James C. Sulecki’s The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936 – 1945, is the first book to examine the history of the Cleveland Rams and the context surrounding the team’s move to Los Angeles. This work grew out of arguments posed by John Dietrich that the Rams could have thrived in Cleveland and Hal Lebowitz identifying a gap in accessible information on the Cleveland Rams. Sulecki desired to have more people know that the much-traveled Los Angeles Rams were originally from Cleveland and to demonstrate that the team did not have to move from Cleveland, save for the greed of owner Dan Reeves.
The book starts by examining the founding of the Rams in the AFL. They almost won the championship their first year, but finished several percentage points behind the Boston Shamrocks. Unfortunately, Boston didn’t pay all their players and could not come to play, in what would essentially be a championship game, against the Rams.
While still in Cleveland, the Rams moved into the NFL in 1937.They had some difficulties in the new league, performing badly the first few years and being disorganized in general. In 1941, Dan Reeves, a New Yorker, bought the team and expressed interest in moving it to Boston. However, he decided, or more accurately, was forced to not move the team as the schedule for the season was already set. In 1942, with attendance down throughout the league, the Rams finished 5 – 6 and barely drew over 4000 fans for their final game. They chose to skip playing the 1943 season, due to low turnout and numerous players throughout the league joining the war effort. In 1944 they were back in action, this time going 4 - 6, but a solid nucleus developed. The following year, the Rams were greatly improved and even made the NFL Championship game. This turn-around was credited to the addition of the team “hero”, Bob Waterfield, who is the only player with substantial background information included in the book.
The 1945 championship season, in particular the championship game, receive a comparatively large amount of coverage. The theme of the coverage is Waterfield’s strong play and that people were coming out to support the Rams. In one of the oddest championship games, in large part due to weather conditions, the Rams beat the Redskins 15 to 14.There were over 30,000 fans in attendance, well-short of the likely 50,000, if the weather had not been freezing cold and snowy. In the chapter entitled “Public Be Damned”, Sulecki describes how Reeves, with the help of an incoming Cleveland Browns team, was able to convince the NFL owners to let him move his team to Los Angeles.
Unlike many McFarland books, there is not a significant amount of back matter. Endnotes and an index are included. There is also an excellent biography, separately listing every article used. However, aside from these standard inclusions, there is only a brief seven page appendix of what happened to thirty-one different players connected to the Cleveland Rams. Sites, such as pro-football-reference.com, allow easy access for a researcher to find the sort of statistical data that could be included here as an appendix. Some additional data, such as a list of players or results of the team for each season, would be a nice addition without expanding the book excessively.
Though it is clear that Sulecki disapproves of the Rams moving to Los Angeles, arguing that Reeves moved the team unnecessarily and solely motivated by greed, the research is thorough. Therefore, the book is to be recommended for both Cleveland and Rams fans alike.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 - 253 - 2187.
Kenneth R. Crippen’s The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team, 1946 – 1949 is an attempt to examine the difficulties and celebrate the successes of one of the lesser known All-America Football Conference (AAFC) teams.
The historical narrative begins logically – first with the formation of the league, and then the building of the team. Crippen highlights the role of the head coaches, first Sam Cordovano and then Lowell “Red” Dawson. The next six chapters are a verbal chronology of the seasons, touching on most every game, and the most attention being given to team quarterback, George Ratterman. Finally, the last chapter focuses on Buffalo’s attempts to join the NFL, where they fell four votes short (9-4, with a unanimous vote needed.)
With the historical narrative ending in just 116 pages, the reader might be concerned about a lack of full coverage, but Crippen makes good use of the almost 200 pages of appendices. The first appendix is a very standard schedule and roster for each year, with final standings also included. The second appendix is a detailed statistical report for each game. The third appendix is the Bill’s performance data sorted by opposing team for the reader’s convenience. The fourth appendix is an all-time roster where players are not just listed, as is the common practice, but includes a brief biography, usually a paragraph or two, for each person. Sources are listed in the biography, but no chapter notes exist for this section. The rest of the back matter is the standard material including chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and index.
For those interested in the AAFC, team histories or mid-century football, there is much to enjoy in this well-crafted, thoroughly researched monograph. For researchers looking to do similar work, this should be considered a good guide for short team histories.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Please note: I will likely have a minor involvement in next book in this series – The 1958 Baltimore Colts
The 1966 Green Bay Packers, edited by George Bozeka, will be published by McFarland and Company in June, 2016. The book celebrates the team’s 50th anniversary and purports to focus on all aspects of the 1966 Green Bay Packers, a one volume encyclopedia, though that word is never used. The book is divided into five sections. The first three are the typical ones that you would expect to find in this sort of work – sections on coaches, games, and players. The fourth and fifth sections are more unusual, focusing on the stadiums and finally the photographers and journalists who covered the 1966 Packers.
Section I focuses on the organization. This starts with a chapter on Vince Lombardi rather than a chapter on the history of the Packers up to that point. This could be considered a bit unusual, but the 1966 Packers were certainly Lombardi’s Packers, so such order is understandable. Chapters in this section also include the assistant coaches and finally a chapter on how the team was put together using primarily the draft, which was standard practice at that time.
Section II examines the games. Some of these games, especially the Packers 56 to 3 shellacking of the expansion Atlanta Falcons, are very lightly covered. While their close battles against the Colts are covered more thoroughly, it is the playoff games that get, by far, the most extensive coverage. The NFL Championship game, an exciting and too often ignored affair, gets almost the same amount of coverage, as the Super Bowl. One of the nice perks is inclusion of some great photographs (they are black and white in the pdf, but I don’t know how they will appear in the book) of the games.
Section III covers many of the players, highlighting their whole career, but focusing on the 1966 season and/or the players’ time with the Packers as was appropriate. For many of the still living Packers, interviews were conducted and are part of the research done for each player. For the more famous players, some books are used, but the primary sources are newspapers or various team publications. For players like Bart Star and Paul Hornung, there are, many places to go for much more information. For a player, such as rookie Phil Vandersea, who never started a game in his four-year career, this volume is one of the few, perhaps the only, that has a chapter devoted to him. It might be nice to have the players’ statistical tables given, but these statistical charts can be easily found on line.
Section IV and V are the sections that are a bit of a surprise. The PFRA makes a point to include chapters on the stadiums and the journalists/photographer who covered the Packers most thoroughly. Unlike every other NFL team, the Packers split their home games between two stadiums. This section explains how that developed and how it was handled from 1953 to 1994, when the split between Milwaukee County Stadium and Lambeau Field ended. The Lambeau article details the situation after 1994, up to almost the time of the writing of the book.
Section V examines those who covered the Packers. These chapters included the coverage of the newspaper sports reporters from both Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Game by Game announcer, Ray Scott, and the photographer, Vernon Biever are also covered, especially Biever, who was once NFL Photographer of the Year.
This review is being done from an uncorrected proof pdf. Therefore, it is impossible to comment on the quality of the publishing. However, there is no reason to believe that the book will not live up to the high standards in binding and print that are usually seen in McFarland books.
Thus, this book does exactly what it purports to do. It celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Packers and covers every aspect of their season. The work is highly readable, has some nice photographs and provides a thoroughness that will allow all fans, even knowledgeable Packer fans, to learn something new.