How the origin story of the billion-dollar NFL Rams franchise now based in the nation’s second largest market could have been so forgotten is one of many topics covered in James C. Sulecki’s recent interview with Tim Hanlon, host and producer of Good Seats Still Available.
Through the course of the 80-minute podcast, the Cleveland Rams author notes professional football is far less inclined than Major League Baseball to honor its early history, and that the NFL tends to trace its modern-era beginnings to the 1960s when it became the most popular pro sport in America. Unfortunately, this inclination leaves nearly a half-century of important early innovation mostly unforgotten In 2020 the NFL will mark the centennial of its founding in Canton, OH.
“Good Seats Still Available” is a Chicago-based podcast “devoted to the exploration of what used-to-be in professional sports.”
Listen to the podcast here.
James C. Sulecki, author of The Cleveland Rams, recently talked with Joshua Neuman, host of the L.A.-based Rams podcast “The Greatest Show on Grass.” Their conversation centered on the historical parallels between young coach Art “Pappy” Lewis in 1938 and young coach Sean McVay in 2017—but other interesting connections between the Rams of today and the Rams of yesteryear also arose. Listen in …
Take heart, Cleveland. As the new book “The Cleveland Rams” recounts, the city’s previous all-time losers went from worst to first in seven seasons.
January 8, 2017 | Cleveland — For 79 years, the 1937 Cleveland Rams and their 1–10 record (.090) stood as an exemplar of futility for NFL football in Cleveland.
No more. The Browns’ just-completed 1–15 season (.067) not only is the worst for the franchise, it also set an all-time new low among Cleveland NFL franchises dating back nearly 100 years.
Yet for the historically minded football fan, the Rams and their turnaround should offer some hope.
Admitted to the NFL as an expansion team, the Rams did even worse in their inaugural year than did the Browns of 1999 (2–14, .125). To make matters worse, they started the following season by going 0–3. It was a dismal 1–13 beginning for today’s L.A. Rams franchise.
But then in just seven seasons pockmarked by World War II, the Rams went from worst to first, winning the 1945 NFL Championship Game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium behind Bob Waterfield, who to this day is the only quarterback ever to win an NFL title in his rookie year.
Yet even then, there was a very Cleveland-like reversal of fortune. Only 27 days after the title game, Rams owner Daniel F. Reeves announced he was transferring his franchise to L.A. under circumstances not unlike Art Modell’s move of the Browns to Baltimore precisely 50 years later.
Cleveland-area author James C. Sulecki recounts these astounding stories and others in his newly published football history book, The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936–1945 (McFarland, 2016)—the first full accounting of the origins of today’s billion-dollar Rams franchise in 1930s and 1940s industrial Cleveland. It’s a story whose tragedies and lessons still resonate today.
Where: Union Club of Cleveland
Why: One of the oldest social organizations in the city of Cleveland and gathering place for many of the Rams founding investors
Now: Still located at 1211 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
What: The Rams’ beginnings as an entity in the National Football League originated here. Owners Homer H. Marshman and Dan Hanna, frustrated with the financial struggles and general second-rate operation of the American Football League, met for lunch here at the end of the Rams’ 1936 inaugural season to discuss whether to stay in the AFL. “Count me out,” Marshman told Hanna; the AFL, he said, was “a failure.” Instead the two men called Joe F. Carr—Columbus, Ohio, native and president of the NFL—who encouraged the Rams to apply for entry. A few months later, on February 12, 1937, the Cleveland Rams officially joined the NFL.
<< May Company department store
Shaw Stadium >>
Where: Cleveland Plain Dealer newsroom
Why: Working from here as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, John Dietrich was instrumental in the naming of the Rams
Now: Louis Stokes Wing of the Cleveland Public Library, 525 Superior Avenue, Cleveland
What: Cater-corner from the Hollenden Hotel were the offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where sportswriter John Dietrich covered, encouraged, and excoriated the Rams during their 10-year stay in Cleveland. He was present at the christening of the franchise, suggesting that the four-letter brevity of “Rams” would fit nicely into a newspaper headline. With the team still in town, Dietrich accepted the company one evening of new All-America Football Conference owner Arthur “Mickey” McBride, who asked Dietrich to recommend a candidate to coach his new team. Easy, Dietrich said—Ohio State coach Paul Brown. The franchise became the Cleveland Browns, and hastened the Rams’ departure to L.A.
<< Damon “Buzz” Wetzel’s house
May Company department store >>
Where: The Hollenden Hotel
Why: The National Football League as we know it began here
Now: Fifth Third Bank Building, 600 Superior Avenue, Cleveland
What: The Rams franchise probably would not be here today had the American Professional Football Association not been founded in Canton, Ohio in 1920, then changed its name to the National Football League at an owners meeting at Cleveland’s Hollenden Hotel on June 18, 1922. The new NFL moniker was championed by Chicago Bears founder George Halas, who thought “professional” was “superfluous” and that the term “association” connoted second-division baseball. “And we were first class,” he said. The NFL, destined to be called “America’s Game,” was underway …
<< Rams History Trail
Home of Damon “Buzz” Wetzel >>
Where: Home of Damon “Buzz” Wetzel
Why: The true founder of the Rams franchise lived here while coaching the team in its inaugural season of 1936
Now: A semi-rehabbed but abandoned residence at 7609 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
What: The founding of the Rams usually is attributed to lawyer-businessman Homer H. Marshman, and indeed it was at Marshman’s house in the exclusive Cleveland suburb of Waite Hill that funding was lined up to launch the team in the American Football League in 1936. But it was young Damon “Buzz” Wetzel—barely out of The Ohio State University, son of a Cleveland Indians scout, and with one season under his belt as an NFL player for the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers)—who prevailed on Marshman and other Cleveland moneymen to invest. Wetzel recruited future Hall-of-Fame coach Sid Gillman to play for the Rams, became the team’s first head coach, and served as its general manager when the team entered the NFL in 1937. In 1938 he was pushed out by many of the same investors he had brought in and never worked in the NFL again.
<< Hollenden Hotel
Newsroom of the Plain Dealer >>