Can it really be 40 years since the Rams brought Los Angeles its first professional football championship?
Forty years since the Rams defeated the defending champion Cleveland Browns, 24-17, to end the Browns' domination of both the NFL and the Rams?
Forty years since Norm Van Brocklin fired "the most perfect pass I've ever caught" to Tom Fears for 73 yards and the winning touchdown in the championship game Dec. 23, 1951, at the Coliseum?
Forty years since Norb Hecker smacked Dub Jones for a two-yard loss on fourth and two to stop what the Rams feared could be another patented Otto Graham-led march similar to those that had haunted them so often?
Forty years since Joe Stydahar, a big ol' boy from West Virginia in only his second year as a head coach, finally found a way to beat the master, Paul Brown?
Forty years since Buckets and the Dutchman--Bob Waterfield and Van Brocklin--proved that a two-quarterback system could win in pro football, especially when it had targets such as Elroy (Crazylegs) Hirsch and Fears, and runners such as the three-fullback Bull Elephant backfield of Deacon Dan Towler, Tank Younger and Dick Hoerner?
The calendar says it's so, which means that Crazylegs and Tom Terrific are 68 this year, and Deacon Dan and the Tank are 64.
The '51 Rams were an unusual team in that 11 of the 35 players were home-grown.
Six were from Los Angeles City schools: Waterfield from Van Nuys High, Fears and halfback Woodley Lewis from Manual Arts High, linebacker Don Paul and guard Harry Thompson from Los Angeles High and guard Jack Finlay from Fairfax High.
Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis was from Claremont and played for Bonita High in San Dimas. End Bob Boyd was from Riverside, tackle Tom Dahms from San Diego, center Leon McLaughlin from Santa Monica and running back Vitamin T. Smith from Ventura.
The blue-and-gold colors seemed appropriate, too, because Waterfield, Fears, Finlay, McLaughlin, Paul and Thompson were former blue-and-gold UCLA Bruins. There was not a USC alumnus on the team, but Loyola was represented by Boyd.
There were high expectations when the Rams gathered for preseason work at Redlands. They had broken all offensive records in 1950 and were denied the NFL championship when Cleveland's Lou Groza kicked a game-winning field goal with 28 seconds remaining. That 30-28 loss stuck in their craw, but it seemed that they couldn't beat a Paul Brown-coached team.
In an exhibition before the '51 season, Cleveland won, 7-6, in the last 42 seconds on a Graham-to-Horace Gillom pass and a Groza extra point. In an All-Star game between the National and American conferences--with the Rams and Browns loading the lineups and Stydahar and Brown as the coaches--Brown won, 28-27.
In three games, Brown had won them all, by a total margin of four points. When the teams met at the Coliseum in the second game of the regular season, Cleveland came from behind to win again, 38-23.
"It's no hex, it's just bad luck. We could have won them all, they were that close," Waterfield said after the fourth loss. "We won't meet them again until the playoff. We'll get them then."
For the Rams to make the playoff game took a bit of doing. Their record was only 8-4, and going into the final week of the season against Green Bay they were half a game behind Detroit. If the Lions had beaten the San Francisco 49ers in their final game, the Rams would not have made the playoff, but the 49ers upset the Lions, 21-17.
Curiously, the Rams were not that depressed when Detroit beat them, 24-22, in the next-to-last game, which had knocked them out of first place. In that game, Waterfield kicked five field goals.
"We always had the feeling that we were going to get in the playoffs against the Browns, like that was where we were supposed to be all along," Towler said recently while reflecting on the season. "There was a tremendous amount of confidence among the team, and I don't think there was a player who didn't think we'd face the Browns again."
Towler, who was attending the USC School of Religion during the season, now heads the Dan Towler Educational Foundation to assist deserving and needy students. While with the Rams, he initiated having the players join in prayer before each game.
"I asked Coach Stydahar if I could have the players pray, and he said, 'It sure wouldn't hurt anything, and who knows, it might help.' We were the first professional team to pray before each game. Now it's a common thing. I think it helped with the team's camaraderie and fellowship, bringing us together."
The Rams had an easy 42-14 day in the season finale against the Packers. Hirsch caught three touchdown passes from Waterfield to equal Don Hutson's NFL season record of 17. Waterfield also threw scoring passes to Hoerner and Fears. Safety Jerry Williams scored the other touchdown when he raced 99 yards after a missed Packer field goal.