'51 Rams Celebrate Their Title Season : Football: Luncheon honors players who defeated defending champion Cleveland Browns, 24-17, to bring an NFL championship to Los Angeles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The name tags on the lapels identified the heroes.

Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears were there . . . a few feet away stood Paul (Tank) Younger and Harry Thompson. Also in the room were Norb Hecker and Bob Boyd, Dan Towler and Stan West, Jerry Williams and Jack Halliday.

These greats, along with many others in attendance, helped write one of the greatest chapters in the history of the Rams' organization by winning the 1951 NFL championship.

On Friday, they gathered with about 600 people for the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club luncheon at the Bonaventure Hotel to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that fabled season. The '51 Rams, a team that included 13 rookies, dethroned the mighty Cleveland Browns on a cold winter afternoon in the Coliseum.

Friday's lunch was part of a two-day festivity that concludes tonight in Anaheim Stadium with a pregame ceremony honoring the '51 team before the Rams meet the Seattle Seahawks in the Times-Rams Charity Game.

The luncheon ceremonies included brief speeches by Ram owner Georgia Frontiere, Coach John Robinson and the team's top draft pick, cornerback Todd Lyght, who ended his holdout by signing Friday morning.

Former Ram quarterback Pat Haden was master of ceremonies and conducted interviews with several current Ram players, including defensive end Kevin Greene and wide receiver Flipper Anderson.

But the clear crowd-pleasers were the highlight clips of the '51 season and the players themselves, who chatted and signed autographs at the more than 50 tables in the banquet room.

Afterward, Hirsch and some others reminisced about that championship season.

"From the chemistry standpoint, it was a team that really came together," said Hirsch, a Hall of Fame receiver. Hirsch, nicknamed Crazylegs, still holds several Ram records, including most yards gained receiving in a season (1,495 yards in '51) and most touchdowns by a receiver in a season (17 in '51). "Everyone worked their fannies off."

They needed to if they hoped to win it all after setbacks in the two previous title games. In 1949, the Rams were defeated by Philadelphia, 14-0, and in 1950, Cleveland beat them, 30-28. The Browns seemed poised for a repeat in '51.

"They (Browns) had a darn good ballclub," said Younger, a running back and linebacker. His 3,296 career rushing yards rank sixth on the club's all-time list. "They were no pushovers."

Not by a long shot. The Browns closed their exhibition season that year with a 7-6 victory over the Rams in Cleveland and, after losing their regular-season opener at San Francisco, won their remaining games to finish 11-1. They got their winning streak rolling Oct. 7 with a 38-23 victory over the Rams in front of 67,186 in the Coliseum. Their victories included shutouts against Washington (45-0), Pittsburgh (17-0 and 28-0) and the New York Giants (10-0).

The Rams, meanwhile, had a tight race with Detroit and San Francisco in the National Conference. They clinched a berth in the championship game with a 42-14 victory over Green Bay in the Coliseum on the final day of the season.

The Rams finished 8-4, a half-game ahead of the Lions and the 49ers, after each had played a tie game with the last-place New York Yanks.

Younger said reaching the championship game that year was no small accomplishment for the Rams. They had scored an NFL record 466 points in 1950, but faced uncertainty going into the '51 season.

"One of the most significant things about that club was that the entire offensive line was all rookies," said Younger, an administrative assistant with the Rams. "But we had great leadership from the veterans."

Much of that stability was provided by the late Bob Waterfield and the late Norm Van Brocklin, who shared the quarterbacking duties, and by Hirsch. Waterfield led the league in passing in '51 with 1,566 yards. The Dutchman, as Van Brocklin was called, had a marvelous season, setting a single-game record of 554 passing yards against Detroit. His 16,114 career passing yards are second on the Rams' all-time list to Roman Gabriel's 22,223 yards.

Their main target that season was Hirsch, who led the league in receiving with 1,495 yards and in scoring with 102 points, thanks to his 17 touchdowns. But it was Fears, the top receiver in the NFL the previous three years, who made the catch of the year for the Rams in the title game against the Browns.

In front of 57,540 fans--then the second-largest crowd to attend an NFL title game--in the Coliseum on Dec. 23, the underdog Rams battled Cleveland to a 17-17 tie early in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles had led in the quarter, 17-10, but the Browns scored on a one-yard plunge by running back Ken Carpenter after a 70-yard drive engineered by their Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame quarterback, Otto Graham. But then Van Brocklin and Fears hooked up for The Play.

On a third and three from the Ram 27, Van Brocklin connected with Fears on a 73-yard play for the winning touchdown with 7 minutes 35 seconds left to play.

Wrote Frank Finch in his story for The Times: "Fears broke fast from his left-end spot, and as he neared midfield, Van Brocklin cut loose. Tom worked his way in between defenders (Tommy) James and (Cliff) Lewis to make a great grab of the perfectly thrown pass. By the time James had recovered, Fears was off and running. The Brown halfback soon gave up trying to haul down the rambling Ram."

The Browns couldn't recover from the shock. They went on the attack a couple times in the remaining minutes but failed to score.

Younger said the 24-17 victory didn't surprise him.

"I had never been affiliated with a ballclub that was as intense as that club was coming into that championship game," Younger said. "That week of practice was intense. There wasn't any doubt in my mind that we could win."

Said Harry Thompson, a guard on the '51 team: "They couldn't hold us in that tunnel (from the dressing room to the field) before the game. We were sky high."

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