Let’s take another step back today to look at another fantastic moment that could only have happened back in the day.
We are once again going to revisit one of the most story-laden franchises and times in pro football history, the remarkable Los Angeles Rams of the late 1940′s and early 1950′s.
The source of this little known episode in pro football is from the horse’s mouth-in this case, the general manager of the horses. I was hired by General Manager Fred Gehrke of the Broncos in 1978 and we became very close over the years.
As many of you know, he is a remarkable figure in pro football history, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one its Pioneer Award winners.
For the uninformed, it was Fred Gehrke who get much of the credit for the invention of the facemask (current players who later go into acting and broadcasting should be forever grateful), and he was the 100%, sole creator of two other things the game can’t live without-the net into which placekickers practice on the sidelines-Fred invented that, and finally, it was he who created the first helmet logo.
I have recounted this before, but Fred was an art major at the University of Utah, and while playing for the Rams he came up with the idea of Ram horns on the leather helmets, took a sample to owner Dan Reeves (no, not the coach), who loved it and told Fred to proceed. Fred packed all the helmets into his pickup truck, took then to his garage, and proceeded to paint the horns onto the helmets.
The fans had no idea of this, so just imaging the “oohs” and “aahs” when the Rams next took the field before their usual 92,000 in the Coliseum.
To call Fred’s brainstorm overwhelming would be an understatement.
But of course the helmets were made of leather and got banged up every week. So guess who touched them up every week? The equipment manager? No, he was no artist. The starting halfback, Fred Gehrke.
After every game they loaded the helmets into the pickup truck of the starting halfback, the eventual Bronco GM, the man who hired me (I am very proud of that), and he personally touched up every helmet every week.
But, that’s not all …
As mentioned, Fred was the starting halfback for the Rams. But he backup, his backup, mind you, was eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch.
In his career Gehrke amassed 3,654 total yards, scoring by rush, reception, punt return, and kickoff return, while also finding time enough to play defense and intercept 13 passes as a pro.
One of the great debates in LA at that time was who was the faster player, Fred Gehrke or Crazylegs Hirsch.
After much debate-and this is very hard to imagine happening today-it was determined that at the next game the two fleet halfbacks would have a race, an end zone to end zone 100-yard dash, at halftime.
The scene was said to be amazing.
A complete sellout, and remember those Rams had alternating Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, and they averaged 38 points per game.
Halftime came and the great race took place. I asked Fred who won, and he said, “Crazylegs did. But, he cheated out of the starting blocks, and we could not run it again because we had to get ready to play the second half!”
We have a great game today, but let’s never forget that there was a foundation laid for modern pro football, and some of its greatest players and most unusual moments came back in the day.