November 3, 2012

1946: Dons Upset Browns with Late FG

The Cleveland Browns had quickly asserted themselves in the first year of the All-America Football Conference, winning their first seven games of the 1946 season and most by lopsided scores. Head Coach Paul Brown’s team was strong on both sides of the ball. But they had finally been tripped up by the San Francisco 49ers and, on November 3 they faced another tough Western Division opponent – although one they had beaten two weeks earlier.

The Los Angeles Dons had solid financing and a well-known name in entertainer Don Ameche as the club president. Head Coach Dudley DeGroot had led the NFL Redskins to the league title game the previous year. There was much veteran talent and the Dons were adept at scoring points, but the defense had shown a tendency to give up too many points in turn. After starting off at 3-0-1, they had lost three straight to come into the game against the Browns at 3-3-1.

There was a crowd of 24,800 at the Memorial Coliseum, which was the largest of the season thus far for Los Angeles. On the first play from scrimmage, HB Chuck Fenenbock (pictured above) ran for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Dons the early lead. Lou Groza got the Browns on the board later in the first quarter with a 25-yard field goal.

In the second quarter, Cleveland went ahead after DB Tom Colella recovered a fumble at the LA 16. The Browns scored four plays later with HB Bill Lund sweeping around right end from five yards out and Groza added the extra point to make the score 10-7.

The Dons drove to another field goal attempt, but the try by Bob Nelson from 26 yards was wide. The Browns scored again when QB Otto Graham passed to end Mac Speedie for a 79-yard touchdown. However, Groza missed the extra point, snapping a string of 22 consecutive successful conversions, and while Cleveland carried a 16-7 lead into halftime, it would have repercussions in the end.

Los Angeles came out strong in the third quarter and drove to the Cleveland 22 before turning the ball over on downs. Shortly thereafter, tackle Bob Reinhard recovered a Cleveland fumble and returned it 43 yards to the Browns’ 14, but again the Dons ran out of downs at the seven.

LA’s defense played inspired football in the second half and the ground game on offense wore Cleveland down. Early in the fourth quarter, the Browns gambled by faking a punt on fourth-and-nine at their own 21. Colella gained just two yards, giving the ball back to LA in excellent field position. Five plays later, end Dale Gentry ran for an eight-yard touchdown. Joe Aguirre kicked the extra point and Cleveland’s lead was narrowed to 16-14.

Another Cleveland fumble set up the winning score for LA. Taking over at the Cleveland 43, the Dons battled for 15 plays to reach the three yard line, from where Aguirre kicked the game-winning 11-yard field goal on fourth down with 20 seconds left to play.

The Browns made a last-gasp effort to pull out the win with Graham completing two passes, but he was sacked on the last play and time ran out. The Dons came away with a stunning 17-16 upset win.

The Dons outgained the Browns by 291 yards to 284 and significantly outperformed them on the ground with 220 yards to just 43. Cleveland had the edge in first downs (13 to 12) and both teams turned the ball over three times. Mac Speedie (pictured at left) had the biggest individual performance, catching 4 passes for 134 yards and the one long TD.

It was the second straight loss for the Browns but they righted the ship in a rematch with the 49ers the next week that they won 14-7, and they didn’t lose again. Cleveland topped the Western Division with a 12-2 record and defeated the New York Yankees for the first AAFC title.

The Dons, meanwhile, ended a three-game losing streak with the upset of the Browns. They won three of their next four contests and finished third in the division at 7-5-2.