(Shenandoah) – Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Praise the Lord and pass the chicken wings!
If you are an avid pro football fan like I am, this week no doubt felt like the longest week in the history of modern man. Last Sunday was particularly excruciating, considering there was no NFL game – save for the virtual Pro Bowl celebration played via Madden ’21. In fact, last Sunday’s event made me think something that, until that time, was unthinkable – I actually MISSED the regular Pro Bowl. There, I said it.
The fact that I spent last weekend on my recliner laid up with back problems – and bored out of my gourd – didn’t help matters any (which, by the way, is why I skipped writing a blog last Sunday).
By now, you know who’s playing in today’s NFL championship matchup – Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus some other quarterback playing for some other team. If you watch ESPN, NFL Network or other media outlets, that’s all you need to know. NO OTHER quarterback is playing in this game other than Tom Brady. He’s the only one that’s important.
Heck, now Patrick Mahomes knows what it’s like to be Rodney Dangerfield.
If you’re detecting obvious sarcasm, you can probably tell this reporter feels the hype surrounding this game has been a little overwhelming. Maybe COVID-19 has turned down the media crush found before other Super Bowls, but not by much. In fact, the yearly hoopla over the Big Game makes me yearning for the days when football – like everything else – was simpler.
So, let’s have some fun and set the Wayback Machine to 70 years ago, and remember professional football in 1951.
Back then, the National Football League was not the powerhouse sports company it is now. In fact, only 12 teams were in existence back in ’51. Two of the teams – the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers – came to the league in 1950 following a merger with the old All American Football Conference (which received a brief mention in my March 1st, 2020 blog on defunct sports leagues).
Coaches by the legendary Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns not only held its own when joining the NFL, but won the league title in 1950. With MVP Otto Graham at quarterback, the Browns had the league’s top regular season record at 11-1. But, a repeat championship was not to be, as the Browns lost in the ’51 NFL Championship Game (remember, no Super Bowls back then) to the Los Angeles Rams, 24-to-17. More than 57,000 were in attendance at the Los Angeles Coliseum to see the Rams win their first –and only – NFL title as an L.A. team.
Incidentally, that game played on December 23rd, 1951 was noteworthy in that it was the first NFL championship game televised coast-to-coast (except in southern California, where it was blacked out). The old DuMont Television Network paid $75,000 for the broadcast rights. Nowadays, $75,000 wouldn’t buy a five-second commercial spot.
One note: there’s no record of who performed at halftime of the game. Safe to say, Up With People, wardrobe malfunctions, singing sharks and Jennifer Lopez weren’t even concepts back them.
That first network TV title game may not seem historically significant. But, remember that pro football was just on the cusp of popularity when the 1950’s began, trailing Major League Baseball, college football, boxing, horse racing and even – YIKES!!—pro wrestling in sports fans’ interests. Thanks to weekly TV exposure, the NFL’s national following grew as the decade progressed. In fact, the 1958 championship, won by the Baltimore Colts in overtime, 23-17 over the New York Giants, solidified the league’s future as a major sports phenomenon.
Getting back to 1951, the Rams were another of the league’s big drawing cards. Moving from Cleveland in the late 1940’s, the Rams developed a huge fan base in L.A., with noteworthy players like Norm Van Brocklin, Tank Younger, “Deacon Dan” Towler, Les Richter and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, who led the league in receiving with 1,495 yards and 17 touchdowns. And, having connections to Hollywood didn’t hurt. In fact, Rams’ quarterback Bob Waterfield was better known as actress Jane Russell’s husband.
Among those in attendance at some of those early 50’s Rams games was my dad, who was stationed in Marine bases in southern California at that time. Also, my brother-in-law John sold programs outside the Coliseum. He even collected chin straps from some of the aforementioned Rams’ players from that era. Good thing it wasn’t jock straps.
Family connections aside, here’s a few other notes from 1951:
— Bobby Lane of the Detriot Lions was the NFL’s leading quarterback, passing for more than 2,400 yards and 26 touchdowns.
— Eddie Price of the Giants was the league’s leading rusher, with 971 yards and 7 touchdowns. You could say that for the Giants, the Price was right. You COULD say that.
— The Chicago Bears were still coached by George Halas, and played its home games at Wrigley Field.
— Few people remember there were two NFL teams in Chicago in ’51. The hapless Chicago Cardinals, playing before small crowds at Cominskey Park went 3-9-0. Eventually, the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 before relocating again to Arizona in the late 1980’s.
— Perhaps only one team was worse that the Cards – New York’s OTHER professional team. Only avid pro grid historians remember the New York Yanks. Few people witnessed the Yanks’ home games at Yankee Stadium. In fact, the team folded following 1-9-2 season in ’51. Which raises the question – how did this team even manage ties?
— The Giants, by the way, had the number-one pick in the 1951 NFL draft — SMU halfback Kyle Rote. Other notable rookies: Y.A. Tittle, Andy Robustelli, Art Donovan, Mike McCormack, Bill George and Don Shula. It’s worth noting that the league’s draft that year totaled 30 – count ‘em – 30 rounds. Today, ESPN would stay on the air for 10 days straight covering that big of a draft (with its analysis starting three years in advance!).
What about the Kansas City Chiefs, you ask? Well, it would be nine years before the Chiefs – originally known as the Dallas Texans – would join the Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Houston Oilers, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and New York Titans in the upstart American Football League. Other teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, etcetera, were still in the NFL’s future.
So much in this world has changed in 70 years — in some ways, not for the better. But when you sit back and watch the Super Bowl tonight, be sure to think about the greats who roamed the gridirons of yesteryear, and helped set the tone for pro football as it is today.
And, I can’t end this blog without my own little Super Bowl 55 prediction: Chiefs 32, Buccaneers 21. Kansas City wins a second straight Super Bowl. And, I’ll be making space in my drawers for more championship T-shirts.
Mike Peterson is senior news anchor-reporter with KMA News. The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of this station, its management or its ownership.
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