December 16th 1945. The Cleveland Rams made a dramatic turnaround from ignited by their Future Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield. Rebounding from a 4-6 record and fourth place division finish, the Rams were now champions of the Western Conference and on their way to the NFL Championship game versus the Washington Redskins.
Waterfield made All-Pro his first season with the Rams. He doubled the passing yardage of Cleveland's quarterback Albie Reisz from the previous year and threw for six more touchdown passes.
The Redskins and Rams boasted the NFL's top two ranked offenses. The Redskins won the Eastern Conference on the arm of All-World quarterback Sammy Baugh.
Baugh had led the Washington Redskins to an NFL Championship in his rookie season in 1937. He matched the feat in 1942 and had eyes on a third despite facing a hostile environment on a frozen field. It would be the first time in eight years the Redskins had traveled to Cleveland.
Cleveland Rams owner Dan Reeves decided to move the game to Cleveland Stadium, with a capacity of 80,000. Anticipating the hype behind the Sammy Baugh vs. Bob Waterfield match-up, Reeves hoped to rake in at the box office and turn a profit for a change.
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. In anticipation of a major winter storm, the field was covered with 9,000 bales of hay upon a tarpaulin to keep the surface from freezing. By game-day, Cleveland had received eighteen inches of snow during the week and the thermometer read eight degrees below zero.
Thankfully there was enough manpower available to remove the hay; however trucks struggled to navigate its dispersal. The contingency plan was to pile up the hay bales on the sideline, up to ten bales high to make room for the game to be played.
As the game went on, the hay proved to be a mental respite from the cold for the players on the field, but it wasn't enough to ease the sting of an obscure circumstance that proved to be the difference in the game.
Passing from his own end zone, Sammy Baugh ripped one of his typical throws down the middle but an immovable object got in its way. The goal post.
Positioned in the front of the end zone at the time, Baugh's pass ricocheted off the uprights and bounced out of the back of the end zone. By rule a Safety was awarded to the Rams and a quick 2-0 lead.
Baugh was quickly bounced from the game due to injury giving full reign to Bob Waterfield to showcase his skills. Despite the elements, Waterfield connected on touchdown passes of thirty-seven and forty-four yards but neither was the most important play of the game.
With the Redskins driving in the final minutes of the game, Washington running back Steve Bagarus found an opening. Able to shed one tackler there was open field ahead along with the go-ahead score.
These were the days of ironmen. Waterfield, like Baugh played defensive back as well and was on the field that pivotal play. With one last ditch effort, Waterfield dove and reached out just enough to trip up Bagarus and save the day.
Waterfield was named game MVP leading the Rams to the 15-14 nail biting win. It was the first for Cleveland since the Cleveland Bulldogs won the NFL Championship in 1924 before the days of a championship game.
Weather has not played a role in championship games during the Super Bowl era as it did in the earlier days of professional football. All games were played outdoors, usually in the northeast during the coldest part of the year.
Perhaps we have gotten a bit spoiled with warm climates for Super Bowl games. The NFL apparently feels so. The 2014 Super Bowl will be played outdoors at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2, 2014.