September 5, 1949: Cleveland Browns vs. Buffalo Bills
Historical Game of the Week
By Ken Crippen
- Professional Football Researchers Association
Published: October 7th, 2009
The Cleveland Browns had been a thorn in the side of the Bills since the formation of the All-America Football Conference. Buffalo just could not find a way to win against the powerhouse Browns in their seven previous meetings. As the elite team of the league, the Browns were the targets of every team, but were still able to put up an impressive undefeated streak that started more than a year prior.
Cleveland got on the board first with a 68-yard drive that ended with a twelve-yard strike from Otto Graham to Edgar ‘Special Delivery’ Jones. After that drive, the Browns started to fall apart. Graham’s passing was less than stellar and the team could not hold on to the ball. Horace Gillom – subbing for Dante Lavelli – was the first to fall victim. In the second quarter, the Browns were in punt formation when the ball was passed to Gillom. He dropped the pass, but was able to recover and tried running around left end. He failed to make a first down and the Bills took over on the Cleveland 32-yard line. Ollie Cline was a man possessed and took the ball over from the seven-yard line for the first Bills score to tie the game at 7-7. It was now halftime and the Bills were holding their own.308
Bill Boedeker fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, but was able to recover. He fumbled on the next play, as well, and Chet Adams recovered. Adams rumbled into the end zone, but fumbled and Joe Sutton fell on the ball for the Bills outside of the endzone. They started their drive from the Cleveland four-yard line. After three plays, Ratterman took the ball over from the one-yard line and the Bills were on top 14-7. The Bills put two more scores on the board in the third quarter to take a 28-7 lead. The Browns were reeling and the Bills capitalized on Cleveland’s mistakes. At that point, Otto Graham changed tactics and went for short completions instead of the long ball. It turned the tide and the Browns saw success, driving for two quick touchdowns to make the score 28-21 in favor of the Bills. The Browns made fewer mistakes and this hurt the Bills as their offensive attack was not powerful enough to stay even with the Browns. They needed help in the form of turnovers, which is how the Bills were able to put up 28 points on the visitors.309
Could the Bills hold off the defending champions? At that point, the Browns were down by seven points with two minutes to play and the ball on the Buffalo 38-yard line. Graham had played miserably the first three quarters, but he was on fire in the final period. He took the snap and dropped back to pass as Gillom went deep into Buffalo territory. Amid triple coverage, Graham tossed a laser to Gillom, who grabbed it on the Bills two-yard line. There was a minute-and-a-half left in the game and Cleveland had four remaining tries for a score. Graham dropped back to pass and tossed an errant throw toward Mac Speedie. Speedie, on his knees in the goal, snared the ball inches above the turf for the score. With Lou Groza out with a pulled muscle, Lou Saban was responsible for the tying kick, which was good and the game ended in a 28-28 tie. For the first time in twenty-one games, the Cleveland Browns failed to win. They still, however, had an unbeaten streak at 25 games. After the contest, Jim Breuil was quoted as saying “No, no, no! It can’t be! We were 21 points ahead!”310 For the eighth time in eight tries, the Bills failed to beat the Cleveland Browns. This was a devastating tie and not the way the Bills wanted to start the 1949 season. According to Bills center Art Statuto, “We hadn’t beat Cleveland in two seasons. I think the closest we came was we had a 28-28 tie that shouldn’t have been a tie. We were ahead 28-7. Graham, Speedie and Lavelli decided they weren’t going to take that. We tried to get up in the game, but Cleveland at the time, as they proved in the NFL, they were a team to be reckoned with. They had the personnel. They had the coaching ability to do what they did accomplish.” The Bills were now 0-1-1 for the season.
The teams battled to a 7-7 tie later in the season and met in the playoffs. The playoff game would be the last game played by the original Buffalo Bills.