Jim’s presentation, to begin at 7:00 p.m., is titled “The Real History of the Cleveland Rams” and will be followed by questions, sales of his book, and book signings. It’s part of the Cuyahoga Public Library’s “Ohio Sports History” series.
Author appearances this fall in the Greater Cleveland area also include Bay Village, Chagrin Falls, Parma, South Euclid, and Chesterland (Geauga West).
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.”
We’ve just passed the 80th anniversary of the Rams’ entry into the National Football League, when on February 12, 1937, at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago the league’s owners voted to award Cleveland a franchise.
Franchise founders Homer H. Marshman and Damon “Buzz” Wetzel, along with a handful of players from the team’s sole season in the rival American Football League, picked up stakes and moved to the NFL, just to endure years of hardship on and off the field before breaking through with a championship in 1945.
What was the Rams franchise’s greatest era now that we have the perspective gained from 80 years of operation?
In a piece for the fan website RamsTalk.net, I assert the Rams’ final year in Cleveland before moving to Los Angeles was the springboard for the most glorious decade in the team’s long history.
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 …
It’s a question that comes up a lot: Weren’t the Rams Cleveland’s first NFL champions, and the Browns the city’s second?
Actually, no. Cleveland has the singular distinction of being the only American city to win championships with three different NFL franchises.*
So, who was this teamthat preceded both the Rams and the Browns as Cleveland champions?
It was none other than the Cleveland Bulldogs. In 1924, in only the fifth regular season of an organization that was fresh off a name change from the American Professional Football Association to the National Football League, the Bulldogs (7-1-1, .875) picked up one more win than had the Chicago Bears (6-1-4, .857) and laid claim to the pennant.
And here’s where controversy erupted. Because the Bulldogs had edged Chicago 16-14 in an early-season match-up at Dunn Field (later League Park), the Bears challenged Cleveland to a December 7 rematch at Wrigley Field and thrashed the Bulldogs soundly, 23-0, thinking they had made their case for dominance of the league.
No dice, NFL officials said at their annual meeting in January 1925. The regular season had ended November 30. Therefore, any game played after that qualified as merely an exhibition. The Bulldogs were champions; the Bears were livid.
But, weren’t the legendary Bulldogs—also champions the previous two NFL seasons—actually from Canton? They were. But by 1924 they were so financially strapped in the future Pro Football Hall of Fame city 60 miles south of Cleveland that the organization took to canvassing the city trying to sell season tickets, to little avail. So Samuel H. Deutsch, owner of a rival NFL team called the Cleveland Indians, bought the Bulldogs and combined the best players from his 1923 Indians with the best of the Bulldogs to create the 1924 NFL champions in Cleveland. In 1925 the franchise splintered again, with several Canton businessmen buying back the rights to the Bulldogs from Deutsch and playing games in Canton, while Deutsch continued to call his Cleveland team the Bulldogs.
This is critical. Had the Bulldogs moved lock, stock, and barrel from Canton to Cleveland in 1924 after their 1923 title—or from Cleveland back to Canton in 1925 after their 1924 title—they would have become the first NFL champs to play elsewhere the next year. But they didn’t, and as a result, two decades later when the 1945 Cleveland Rams became the 1946 Los Angeles Rams, they became the first—and to this day only—NFL champions to play the following season fully intact in a completely different city.
* As I say, Cleveland is the only city to win NFL championships with three different franchises. Checking in with two titles each are Baltimore (Colts, Ravens) as well three major metropolises that at various times were home to two franchises simultaneously: Chicago (Bears, Cardinals), Los Angeles (Rams, Raiders), and New York (Giants, Jets).
Author James C. Sulecki recently sat down with Rams Talk managing editor Derek Ciapala to talk about his book The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936–1945 and how events that transpired for the Rams in just a handful of years in Cleveland shaped their long-term geographic destiny.
The Nelson Ross Award has been presented annually since 1988 for “outstanding achievement in pro football research and historiography.” Previous winners include Dan Daly for National Forgotten League (2012), Michael MacCambridge for America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation (2004), and Tod Maher and Bob Gill for The Pro Football Encyclopedia (1997).
The Cleveland Rams was published in late 2016 by McFarland.