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1961: Trade changes the course of the franchise

Head coach Bob Waterfield and his Los Angeles Rams entered their second season together hoping that the team would adjust under the leadership of the future Hall of Famer. However, the Rams took a step backwards in 1961. There were plenty of reasons for the team’s problems, including an interesting trade.

The deal between the Rams and the Chicago Bears hurt Los Angeles in the short term, but it became a great trade in the future. The Rams sent QB Billy Wade, WR Del Shofner and LB John Guzik for QB Zeke Bratkowski, DB Lindon Crow and a first round draft pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. Los Angeles used that draft pick to select legendary QB Roman Gabriel.

The Rams and Bears had a similar quarterback situation. Billy Wade never turned out to be the promising prospect that the Rams were expecting, although he did flash some potential. The same thing could be said for the Bears’ Bratkowski. The two teams made the trade hoping that a change of scenery would spark both quarterbacks’ careers. Wade would have the better season (a better career too) finishing with 2,258 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while Bratkowski threw for 1,541 yards, eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Bratkowski also split time with fellow quarterback Frank Ryan.

Crow was a serviceable defensive back, but his best years were behind him. Both Shofner and Guzik did not stay with the Bears at all. Shofner was sent to the Giants and had a great career in New York, while Guzik finished his short career in the AFL with the Houston Oilers.

The team flashed some promise in the early stages of the 1961 season, but the close losses hurt the team. For example, the Rams opened the season with tough losses against the Baltimore Colts (27-24) and the Bears (21-17).

The Bears game drew some hype due to the trade in the offseason; however, it was a shortened quarterback battle since Wade left the game. Wade had an impressive game before his exit; he completed 6 of 7 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. Bratkowski threw for 245 yards and no touchdowns.

The two teams would face once more in another thriller in Week 11. The Rams rallied back in the fourth quarter after trailing 21-10. First, Bratkowski found RB Ollie Matson for an 84-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to four points. On the next possession, Bratkowski hit TE Duane Allen for a 48-yard touchdown pass to take the lead, 24-21. However, the Bears had the last laugh when Wade dished off a 52-yard pass to win the game.  Bratkowski led the Rams with 322 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 28-24 loss.

The Rams did pick up a few victories, including two against the archrival San Francisco 49ers. Still, the Rams finished sixth in the NFL West Division with a 4-10 record.

Los Angeles’ struggles didn’t keep the team from landing a few Pro Bowlers, including HB/KR Jon Arnett, WR Red Phillips and LB Les Richter. Phillips was named to the All-Pro team.

Season Notes

– The Rams selected USC LB Marlin McKeever in the first round (fourth overall) of the 1961 NFL Draft.

– The team’s most well-known draft pick was DE Deacon Jones from Mississippi Valley State. The future Hall of Famer was the steal of the draft upon being selected in the 14th round (186th overall).

– Other notable players included fourth round pick T Charlie Cowan from New Mexico Highlands (45th overall) and Ohio State T Ernie Wright, who was selected in the 15th round (200th overall).

1961 Los Angeles Rams
Week Date Opponent Score Record
1 Sunday, Sept. 17 @Baltimore Colts L, 24-27 0-1
2 Saturday, Sept. 23 Chicago Bears L, 17-21 0-2
3 Sunday, Oct. 1 Pittsburgh Steelers W, 24-14 1-2
4 Sunday, Oct. 8 @San Francisco 49ers L, 0-35 1-3
5 Sunday, Oct. 15 @Detroit Lions L, 13-14 1-4
6 Sunday, Oct. 22 @New York Giants L, 14-24 1-5
7 Sunday, Oct. 29 Detroit Lions L, 10-28 1-6
8 Sunday, Nov. 5 Minnesota Vikings W, 31-17 2-6
9 Sunday, Nov. 12 San Francisco 49ers W, 17-6 3-6
10 Sunday, Nov. 19 @Green Bay Packers L, 17-35 3-7
11 Sunday, Nov. 26 @Chicago Bears L, 24-28 3-8
12 Sunday, Dec. 3 @Minnesota Vikings L, 21-42 3-9
13 Saturday, Dec. 9 Baltimore Colts W, 34-17 4-9
14 Sunday, Dec. 17 Green Bay Packers L, 17-24 4-10

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

Sources: Profootballreference.comStlouisrams.com


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