The 1955 NFL season was the first year NBC secured the privilage to broadcast the Championship game. The network paid the league $100,000 for the television rights.
Rule changes included the second definition of when a runner is considered down. The revised rule stated, the ball is dead when any part of the runners body (exception of hands and feet) hits the ground in the grasp of a defender. There was also an alteration to the safety rule stating, if an interceptors momentum carries him into the end zone and he stops before returning to the field of play, the ball would be spotted at the spot of the interception.
The Eastern Division again belong to the Browns. The club lost their first game of the year against Washington 27-17, then realed of six straight victories. The Browns last five game included a week eight lose to the Eagles 33-17 and a week ten tie to the Giants 35-35, allowing them to finish the season at 9-2-1. The 1955 season would be the last of the consecutive Eastern Conference Championships in the 1950’s for the Cleveland Browns.
Lou “The Toe” Groza is without question my favorite all-time Cleveland Browns player. I mean, when the NFL impliments a rule change based on his kicking style, then Groza did something nobody else in the league was doing, which happened to be kicking with some accuracy.
Groza was born on January 25, 1927 to immigrent parents from Romania (father) and Hungary (mother) respectively, and was the smallest of the three Groza boys. Lou only played one year of football at Ohio State before being drafted into the United States Army. Upon his discharge, the un-drafted Groza joined the AAFC Cleveland Browns in 1946, as an offensive tackle and kicker. During that era it was common for a player to hold double duty as a postion player and kicker, Doak Walker of the Lions and Bob Waterfield of the Rams both did it, but they were running backs, not a 6’3” 240 lb. offensive tackle.
In the early years of the AAFC the 33-man roster prevented any team from carrying a specialist, but in Groza’s first year with the Browns he was almost that, primarily kicking and only seeing limited time on the line of scrimmage. Towards the end of Lou’s second season he achieved “first team” status on the offensive line and didn’t give up that coveted spot till 1959. Groza was named first- or second-team all-league eight times during his career. In 1954, he was The Sporting News’ NFL Player of the Year. Nine times he was named to the Pro Bowl. Six times he was a starting tackle, which was his true love. Groza often joked he was an offensive lineman that was talented enough to kick.
Groza use to carry a long piece of tape inside his helmet and laid it on the ground to help guide his foot to the sweet spot of the football. Lou had become so proficient at making field goals the Browns became the first team to start playing for field goal position, especially when the clock was ticking down, forcing other teams to believe the tape was magical. In 1956 the NFL implemented the “Lou Groza Rule”, prohibiting the use of an artificial aid for kickers. The irony is, besides a brief one year retirement in 1960 due to a back injury, Groza continued his effective kicking till the mid 1960‘s.
Groza retired in 1967 after 21 years of football and was the last remaining member of the original AAFC Browns. The organization has retired his number 76, the NCAA has named their top kicking award in his honor and Lou “The Toe” Groza is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Western Conference ended up being a two team battle between the Bears and Rams. Considering the Bears lost their first three games, while beating the Rams twice, it leaves one to wonder if they might have been the more dominate team of the Western Conference. The Rams would finish the year 8-3-1, while the Bears finished second at 8-4. At seasons end George Halas announced his retirement as coach of the Bears, it marked the end of his third ten year tenure as coach of the club. He would eventually coach the Bears again for another 10 years between 1958- 1967.
George “Papa Bear” Halas is without question the face of the Chicago Bears. It’s not to often you can say a player was the owner, and eventually the owner was the coach. An accomplishment that is unheard of in today’s NFL.
Halas was an all-round athlete that played football, basketball and baseball at the University of Illinois, earning an engineering degree. During WWI, as an ensign in the Navy, Halas played for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team that went on to win the 1919 Rose Bowl. Not only did Halas win MVP of the game, for a touchdown receiption and a 77 yard inception return, he and the other members of the team were awarded their discharge from the service after the win. Following his release from the service Halas spent the summer kicking it around the semi-pro, minor league baseball curcuit and eventually landed on the New York Yankees roster for a cup of coffee, before a hip injury dashed his baseball ambitions. (Halas was not replaced in right field by a young Babe Ruth. That’s nothing more than a urban legend, Ruth replaced Sammy Vick.)
Following baseball Halas was offered a position with starch manufacturer A.E. Staley Co.,( back in the 1900’s corporate sports teams were big business around the nation, therefore companies would hire prominent college athletes as “Representatives” so the could play on the company teams.). Halas would be the player / coach of the company sponsored football team and selected orange and navy blue as the team colors in honor of the Fighting Illini. Halas represented the Staleys at a meeting in Canton, Ohio that resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football League, the APFA would eventually be renamed the NFL in 1922.
In 1920, though the Staleys finished 10-1-2, they endured huge financial loses. Owner Augustus Staley turned over control of the team to Halas in 1921 and “Papa Bear” moved the club to Chicago to play as the Chicago Staleys. That same year the club would be crowned NFL champions, giving Halas his first Championship in his first year as player/owner. The club would take on the name of the Bears in 1922 as a tribute to the Chicago Cubs that had allowed the Bears to play at Wrigley Field.
Halas played both offensive and defensive end for the Bears from 1920-1928. He coached the Bears for a total of 40 years in 4 different 10 year stints. As player/coach/owner Halas was part of six championship teams. His number 7 has been retired by the organization and George “Papa Bear” Halas is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1955 NFL Championship game between the Browns and Rams was played in front of 87,695 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, due to the Christmas holiday the game was played on a Monday. It marked the third time these two teams had met in the title game during the 1950's and it would also be the last game for the Browns legendary quarterback Otto Graham, who had announced his retirement at the end of the regular season.
During the 1955 regular season the Browns defense became the first team to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed and fewest total yards in consecutive seasons and they showed why in the title game, picking off the Rams Norm Van Brocklin six times. Van Brocklin would later say it was the worst game of his Hall of Fame career. It marked the second year in a row that the Browns defense had six picks in the title game against a future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Van Brocklin (1955) and Bobby Layne (1954).
The only scoring in the first quarter came on a 26 yard Lou Groza field goal. In the second quarter, with the Rams driving in for at least a field goal attempt, Browns DB Don Paul grabbed a Van Brocklin pass on the Browns 30 and raced 70 yards for a touchdown. The Rams answered back when Van Brocklin hit fullback Skeets Quinlan for 67 yard touchdown, closing the margin to 10-7. Late in the second quarter Van Brocklin was picked for the third time by Tom James, who took the ball back to midfield. On the following play Otto Graham placed the preverbal Browns dagger in the Rams heart as he connected with Dante Lavelli on a 50 yard touchdown pass, giving the Browns a 17-7 halftime lead.
Graham opened the second half of scoring with a 19 yard scamper that gave the Browns a 24-7 lead. On the next Rams possession Van Brocklin was picked again, which lead to another Graham touchdown run from 4 yards out. In the fourth quarter Graham connected with Ray Renfro for a 35 yard touchdown play giving the Browns a 38-7 lead. Late in the game the Rams scored a token touchdown but the game had already been decided. The final score was 38-14 Browns.
Historically speaking, the Cleveland Browns championship run between 1946 thru 1955 has to be considered the greatest feat by any professional football team in the history of the game. In ten years, in both the NFL and AAFC, the Browns competed in 10 straight title games, collecting 7 titles. The Browns early success in the NFL may be the reason why the NFL doesn’t recognize AAFC statistic from the great AAFC player, even though they proved themselves as equals.