December 19, 1948: Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
Historical Game of the Week
By Ken Crippen
- Professional Football Researchers Association
Published: November 10th, 2008
The Cleveland Browns were still on their winning streak when they met up with the Bills in the AAFC Championship Game. At that point, the Browns were looking for their fifteenth victory of the season, eighteenth over two seasons and the twenty-fourth game without a defeat. An impressive feat by anyone’s standards. With a win, the Browns would become the first team in professional football history to go undefeated throughout their regular season and playoffs and would also be the first team to win three consecutive league championships. A lot was on the line for the Browns and by no means did they take the Bills lightly, even though Buffalo failed to make their previous meetings competitive. Paul Brown would not allow anything less than perfection with his team, regardless of who they were playing.
Almost twenty-three thousand people weathered the thirty-five degree temperatures and snow-lined Cleveland Stadium field to see these two teams meet. It would take until the latter part of the first quarter, but Cleveland got on the board first. Defensive back Tommy James intercepted a George Ratterman pass and returned it to the Buffalo twenty-yard line. A few plays later, fullback Marion Motley drove the ball in from the three-yard line. Cleveland would score again in the second quarter, when defensive end George Young picked up a Rex Bumgardner fumble on the Buffalo eighteen-yard line and ran it in for the touchdown. The Bills were now down 14-0, but were still in the game. Halfback Don Schneider took the kickoff and returned it to the Buffalo thirty-seven yard line. The Bills pushed downfield, driving to the Cleveland seven-yard line. Here, Buffalo had a first down and four opportunities to score. Continued efforts on the part of the Bills proved fruitless, as the Browns repelled all Buffalo attacks. On the last play, Ratterman dropped back to pass and was sacked by defensive end John Yonakor for a twelve-yard loss, ending the drive. The half would come to a close with Buffalo down by two touchdowns.
George Ratterman left the game in the third quarter when he injured his shoulder. Jim Still came in to relieve him. When it looked like the Bills were stopped on their next offensive series, Cleveland was charged with roughing the kicker and Buffalo continued. When they got to the Cleveland ten-yard line, Still dropped back to pass and tossed a dart into the endzone. End Alton Baldwin made a miraculous finger-tip catch to secure the ball and the touchdown. At this point, the Bills were down 28-7 and hoped that this spark would be enough to generate more offense. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Cleveland increased the pressure and scored two more times in the fourth quarter to build up a 42-7 lead. Linebacker Lou Saban – who would coach the Buffalo Bills to two consecutive American Football League titles in 1964 and 1965 – intercepted a Jim Still pass and returned it thirty-nine yards for the score and the victory. This would be the first time that Saban scored in his professional career.
Cleveland fullback Marion Motley was the workhorse of the day, grinding out 133 yards on fourteen carries, with three touchdowns to his credit. As one can tell from the score, Buffalo’s offense had a rough day. Their three fumbles were eclipsed by five interceptions. George Ratterman threw three of the interceptions, with Jim Still tossing the final two. The roughing penalty in the third quarter was one of only two scoring opportunities for Buffalo. They were able to drive to the Cleveland seven-yard line in the second quarter, but they came away with no points.
The Cleveland Browns captured their third straight title with the 49-7 victory. More importantly, they became the first team to finish the regular season undefeated and win a championship game. The previous two attempts were by the Chicago Bears. In 1934, the Bears went 13-0 in the regular season, but lost 30-13 to the New York Giants. The Bears would again go undefeated in 1942, racking up a regular season record of 11-0. Again, they would lose in the championship game. That time, it was a 14-6 defeat to the Washington Redskins.