December 17, 2015

1950: Rams Defeat Bears in National Conference Playoff

The Los Angeles Rams hosted the Chicago Bears on December 17, 1950 in a playoff game to decide the champion of the NFL National Conference (the renamed Western Division). Both teams had finished the regular season with 9-3 records, but the Bears had beaten the Rams both times they faced off, including three weeks earlier at Chicago. 

Los Angeles topped the Western Division in 1949, losing the league title to the Eagles, and Clark Shaughnessy was replaced as head coach by Joe Stydahar, formerly an outstanding player for the Bears. The Rams had an explosive offense that scored as many as 70 points in a game and set league records with 64 touchdowns and 466 points. The quarterback tandem of Bob Waterfield (pictured above) and Norm Van Brocklin was superb and there were excellent receivers in ends Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch as well as HB Glenn Davis, once a Heisman Trophy winner at Army, who also topped the club in rushing. The defense, however, was not nearly as impressive. Furthermore, Waterfield was unable to practice during the week before the game due to the flu and was still showing the effects during the pregame warmup.

The Bears were owned and coached by “the Papa Bear”, George Halas, and depended on a solid running attack, led by HB George Gulyanics, behind a good line along with a tough defense. QB Johnny Lujack was suffering from a shoulder injury that affected his passing ability but he could still run well and had scored 11 touchdowns on the ground.  

There were 83,501 fans in attendance on a sweltering 92-degree day at the LA Memorial Coliseum. Norm Van Brocklin started the game at quarterback for the Rams and in the first quarter Bob Waterfield kicked a 43-yard field goal to give Los Angeles the early lead. The Bears, establishing their strong ground game, responded by driving 65 yards in eight plays, the last of which was a 22-yard touchdown carry by HB Al Campagna.

LA’s high-powered offense was having difficulty getting on track and an apparent 63-yard run by Glenn Davis was nullified by a holding penalty. Van Brocklin completed just two of 10 passes during the opening period and Waterfield relieved him in the second quarter, bringing results from the first series that he was behind center. The Rams went 76 yards, most of it occurring when Waterfield fired a pass to Tom Fears that covered 67 yards for a TD. Waterfield then kicked the extra point to put the home team up by 10-7.

On their next possession, the Rams drove to another score. Again it was Waterfield to Fears (pictured at left) for a 32-yard touchdown and Waterfield booted the point after. The Rams took a 17-7 lead into halftime.

The Bears still couldn’t add points and Waterfield’s ability as a punter came into play as his booming kicks kept Chicago pinned on its side of the field. Late in the third quarter, Waterfield threw to HB Verda “Vitamin T.” Smith for a 35-yard gain and followed up with a short toss to Fears that the end turned into a 23-yard TD as he broke five tackles along the way. Los Angeles held a formidable 24-7 lead.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Bears finally got on the board again at the conclusion of a 12-play, 76-yard drive that featured the running of George Gulyanics and HB Julius “Julie” Rykovich. FB Fred “Curly” Morrison powered the last four yards for a touchdown and Lujack kicked the extra point to make it a ten-point contest.

Chicago again advanced deep into LA territory, but was stopped at the two yard line with six minutes remaining as the Rams’ defense rose to the occasion. Twice the Bears came up empty on drives into Los Angeles territory. Tensions between the teams eventually boiled over as in the final seconds a free-for-all broke out and it took several minutes for the officials to restore order. In the end, the Rams came away with an impressive 24-14 win.

The Bears actually outgained LA (422 yards to 371), with 229 yards of their total coming on the ground. Chicago also had more first downs (23 to 11). But LA gained 297 yards through the air and the defense accounted for six sacks, totaling 52 yards in losses, to none for the Bears. Chicago also turned the ball over three times, to two by the Rams.

Bob Waterfield had a fine overall performance as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns while giving up one interception. He also was successful on all of his placekicks and averaged 42.4 yards on seven punts, including a long kick of 67 yards. Tom Fears was equally outstanding with 7 catches for 198 yard and all three TDs. The running game was an afterthought and FB Dick Hoerner led with just 18 yards on 7 carries.

For the Bears, Johnny Lujack was successful on 15 of 29 throws for 193 yards but was intercepted three times in addition to the six sacks. George Gulyanics (pictured above) led the team with 94 yards on 15 carries and also with 6 pass receptions for 67 yards. Julie Rykovich contributed 67 yards on 14 rushing attempts.

The Rams advanced to the NFL Championship game and lost a close contest against the Cleveland Browns, newcomers from the AAFC that topped the Giants in the American Conference. Los Angeles returned to the title game for a third straight year in 1951 and this time came away winners over the Browns. Chicago dropped to fourth place in ’51 with a 7-5 record. The Bears next returned to the postseason in 1956.