October 14, 2012

1945: Rams Explode in 4th Quarter to Beat Packers

The NFL contest in Green Bay on October 14, 1945 was a faceoff between two Western Division teams that had started off the season at 2-0. The Green Bay Packers were the defending NFL Champions and still a potent squad, especially after their all-time great end Don Hutson had been persuaded to put off retirement and come back for another year. Coached by Curly Lambeau, the franchise’s founder, the Packers were a team that was used to contending.

As for the visiting Cleveland Rams, they had never been above .500 in any season since joining the NFL in 1937. But they had a new head coach in Adam Walsh, who installed a T-formation offense, and a talented rookie quarterback out of UCLA to run it in Bob Waterfield (pictured above). The Rams had an outstanding receiver of their own in end Jim Benton, who was ably complemented by Steve Pritko, plus a good group of running backs.

There were 24,607 fans in attendance at Green Bay’s City Stadium on a bright and clear day. The Rams scored on their first possession, driving 49 yards and finishing with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Waterfield to Benton. While Waterfield’s first extra point attempt was successful, it was nullified by a holding penalty and the second try was no good when it sailed wide. Still, Cleveland was ahead by 6-0.

That remained the situation until the third quarter when Rams HB Tom Colella fumbled and Green Bay tackle Paul Lipscomb recovered at the Cleveland 25. FB Ted Fritsch ran three times to get to the one and tailback Irv Comp went the last yard for a TD. Hutson kicked the extra point to put the Packers ahead by 7-6.

In the fourth quarter, the Packers went 54 yards, with the highlight a pass from tailback Roy McKay to Hutson for 24 yards. Fritsch plowed through the middle for a three-yard touchdown and Hutson added the point after.

Down by 14-6 in the final period, the Rams had possession at their own 27 and put together a seven-play scoring drive. Waterfield capped it by passing to Colella for a nine-yard TD. Cleveland then received a big break when Green Bay’s McKay fumbled and tackle Roger Eason recovered for the Rams at the Packers’ 17. FB Don Greenwood, Colella, and Waterfield each took a turn running the ball to get to the one yard line and Greenwood scored from there.

McKay and Comp took turns trying to connect on passes to Don Hutson until DB Albie Reisz intercepted one and returned it to the Green Bay 5. Colella ran the ball in from there for a touchdown that sealed the win for the Rams. Thanks to the three fourth quarter TDs, and Waterfield’s successful conversions after each, Cleveland came away the winner by a final score of 27-14.

The Rams led in total yards (289 to 232) but Green Bay had the edge in first downs (16 to 12). However, Cleveland ran the ball more effectively (154 yards on 45 carries to 81 yards on 39 attempts) and the Packers turned the ball over six times, as opposed to four turnovers by the Rams.

As usual, Don Hutson was Green Bay’s chief offensive weapon, catching 7 passes for 110 yards, but he was unable to penetrate the end zone (he had done so four times in one quarter the previous week against Detroit). Jim Benton caught 5 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown for the Rams.

The win moved the Rams into first place in the Western Division and that’s where they stayed, going 9-1 and beating Washington for the NFL title. Green Bay dropped to third with a 6-4 record.

Bob Waterfield overcame a severe rib injury to achieve league MVP honors while passing for 1609 yards and leading the league in yards per attempt (9.4) and touchdown passes (14, tied with Sid Luckman of the Bears).

Jim Benton (pictured below) and Don Hutson were the NFL’s most productive receivers. In his final season, Hutson led the league for the eighth time (fifth consecutive) with 47 pass receptions while his 834 yards ranked second to Benton’s 1067. Benton placed second to Hutson with 45 catches.

The 1945 season marked a change in direction for the two franchises. Green Bay went into a decline that wasn’t reversed until the arrival of Vince Lombardi as head coach and general manager in 1959. The Rams, who moved to Los Angeles in 1946, won four division or conference titles over the course of the next decade and a league championship while regularly being among the NFL’s contending teams.