October 29, 2009
Marion Motley had been a formidable fullback for the Cleveland Browns during the team’s four years of domination in the All-America Football Conference, and that didn’t change when the club moved to the NFL in 1950.
Motley’s ability was never more vividly displayed than on October 29, 1950 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium as he rushed for 188 yards on just 11 carries for an average of 17.09 yards per attempt. Along the way he scored on runs of 33 and 69 yards as the Browns, with a 4-2 record entering the contest, decimated the Steelers by a score of 45-7. Cleveland would go on to win the NFL Championship in ’50, adding to their list of titles in two leagues.
For Motley, the first “modern” fullback with speed to back up his formidable power, it wasn’t surprising that he would set a record pertaining to yards per carry. Used to devastating effect on draw plays as part of the sophisticated (for its time) Cleveland offense under Head Coach Paul Brown, he had never averaged less than five yards per attempt in the AAFC with a staggering high of 8.2 yards per carry (601 yards on just 73 attempts) in 1946. He ended up leading the NFL in both rushing (810 yards) and yards per carry (5.8) in 1950, and for his career gained an average of 5.7 yards each time he ran the ball (AAFC and NFL).
Motley was one of the first four African-American players to break the pro football color line in 1946 (one of the others was teammate Bill Willis). Considering his talent as a ground-gaining fullback, it’s a bit surprising that he didn’t carry the ball more often (his career high was 157 carries in 1948, when he led the AAFC in rushing with 964 yards). Coach Brown valued Motley as a blocker (by all accounts, he was an exceptional pass blocker) and preferred to utilize his running ability strategically; one can only speculate at what his rushing totals might have been had he carried more regularly.
Motley’s record lasted over 50 years, until broken by Atlanta QB Michael Vick in 2002 (17.3 yards per carry on 10 attempts for 173 yards). Oddly, the record that Motley broke had been set just three weeks before when Bill Grimes of the Packers rushed for a 16.7-yard average (10 carries for 167 yards) on October 8, 1950 against the New York Yanks.