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How (and why) the Cleveland Rams moved west: Part 2

Cleveland was NFL Champs yet were seeking to move

The Cleveland Rams began in 1936 and had finally captured the NFL title for the 1945 season. That was the good news. The bad news was plentiful.

For one, the newly-formed All-American Football Conference was placing eight franchises across the United States, one of which would be placed in Cleveland. At the helm was the most famous sports person in Ohio at the time in Paul Brown who had won six high school state championships and then a National Championship while head coach at Ohio State.

Rams owner Dan Reeves

Rams’ owner Dan Reeves had lost money every year of operation while in Cleveland. And now that Coach Brown and his new club were moving in, Reeves pressed the other NFL owners to allow him to do what he had wanted to do for several years: relocate his franchise to Los Angeles.

But there were problems.

Off to California?

With the new Browns moving into the city, Reeves knew even a league championship would not be enough to outdraw the new club.

The NFL owners had just hired Bert Bell as the new commissioner. Next up on the agenda in January of 1946 was the matter of the Rams’ request to relocate - to California.

Up until 1946, travel across states was primarily on trains. This is why the NFL had wanted to keep their tidy league in the Midwest and eastern seaboard. The time traveling was a concern but also the added expense the further they traveled plus added meals.

Suddenly, here was a motion to relocate a team on the West Coast. A decade earlier they had rejected a bid from a group in Los Angeles on the basis of the distance between cities especially those on the east coast. It took a three-quarter majority vote by the owners for any team to move.

But now, air travel was feasible. And with that asset, the traveling times were reduced greatly. Reeves thought his timing was right especially with Paul Brown moving in.

Reeves’ contention was that he had suffered financial losses his entire tenure in Cleveland, including losing $40,000 in the championship season. And now his franchise was faced with competition from the Browns in a league which its owners were more financially stable than those currently in the NFL.

Reeves wanted to go to Los Angeles and lease the 103,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, or as a fallback plan perhaps go to Dallas and rent the Cotton Bowl which would be much closer.

Another avenue of debate was the fact that the new AAFC had already placed teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco called the Dons and 49ers, respectively. Certainly the NFL did not want this other league to have a leg-up on territorial rights on the West Coast. Reeves stated that Los Angeles was the greatest city for expansion of the game of football in the United States.

Reeves’ motion needed eight votes to carry. After the votes were counted, Reeves had six.

It was explained to Reeves that the owners did not want to bear the additional travel expenses with taking an entire team plus coaches, equipment personnel, trainers, doctors, and all of that equipment on a cross-country trek plus the actual traveling time just to get there.

And with that, Reeves stood up and informed the owners that he was no longer a member of the National Football League and consider the Rams out.

The current NFL Champion Cleveland Rams were no longer an NFL franchise

What had just occurred was stirring a frightful memory for the league.

Recently, Dan Topping co-owned the New York Yankees baseball club plus the Boston Yanks of the NFL. The New York Football Giants played at the Polo Grounds and held territorial rights to New York City.

Topping wanted to relocate his Yanks to New York and play their home games at Yankee Stadium in an effort to consolidate the operations of both franchises. The NFL refused Topping’s request to move the Yanks into the Giants territory.

Topping withdrew his Yanks club from the NFL.

Not only did he recede his team, but he joined the AAFC who were looking to place a franchise into New York City anyway. What Topping wanted was for both of his teams to play in Yankee Stadium, and now he was getting his wish while he did not have to concern himself with the Giants nor territorial situations whatsoever.

And now here was Reeves pulling the Rams from their league. The last thing the NFL owners wanted was for one more of its members to join the upstart rival league.

After Reeves announced that he had pulled the Rams from the NFL, he retreated to his hotel room. Three NFL owners convened at his room in an effort to sort the matter out. Reeves stated that he is not a man who bluffs, and it was either Los Angeles, Dallas - or nothing.

Reeves never mentioned joining the AAFC, but the implications was certainly there in the shadow of the Yanks’ untimely departure.

1946 Los Angeles Rams press guide

In the end, an agreement was ironed out where Reeves would be allowed to relocate the Rams to Los Angeles with the stipulation that he would pay each visiting club $5,000 more than the $10,000 guarantee in order to offset the extra travel costs. At the time, the gate split was 60% for the home team and 40% for visiting clubs. But there was also a minimum guarantee that was put into place for markets that did not draw well.

Travel by train from Chicago to Los Angeles would take two days during that time. Three days from New York - and of course the return trip.

United Airlines agreed to a rate for 40 men from New York to Los Angeles round trip for a price of $10,000. The estimated flight would take 12 hours.

And suddenly, the National Football League was officially a national league.

In 1946 seven NFL clubs and two AAFC teams finished their season in the black. The Cleveland Browns were one of them while the Rams were not. The Browns drew an astounding 437,017, one of the best attendance years for any pro football team.

The Browns captured the inaugural AAFC title plus the next three years as well capturing all four years of the AAFC’s existence. In 1950, Cleveland along with the 49ers and the Baltimore Colts, merged into the NFL where the Browns found themselves in the 1950 NFL Championship Game.

Against the Cleveland-now Los Angeles Rams.

The Browns won 30-28 to make it five straight league championships. Cleveland would play in the NFL Championship Game for the next five seasons in a row, and seven of their first eight years in the NFL. From 1946-1955, the Browns competed in 10 straight title games winning seven - both are still a record.

Dan Reeves was correct on two accounts: Los Angeles was a hotbed for professional football, and when Paul Brown moved into Cleveland, nothing else in the pro football universe mattered except winning ways.

In 1951, the Browns’ second year as a member of the NFL, Los Angeles and Cleveland once again faced off in the title game, this time a 24-17 Rams victory. It would be the only other title for the Rams until the Super Bowl years where the franchise won two more NFL crowns.

But their very first, was in Cleveland.