Game 3 NFL Championship Browns vs Detroit Lions, 1952
Although nowadays the Browns’ traditional rivals are considered to be the division opponents, namely Pittsburgh and Baltimore, years ago the Detroit Lions were probably their most competitive rivals. It was not as hateful as today’s rivalries. Both teams had respect for one another. But whenever the Browns and Lions would get together, even for an exhibition game, there was extra electricity in the air.
Four championship games between Detroit and Cleveland played in a six-year period, starting in 1952. The Lions had emerged as a threat after years of acting as the NFL doormat. They started off the season 1-2, losing to the 49ers both times, and then started to get hot. They went 8-1 the rest of the way, piling up huge point totals. 100 points in two games against the Packers was amazing enough, but they also rang up over 134 points in their last three games.
They also led the NFL defensively in fewest points allowed. Yardage-wise they are not that impressive. The offense, led by Bobby Layne, gained 3,988 yards but surrendered 3,245. Where they excelled was in turnovers, picking off the opposition 32 times versus 20 for Layne. On the ground, they had 33 recovered fumbles versus only nine by their opponents (the turnover stat was kept a little differently because they kept track of fumbles and recoveries, but not fumbles lost).
The Browns were more impressive in terms of yardage, gaining 4,352 yards versus 3,075 for their opponents. Graham threw 24 interceptions versus 22 for their opponents, and they recovered 24 fumbles versus nine for their opponents. Thus, the Browns yardage differential was 1,277 yards versus 743 yards for the Lions.
Neither team appeared to be truly outstanding, but both were good enough to win. The Lions first had to play an extra game as the tiebreaker with the Los Angeles Rams, which they won 31-21. They had to come to Cleveland for the NFL Championship, and they brought busloads of fans with them. That’s one of the great things about playing Detroit is that the cities were close enough so that sizeable fan continents could follow the teams.
This is not the most exciting game to watch because it was dominated by defense, and sadly, the Browns do not win. But Lions started to establish the reputation that they were the one team that could play tough against the Browns.
The most exciting play comes on a 67-yard touchdown run by Heisman winner and future Hall of Fame running back Doak Walker in the third quarter, which you can see at about the 4:45 point of the second video, which put the team up by 14-0. Walker had not contributed that much during the season due to injuries, but he showed up for the big party.
The Browns responded with a brilliant drive of their own, featuring short passes by Graham and culminating in a touchdown by the fullback, No. 32, who went in from about the seven yard line. No, not Jim Brown, but a fellow named Chick Jagade. Jagade was the only runner on either side to go over 100 yards. Check out also Marion Motley at about 0:50 of the third video, gassing it up and going 42 yards to give the Browns first and goal to go in the fourth quarter. However, Detroit got tough at the goal line, tackling Motley for a loss, then sacking Graham twice and defending the desperation heave that could have tied the game.
The Browns got Detroit to go three and out but fumbled the ensuing punt, and Detroit was able to convert it into a clinching field goal.
The Browns actually moved the ball well, and racked up an impressive yardage totals, 384 to 258 for Detroit. But as had happened all year long, Detroit had better success scoring than it did between the 20-yard markers, and they took advantage of turnovers.