his staffresigned after the final game.

The Rams also hurt the team’s future by trading for workhorse FB Ollie Matson from the Chicago Cardinals. The Rams sent nine players and two draft picks to the Cardinals in the deal, including OT Ken Panfil, DT Frank Fuller, DE Glenn Holtzman, DT Art Hauser, RB Don Brown, RB Larry Hickman, TE John Tracey, a second round pick and a fourth round pick. The move sent much of the team’s depth to the Cardinals, although it’s fair to say that the deal didn’t help Chicago much either.

One of the few positives of the year was the emergence of future “Fearsome Foursome” member DE Lamar Lundy. He was selected to the Pro Bowl alongside HB/KR Jon Arnett, WR Del Shofner and LB Les Richter.

1960- Legends Take Over

The sudden death of NFL Commissioner Bert Bell led to the league electing Rams’ general manager Pete Rozelle to replace him. The Rams hired Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch as the new general manager and then named Bob Waterfield as the new head coach.

The new staff struggled in its first season at the helm as the team finished 4-7-1. There were no Rams on the All-Pro team, but the roster did feature some Pro Bowlers. HB/KR Jon Arnett, WR Jim Phillips, DB Eddie Meador and LB Les Richter all represented the Rams in the game.


You can follow Johnny Gomez on Twitter @Johnny5not6. Be sure to follow Rams Talk on Twitter@TalkRams.

Sources: Profootballreference.comProfootballhof.comStlouisrams.com


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