OLD SCHOOL: Unbeaten Part II

Street Talk OLD SCHOOL: Unbeaten Part II

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As the New England Patriots move closer to achieving an unbeaten regular season we continue our series of highlighting the unbeaten teams of years past. Please note some of the teams had tied games and others lost in the post season. There have been just 2 teams to win all of their regular season games, without a loss or tie and then win the league championship.
 
Part I focused on the 1922 and 1923 Canton Bulldogs, who were a combined 21-0-3 during those years and they won the NFL championship both seasons. Also the 1929 Green Bay Packers, who were 12-0-1 and would win their first of three consecutive NFL titles that year.
 
Part II focuses on the teams of 1930’ and 1940’s who were unbeaten and untied, and one of them did not only go unbeaten and untied in the regular but won their post season games as well. They are still just one of the 2 teams to accomplish this in pro football history.
 
1934 Chicago Bears 13-0, Western Division Champions
 
The Bears won the NFL championship in 1932 and 1933 winning close championships games 9-0 over the Portsmouth Spartans (who became Detroit Lions) and 23-21 over the Giants in 1933. The 1934 Bears were better. The featured the best line in football with Hall of Famer Bill Hewitt (a player who refused to wear a helmet), former Canton Bulldog Hall of Famer, Link Lyman, Joe Kopcah, George Musso, and Bill Karr. Quarterback Carl Brumbaugh ran their versatile offense with intelligence, limiting turnovers. While the line play and quarterbacking were flawless, George Halas’ backfield was head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL. Legends Bronko Nagurski was the most feared runner in football at fullback and the “Galloping Ghost” Red Grange ran behind him at halfback. By 1934 Grange was still a threat but had lost a step. He was 31 by then, the Bears drafted a halfback from Tennessee, named Beattie Feathers to team with Nagurski for 1934.
 
The Bears won all thirteen of their games, outscoring the opposition 286-86. They defeated the second place Detroit Lions twice 19-16 and 10-7 to win the division. They beat the East Division champion Giants twice 27-7 and 10-9. The Giants would finish just 8-5 but would get another chance at the unbeaten Bears in the Championship game.
 
The Bears dominated the line of scrimmage as evidenced by 586 yards and 7 touchdowns from Nagurski. Grange played some and averaged 4.3 yards a carry but he spent the year as Feathers’ back up. Feathers had what many NFL historians consider to be the best single season a running back had and would ever have. He was the first running back to gain over 1,000 yards and did it on just 119 carries. He amassed 1,004 yards and scored 8 touchdowns. He averaged 8.4 yards a carry. That will never by duplicated. The Bears of 1934 were the most dominating team the fifteen year old NFL had seen. They would still have to win the championship against the Giants but that seemed like a formality. Yet there were two obstacles in their way. Feathers was injured in their 11th game against the Chicago Cardinals and was lost for the year. The Bears would have to win this title without their 1,000 rusher but still had Nagurski and Grange. The 8-5 Giants seemingly posed little threat to their NFL crown. The second problem was a freezing rain that fell in New York the night before the Championship game. The field at the Polo Grounds was a sheet of ice.
 
At first the weather seemed to have little effect on the outcome, both teams skidded and slipped on the ice but the Bears behind a Nagurski touchdown run and 2 Frank Manders field goals led 13-3 entering the 4th quarter. 
 
Giants head coach Steve Owen had heard that wearing basketball sneakers would allow his players to have better footing on the ice. The Giants searched all Sunday before the game to get some, all sporting goods stores were closed on Sundays but equipment manger Abe Cohen was able to find 8 pair at Manhattan College and rushed them to the Polo Grounds. The Giant backfield and some linemen changed into them for the 4th quarter. Would Owen’s hunch help the underdog Giants? Well, just a little.
 
While the Bears were still slipping on the ice, the Giants scored twenty seven unanswered points. Quarterback Ed Danowski found Ike Frankian for a 28 yard score and Hall of Famer Ken Strong ran for two touchdowns. Danowski finished the scoring with a short run to make the final score, Giants 30 Bears 13.
 
This game is known by NFL historians as the “Sneakers Game”. The 1934 Bears were by far the best team the NFL had seen, unbeaten and untied in the regular season but one loss in the post season regardless of the circumstances can take away your place in history.  One loss wrote them out of the record books and out of any discussions about greatest teams of all time.
 
1942 Bears 11-0, Western Division Champions
 
The Bears had won the NFL championship in 1940 by destroying the Redskins 73-0 in the championship game and beating the Giants 37-9 in the 1941 title game. They were poised to be the first NFL team to win three consecutive championship games.
 
By 1942 World War II had summoned players from every NFL team. The Bears lost All Pro lineman Joe Stydahar and running back George McAfee. George Halas was recalled into the Navy halfway through the season. The war would affect teams equally. The Bears were the best team in football and proved it on the field. Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman led his offense flawlessly and guided them to wins in all 11 of their games. They won every game by at least 14 points. The line play of Bulldog Turner, Danny Fortmann, Lee Artoe, and George Wilson dominated teams. They beat the second place Packers twice 44-28 and 38-7, adding a punctuation mark to their claim as the league’s best. They had been here before, unbeaten and untied and just needed a win over the East Division champion Washington Redskins to claim another championship. The Redskins were led by Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh and were 10-1 having they lost to the Giants in the second week then won nine in a row.
 
The unbeaten Bears came into Washington’s Griffith Stadium as favorites to win their third straight championship. In front of them were the Redskins, losers to the Bears at home in the 1940 title game by the score of 73-0.  Revenge was on their minds.
 
