November 7, 2010

1948: Buffalo’s Running Game Prevails Over Brooklyn’s Passing Attack

The November 7, 1948 All-America Football Conference (AAFC) game at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field featured a matchup between two Eastern Division teams, the host Dodgers and visiting Buffalo Bills.

Brooklyn had done well neither on the field nor at the gate in its first two seasons, going 3-10-1 in each and averaging just over 11,000 fans per home game in ‘47. For 1948, the team had been purchased by its baseball counterpart and was run by Branch Rickey, an outstanding major league baseball executive.

Rickey believed that the key to football success was speed and a good passing game, and to that end the Dodgers outbid the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers for Bob Chappuis, an All-American passing tailback who had just led Michigan to a smashing Rose Bowl triumph over USC (Rickey also had to trade three draft choices to the Cleveland Browns for the rights to Chappuis, who had been drafted by the Browns in the AAFC’s draft of college talent).

Chappuis (pictured at left) seemed a good choice to operate in Brooklyn’s single-wing attack. However, he was three weeks late reporting to the team due to participation in the annual College All-Star game and encountered injury problems early on that limited his playing time. While third-year tailback Bob Hoernschemeyer played well, the Dodgers had a 2-7 record (their only two wins coming against the even-more-dreadful Chicago Rockets) coming into the game with Buffalo and Rickey was expressing concern that he had not gotten much return on his $55,000, two-year investment in Chappuis.

The Bills were 4-5 under Head Coach Red Dawson, but in the mediocre Eastern Division that was enough to put them in contention. Second-year QB George Ratterman ran their T-formation offense, which had performed well in wins the previous two weeks, most notably due to the young quarterback’s passing and the play of HB Chet Mutryn (pictured at top).

There was a typically sparse crowd of 7805 at Ebbets Field as Buffalo moved out to an early lead. Mutryn started off the scoring with a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and FB Lou Tomasetti added a 15-yard carry for a TD. The extra point attempt failed after the first score, but not the second, and the Bills were up by 13-0 after the opening period.

Brooklyn narrowed the margin in the second quarter to 13-7 as FB Mickey Colmer, another of the few bright spots on the club, ran for a two-yard touchdown. Buffalo extended its lead to 19-7 in the third quarter as Mutryn ran for a second touchdown, of nine yards, although again the extra point attempt failed.

The game ultimately came down to a contest between Buffalo’s relentless ground attack against Brooklyn’s aerial assault in a bid to keep up. The Bills added another seven points in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of the Dodgers’ need to go to the air, when DB Carl Schuette returned an interception 55 yards and lateraled to end Vince Mazza, who ran the last five yards to score. However, Chappuis filled the air with passes and connected with end Saxon Judd for a touchdown. Wingback Ray Ramsey returned a punt 70 yards for a TD as well, but ultimately the Bills held on and prevailed by a score of 26-21.

George Ratterman completed only 3 of 13 passes for the Bills, but it hardly mattered as Buffalo gained 419 yards on the ground. Chet Mutryn gained 185 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns and Lou Tomasetti had 141 yards on 15 attempts, including a TD.

The Dodgers went to the air a total of 53 times and had only 15 rushing plays. Bob Chappuis was the headliner in defeat as he completed 26 of 51 passes, both AAFC records (previously set by Glenn Dobbs, also with Brooklyn, in 1946). He accounted for all but 12 of the team’s 265 total yards, with 211 passing and 42 rushing on four carries, and threw for one TD. He played in all but 10 minutes of the game, his best pro performance to date.

“That was as fine an individual performance I have ever seen on a football field," Dodgers Head Coach Carl Voyles said after the game regarding Chappuis.

With the win, the Bills took the lead in the Eastern Division at 5-5, on the way to a 7-7 finish and tie with the Baltimore Colts for first place. Buffalo came from behind to defeat the Colts in the resulting playoff, but was decimated by the undefeated Cleveland Browns, the Western Division champions, in the AAFC Championship game.

Brooklyn finished a dismal 2-12 to rank last in the Eastern Division. Branch Rickey and the baseball Dodgers threw in the towel and sold the franchise back to the league, which in turn combined the team with the New York Yankees for the 1949 season.

Bob Chappuis ended up completing 100 of 213 passes for 1402 yards with 8 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in ’48 while splitting time with Hoernschemeyer (who had identical totals for TDs and INTs with fewer pass attempts). The records he set for attempts and completions against the Bills were broken a few weeks later by Dobbs, now with the Los Angeles Dons. With the demise of the Dodgers, he and Hoernschemeyer both played for the Chicago Hornets (the re-named Rockets) in 1949. Chappuis saw little action with the 4-8 Hornets behind Hoernschemeyer and Johnny Clements and, with the team and league going out of existence following the season, retired from pro football (Hoernschemeyer went on to have a successful career as a halfback with the NFL’s Detroit Lions).

Chet Mutryn ended up ranking third in the AAFC in rushing with 823 yards on 147 carries for a 5.6-yard average and a league-leading 10 touchdowns (tied with San Francisco’s Joe Perry). Lou Tomasetti was fifth with 716 yards on 134 attempts (5.3 avg.) with seven TDs. Despite his poor passing effort against the Dodgers, George Ratterman placed second in the league in passing yards (2577), and while he tossed 16 TD passes, he also led the AAFC with 22 interceptions.