- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
QB GRAHAM STARS
Philadelphia, Sept. 16, 1950—Rivers flow uphill. The sun sets in the east. Dogs love cats. It all makes sense after what happened tonight. Chisel it above the granite entrance at still-shuddering Municipal Stadium: Cleveland Browns 35, Philadelphia Eagles 10.
On this first day of this 1950 season, the NFL changed for good. The Cleveland Nobodies, four-time champions of the laughed-at All-America Football Conference, roasted, braised and fricasseed the big, bad, two-time defending NFL champion Eagles in a game that needed to be a lot closer just to get filed as a blowout. Playing" in their first-ever NFL game, the Browns outscouted, outcoached, outran, outblocked, outpassed and out-and-out humiliated the Eagles from just past the national anthem until just after the last shower trickle was turned off.
It couldn't be. It shouldn't be. But it was. The game that had filled more bar-stool conversations than any other in league history turned out in a way nobody figured it would. With Browns quarterback Otto Graham trying to discover how long an inflated pigskin could stay in the air, and with Browns fullback Marion Motley trying to see how many cleat marks the average Eagle jersey would hold, and with Cleveland coach Paul Brown making Philadelphia coach Earle (Greasy) Neale look like a man who would have trouble planning toast and coffee, the Browns let pro football know that it's going to be a very, very long season.
"They didn't upset us," Eagle tackle Bucko Kilroy tried to explain afterward. "Man for man, they were just a better team." Not just better. Flawless. Graham threw for a preposterous 346 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns defense allowed 118 forward yards. Municipal Stadium was as quiet as a mortuary.
And when it was all over, you knew you had seen the work of a genius: Paul Brown. Until now his deliberate, closemouthed ways were the antics of the town lunatic—remarkable, watchable, but, let's face it, mostly comical. Five year-round assistant coaches? Get serious! The Eagles only had one lull-timer, and he left alter last season. Scout an opponent for a year, I he way the Browns did I he Eagles? Ludicrous! The Eagles never sent anybody to a Browns game. Issue every player a notebook filled with plays? Call the plays from the sideline? Time guys in the 40-yard dash? Is any of this actually necessary? From now on it will be. Somebody call the NFL's head decorator. We're redoing everything in shades of Brown.
NFL bigwigs burned
This was also the work of arrogance—the NFL's. Since the AAFC was formed four years ago the NFK had bum-mouthed it. "The worst team in our league could beat the best team in theirs." said Redskins owner George Preston Marshall last year. Back in '45, then-NFL commissioner Elmer Layden was asked about the upstart league's hopes of playing the NFL. "What league?" he said. "Let them get a ball first."
When the AAFC folded last year, $11 million in the hole, Cleveland, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts finally made it into the Big League, but plenty of the 10 NFL owners—including Philadelphia's James Clark—fought it all the way. And all the while, Paul Brown watched and waited.
"Coach Brown should've been a general," said Graham. "For four years, he never said a word, just kept putting that stuff on the bulletin board. We were so fired up for this, we would've played them anywhere anytime—for a keg of beer or a chocolate milk shake, didn't matter."