August 29, 2016

1947: Dons Edge Out Rockets in Season-Opening AAFC Game

The second All-America Football Conference season commenced with the Los Angeles Dons traveling to Chicago to face the Rockets on August 29, 1947.

The Dons were coached by Dudley DeGroot, formerly of the NFL Redskins, and were coming off of a 7-5-2 record in 1946, although in the tough Western Division that put them behind the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. There was plenty of veteran talent on the roster and QB Charlie O’Rourke (pictured above) led the AAFC in completion percentage and outperformed Angelo Bertelli, the highly-touted Heisman Trophy winner out of Notre Dame.

Jim Crowley, once one of Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen” and more recently the commissioner of the AAFC, was making his debut as head coach of the Rockets. It was hoped he could stabilize a club that went through multiple coaches in ’46 on the way to a 5-6-3 tally. There was promising young talent on the team, including all-purpose tailback Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer and HB Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.

There were 41,182 fans in attendance for the Friday night game at Soldier Field. Five minutes into the first quarter, LA scored first on a long pass from Charlie O’Rourke to end Joe Aguirre that covered 31 yards. Ben Agajanian kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead. The Rockets responded with an 85-yard series that featured a 39-yard run by QB Al Dekdebrun and concluded with Dekdebrun tossing a four-yard TD throw to “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer in the end zone. John Rokisky converted to tie the score.

In the second quarter, the Dons struck back with an eight-play, 52-yard possession. FB John Kimbrough finished it off with a two-yard touchdown carry around left end and Agajanian again booted the point after. Chicago once more came back with a score. Hoernschemeyer threw to end Max Morris to reach the LA 22 and, from there, FB Bill Daley blasted up the middle for a TD. Rokisky’s extra point tied the game at 14-14, which remained the tally at the half.

The Rockets moved ahead in the third quarter thanks to a razzle-dazzle play that involved Dekdebrun tossing 12 yards to “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and he lateraled to HB Ray Ramsey who went the rest of the way for a 24-yard touchdown. Rokisky again booted the point after and the home team held a 21-14 edge. Later in the period, Agajanian kicked a 40-yard field goal for the Dons to narrow the margin to 21-17.

The game’s pivotal play came on the last play of the quarter when DHB Bob Kelly went high to intercept a Dekdebrun pass and returned it 22 yards to give the Dons the ball at the Chicago 46. O’Rourke completed a 19-yard pass to end Dale Gentry and Kimbrough and HB Bert Pigott ran the ball effectively to reach the three yard line, from where Kimbrough ran over left tackle for a touchdown. Agajanian added the extra point and Los Angeles held on to win by a final score of 24-21.

Chicago led in total yards (304 to 279) while the Dons had the edge in first downs (13 to 12). Each team turned the ball over twice. Charlie O’Rourke was the passing star for the Dons, setting up all three of the team’s TDs with his throws. Bill Daley (pictured at left) ran the ball effectively for the Rockets, who gained 129 yards on the ground, and scored once.

The next week the Dons swung a huge three-team trade involving the Rockets to obtain tailback Glenn Dobbs from the Brooklyn Dodgers, the AAFC’s reigning MVP. Chicago parted with Hoernschemeyer, who ended up in Brooklyn, and LA jettisoned Bertelli, who went to the Rockets. Dobbs struggled in his transition from the single-wing to T-formation and O’Rourke continued to see most of the action at quarterback. The Dons struggled as well, losing three of their next four games on the way to a disappointing 7-7 record that was once again well behind the Browns and 49ers. Coach DeGroot was forced to resign after the eleventh game. Jim Crowley also failed to last the year in Chicago as the Rockets collapsed to a dismal 1-13.