Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3, 1950: No passing fad

CLEVELAND - The Philadelphia Eagles weren't convinced. Neither were many of the other teams in the NFL, actually, but the Eagles especially weren't sold on the talent of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had joined the NFL from the AAFL at the beginning of the 1950 season, and in their first game had laid a 35-10 thrashing on the defending champion Eagles. Still, though, the Eagles weren't convinced. "You can't win in the NFL by just throwing the ball," they said. "Cleveland only does it because they're not tough enough to run it in our league."

OK, thought Cleveland. We'll see about that.

And so Cleveland bided their time, piling up more and more wins - losing only two games, both to the Giants - before pulling into their December 3 rematch against Philadelphia in a first-place tie. They remembered what everybody had said, that they weren't tough enough to run. They remembered that everybody had discounted their win over the Eagles as a fluke. They remembered.

So they invited the Eagles into Cleveland Stadium, on a cold December day on Lake Erie, and the Browns ran the ball. And they ran and ran some more, running the ball right down the Eagles' throats. Sure, it was the smart thing to do - the weather was getting worse, the field was getting sloppy. It made sense to shift to a run-first offense. In fact, the Browns had been running a lot more than they'd been passing for the last three games. But this time, it was different. This time, they were trying to prove a point.

The results of their game plan were mixed. The Browns only ran for 69 yards in the game, but they still won 13-7, behind two field goals and an interception returned for a touchdown. It wasn't pretty, but they had won a game without attempting a single pass.

In the process, they proved a couple points. The first was that they were good enough to win in the NFL by running the ball. In this, they had proven their detractors wrong. The second point was one they may not have been trying to prove, but it was one that inadvertently showed that their game plan in the first meeting against Philadelphia wasn't that wacky. The Browns had shown that it was foolish for any NFL team at that point to ignore the pass. The time of NFL teams being able to plunge into the line over and over was through. It simply couldn't be done any more. Teams had to pass now, even if it was just a few passes a game.

The Browns 13-7 win over Philadelphia on December 2, 1950, remains the last NFL game in which a team did not attempt a single forward pass. The next week, their point proven, the Browns passed for 321 yards against Washington to wrap up a tie for the American Conference championship. They won the NFL title two weeks later.

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