Before 36,000 fans wanting the same revenge as their Redskins did, the Bears scored the first points one minute and 22 seconds into the second quarter when Artoe picked up a Redskin fumble and raced 52 for a touchdown. His extra point kick attempt was no good, the Bears led 6-0.      
 
Several possessions later, Baugh passed thirty nine yards to Wilbur Moore for a touchdown and Bob Masterson’s extra point was good giving the Redskins a 7-6 halftime lead.
 
Luckman was being shut down by the Redskins and the Bears could not move the ball. Bear running back Bill Osmanski who scored on a 68 yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage in the 1940 championship game was held to 38 yards rushing for the day. Luckman would complete just 4 passes for nine yards that afternoon. Baugh not only quarterbacked but played safety as well and he blanketed the Chicago receivers.
 
Washington’s Andy Farkas scored on a one yard run halfway through the 4th quarter for the final points of the game, the Redskins won the championship game14-6, got their revenge and kept another unbeaten, untied Bear team from the record book. For the second time in the past decade Chicago would go through the regular season unbeaten and untied but still could not win the championship.
 
1948 Cleveland Browns, 15-0, All America Football Conference Champions
 
The All America Football Conference was formed after World War II, to capitalize on the public’s new found interest in pro football. The NFL had just 10 teams and just the Rams on the west coast, they moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles after the 1945 season.
 
The new league had 8 teams, 2 on the west coast where the interest in pro sports was reaching a high level. The AAFC had the Los Angeles Dons and the San Francisco 49ers. The new league focused their attention on these teams, hoping success here would carry the new league.
 
Both teams were good but the best of the AAFC were the newly formed Cleveland Browns. The Browns were led by former Ohio State and Great Lakes Naval Base head coach Paul Brown. He put together a team of World War II veterans and they responded to his tough disciplinary coaching style. The Browns won the new league’s championship in 1946 and 1947 with a combined record of 24-3-1.
 
The Browns featured quarterback Otto Graham, running back Marion Motely, wide receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, and guard Bill Willis. Only the Dons and 49ers had been able to beat them. There was no comparison to them in the AAFC where they averaged 57,000 fans a game – unheard of in any league at that time. The revenues this fan base created allowed them to get even better. As some teams in the new league had a hard time making it financially, they would sometimes sell their best players as the Brooklyn Football Dodgers did when they sold their star halfback Dub Jones (Bert Jones’ father) before the1948 season to the Browns. It gave the Dodgers needed cash and the Browns more speed in their back field.
 
Graham threw for 25 touchdown passes in 1948 as the Browns won every game and finished 14-0, winning the AAFC’s Western Division. The 49ers finished second at 12-2 with their only losses coming at the hands of the Browns 14-7 before 82,769 fans in Cleveland and later 31-28 before 59,785 fans in San Francisco. The Browns placed 8 players on the All Pro team of the AAFC and prepared to face the 7-7 Buffalo Bills winners of the East Division in the championship. The Bills had to win a playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, which they did 28-17 in Baltimore to win the division.
 
The Browns had beaten the Bills easily twice during the season 42-13 and 31-14.  The championship was supposed to a formality.
 
This time it was, before 22,981 fans in Cleveland the Browns led 14-0 at halftime on a touchdown run by ‘Special Delivery” Jones (not Bert’s dad) and a returned fumble for a touchdown. The Bills were beaten by then, but Motely who would gain 133 yards rushing on the day would score three second half touchdowns. The scoring ended when linebacker Lou Saban returned a Jim Still pass thirty nine yards for a touchdown. Still did throw a touchdown pass to Al Baldwin to avoid the shut out but the Browns won their third AAFC championship 49-7.
 
The Browns would win the AAFC championship again in 1949 before joining the NFL in 1950 where they would win that championship also.  
 
They went unbeaten and untied during the 1948 regular season then won their post season. A feat that the 1922-23 Canton Bulldogs, 1929 Green Bay Packers, and the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears could not do. The Bulldogs and Packers had tie games, the Bears lost in the championship game. Also, the Browns had to beat the 49ers twice, a team that finished 12-2. The Browns faced every team in the league that year and beat them.
 
Every news media outlet when talking about the Patriots will mention that they are trying to tie the 1972 Dolphins. You never hear anyone mention this great Cleveland team. Why? Because the NFL has never recognized any of the records from the All America Football Conference – a wrong that many NFL historians are tying to right. When the AAFC folded after 1949, the Browns, 49ers, and Colts were absorbed by the NFL. Because the entire league did not join the NFL, the NFL said all AAFC records were not valid, officially erasing what the Browns had accomplished. All statistics that AAFC players compiled from 1946-1949 would not carry over. Otto Graham threw 86 touchdown passes from 1946-1949 in the AAFC, then after joining the NFL from 1950-1955 he threw another 88. Official statistics in the NFL record book give Graham 88 touchdown passes when actually he threw 174 if you count his AAFC statistics. In reality all AAFC records were validated in 1950 when the Browns moved leagues and won the NFL championship. Not giving the AAFC players their due is an injustice to them. The NFL took three teams but erased all records.             
 
As you listen in the coming weeks to all the experts when they talk about the Patriots trying to tie the 1972 Dolphins, remember the 1948 Cleveland Browns, the first unbeaten, untied team that won a professional football championship.
 
Next week Part III, we will focus on the myth that is the 1972 Dolphins.

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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt’s passion for the game began in the 60’s watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi’s Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980’s where he’s captured more titles than John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins
 
Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son.

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