AAFC champ Browns vs NFL champ Eagles, 1950
The Philadelphia Eagles were the dominant NFL champion two years in a row, compiling a record of 22-3-1 during that span. Stars of that team included second-year man Chuck Bednarik, who starred at center on offense and at linebacker on defense, star halfback Steve Van Buren and quarterback Tommy Thompson (not to be confused with the Browns linebacker with the same name).
Head coach Greasy Neale could perhaps be forgiven for being overconfident. Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated quotes Neale as saying, “This is the best team ever put together. Who is there to beat us?”
Game one of the 1950 season would pit the NFL Champion Eagles against the AAFC Champion Browns. It really was a game between the two champions of the rival leagues, and for that reason sportswriters were calling it the “World Series of Pro Football.” Although most of the games were played on Sunday, this game was played on Saturday night in front of a huge crowd of 71,237 in Philadelphia.
The Browns did not simply beat the Eagles. Rick Reilly’s account, though written in 1991, mimics the style of 1950 and describes it as follows:
"“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.” – Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated 1991"
Otto Graham passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns against the defensively-minded Eagles. The Browns held Philly quarterback Tommy Thompson to 73 yards, completing only eight of 24 passes.
Graham’s first touchdown pass was to halfback Dub Jones, who caught the ball on the 25-yard line and scored a touchdown without being touched. In the second quarter, Graham connected with Dante Lavelli for a 26-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, Graham’s third touchdown pass went to Mac Speedie for 13 yards. In addition, the Browns ran all over the Eagles’ vaunted defense, with halfback Dub Jones rushing six times for 72 yards, and bruising fullback Marion Motley adding 48 yards on 11 carries.
The game was even more of a blowout than the 35-10 final score would indicate. Because of a clipping call, Don Phelps’ 64-yard punt return was wiped out. Even worse, tackle and placekicker Lou Groza was injured on the wasted play, and the Browns were unable to kick a field goal later when they had the opportunity for a 25-yard attempt. Also, the Browns did not hold onto the ball well enough, with Graham throwing two picks and the normally sure handed Motley putting the ball on the turf twice. Four errors of that magnitude normally would be enough to lose the football game. Had the Browns played an error-free game, the Eagles might have been totally buried.
The Eagles came in prepared for a nice game of checkers, only to find that the Browns were playing chess.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of film available on that debut game. The first video linked, though short, is awesome because there are interviews with coach Paul Brown and Motley. Also appearing are quarterback Tommy Thompson of the Eagles and running-back-turned-commentator Bosh Pritchard. Pritchard candidly admits that his team was overconfident. Thompson defends coach Greasy Neale, but concedes he blundered by underestimating the Browns.
Neale continued to run his mouth, evidently not intelligent enough to realize when he was humiliated, with the excuse that the Browns passing game was not manly.
Nevertheless, Neale continued to get under Brown’s skin, so much so that in the return engagement in Cleveland, Brown decided to not pass the ball at all, in order to out-macho the mouthy Eagles coach. The Browns did have a pass or two called back on penalties, but in the box score the Browns had zero pass plays, and still won the defensive game 13-7. Truthfully the Browns offense was horrible without using the pass, but they were bailed out by the defense. They forced two turnovers, including a 30-yard pick-six by Warren Lahr in the first quarter, which you see right away on the second video.
It has nothing to do with the videos, but this fan cannot understand why Neale is in the Hall of Fame. Well, he did win two NFL Championships, I’ll grant that, but so did Detroit Lions head coach Buddy Parker, who had more wins as a coach and also was on a Lions championship squad as a player.