Continuing on the theme of Hall of Fame members who have some lesser known tidbits involving them, let’s visit the Los Angeles Rams of the early 1950’s again. If it seems like we keep going back there, the reason is due to how much took place at that time and place in America.
They played before 100,000 a game in the Los Angeles Coliseum, with alternating quarterbacks who BOTH made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just think about that. How could a team have alternating quarterbacks who both made the Hall of Fame, and it’s not a trick question or topic.
The players were Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield, but their performances were just part of the story.
This was the time in America just after World War II, and so much was happening all at once on the West Coast:
Consider: all the returning veterans from the war and for the first time in our history the GI Bill gave the possibility of college to tens of thousands who did not have it before. Simultaneously there was the development of the super highway system, the time payment plan for housing, corresponding with the creation of suburbia, the development of the shopping mall, and of course, the Rams.
They won division titles in 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1955, winning the NFL championship in 1951 and losing the title game in 1949 and 1955.
They scored 466 points in a 12-game season in 1950, 38.8 points per game in a devastating offensive assault that featured options, flea flickers, downfield laterals and just about any other creative thing you could imagine.
Waterfield and Van Brocklin posted astounding passing numbers for the Rams, and Van Brocklin of course went on to quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles to the last world crown in 1960, then took over the expansion Minnesota Vikings as their head coach.
But both had personal stories that the world at large did not realize.
Van Brocklin’s nickname was “The Dutchman” and his reputation was tough as nails, but he had the proverbial heart of gold.
Something that I know that very few others do is that at one stage of Van Brocklin’s career—and I won’t identify the year or city, for privacy issues—a wonderful member of the team’s front office was trying to buy a house for his expanding family but was having trouble coming up with the down payment.
Norm Van Brocklin gave this individual the money and said he could pay it back when it was comfortable. That time came, and the individual repeatedly tried to pay his quarterback, but Van Brocklin would never take the money back.
As for Waterfield, in 1943 he scored one of the biggest Hollywood stories of the year in marrying Jane Russell, who starred in the legendary Howard Hughes film, “The Outlaw,” that same year. Perhaps I’ll do another blog about the significance of Jane Russell and that movie in motion picture history—huge, with no puns intended.
With hearts as big as they could be, The Russell-Waterfield marriage adopted three children and in 1955, with the support of her quarterback husband, Jane Russell founded the World Adoption International Fund.
Can you imagine the publicity today if, say a team had two quarterbacks who had that situation?
By the way, the Rams of the 1950’s also had a Hall of Fame owner (Dan Reeves) and a young public relations man who went on to become the team’s general manager, and then pro football’s commissioner—Pete Rozelle.
So as you can see, we’ll be visiting the 1950’s Rams again.
But for today, let’s just chew on the fact that once upon a time, in another era of the NFL, a team had alternating quarterbacks who performed the above charitable acts while combining for two Hall of Fame careers, with Waterfield inducted in 1965 and Van Brocklin joining him in 1971.