1950 World Series
The Cleveland Browns were allowed to join the NFL for the 1950 season, and played their first game on Sept 16 against the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who were confident of beating the “Bush League Bullies,” as Eagles Coach Greasy Neale referred to them.
The Browns had played the previous four years in the rival All America Football Conference, which then folded, with three teams — the Browns, 49ers and one of the incarnations of the Baltimore Colts — being allowed to join the NFL.
Hence the game was billed as the “World Series of Football,” given that both the Eagles and Browns were defending champions of their leagues. The Browns had dominated the AAFC by winning all four of its championships, and the big guns from the AAFC were still intact, with Marion Motley and Dub Jones running the all and Otto Graham flinging it to top receivers Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli, kept upright by the likes of Frank Gatski and Lou Groza.
Those passing plays were too risky to work in the NFL. Paul Brown was just a high school coach, according to Neale. The Eagles were so confident of victory in the first game that they had not even bothered to scout the Browns.
There was no need, since they were the best team in football. The stage was set for a slaughter in Game 1. The Browns were going to be exposed as frauds, and put in their place by Neale and his Eagles.
This opening game would be played in Philadelphia on September 16, 1950 , in order that the NFL “old guard” would have a home field advantage, and thus the Eagles were prohibitive favorites.
Sure enough, the Eagles marched out to a 3-0 lead on a field goal from Cliff Patton. So much for all the balderdash about the minor league Browns.
But, but, but …something was wrong. Otto Graham, the bush leaguer with the high school pass plays, kept putting the ball up in the air, and was getting away with it, completing passes to wide receivers Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli. Everybody in the NFL knew that pass plays were risky acts of desperation. Why was the Browns passing attack not breaking down?
Graham connected with Dub Jones on a 59-yard pass play to take a 7-3 lead. Then in the second quarter he hit Dante Lavelli with a 26 yard pass to take a 14-3 into halftime. Surely brilliant Coach Neale would come up with the answer to these high school passing plays!
The third quarter was not much better for the Eagles as Mac Speedie took a 13 yard pass for another touchdown. Then Graham went in from the 1 to make it 28 to 3 in the fourth quarter.
But the Eagles were not done yet. Leave it to Coach Neale to come up with a brilliant coaching strategy — blame the quarterback. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Obviously, it was all Tommy Thompson’s fault, so he took a seat on the bench after going 8 for 24 with 2 interceptions, and in came Bill Mackrides.
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Mackrides managed to fling a touchdown pass to future Hall of Fame tight end Pete Pihos to close to 28-10. But the Browns added another score on the ground from Rex Bumgardner (the same guy who gifted the Browns a touchdown in the 1948 AAFC Championship game) to salt the game away 35-10. It was not nearly that close.
At the end of the game, Coach Neale’s best-of-all-time team had been torn to shreds by the Browns. Graham threw for an unheard-of 348 yards. The Browns also had 141 yards on the grounds in only 24 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per carry. The Eagles were okay on the ground with 3.4 yards per carry.
After the game, Coach Neale whined that his team had been beaten by trickery, rather than better football. “Paul Brown would have been a better basketball coach because all they did was put the ball in the air.”
Incidentally, Neale’s excuse making was evidently effective, because he eventually made it into the Hall of Fame for his efforts. Good for you, sir. But your team was never as good as the Cleveland Browns. Never, ever.
The opportunity for redemption for the Eagles would come in Game 12 of the 1950 season. In fact, Coach Brown gave into his ego, stung by Neale’s Hall-of-Fame caliber excuse making. Accordingly, he ordered Graham to not pass the ball at all as long as they held the lead. There were two passes called back on penalties, but officially the Browns had zero passes the entire game. The defense bailed out the coach’s ego, coming up with four turnovers and the Browns were able to pull out a close win, 13-7.