1954 NFL Championship Game
The 1954 National Football League championship game was the league's 22nd annual championship game, held on December 26 at Cleveland Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Billed as the "1954 World Professional Football Championship Game," the turnover-plagued contest was won by quarterback Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns, who defeated Bobby Layne and the Detroit Lions by a score of 56 to 10.
Cleveland Stadium under construction
|Date||December 26, 1954|
|Stadium||Cleveland Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Byrum Saam and Chuck Thompson|
|Radio in the United States|
|Announcers||Earl Gillespie and Chris Schenkel|
The Detroit Lions (9–2–1) of the Western Conference met the Cleveland Browns (9–3) of the Eastern Conference in the NFL title game for the third consecutive year. The Lions won the previous two: 17–7 at Cleveland in 1952 and 17–16 at home in Briggs Stadium in 1953. They were attempting to become the first team to win three consecutive league titles in the championship game era (since 1933). The Browns, who entered the league only in 1950 with the demise of the All-America Football Conference, faced a particularly daunting task in taking on the Lions, having lost all eight of the franchise's previous matches against the Detroit club.
The Lions were led by quarterback Bobby Layne, running back Doak Walker, and head coach Buddy Parker. The Browns were led by head coach Paul Brown and quarterback Otto Graham. The Lions had won the regular season meeting 14–10 the week before on December 19, also at Cleveland, with a late touchdown. Detroit was a slight favorite (2½ to 3 points) to three-peat as champions.
Note: Players often played both offense and defense in this period. Although free substitution existed from 1943, what are today considered defensive starters were categorized as "substitutes" in this era.
On its first possession, Lions' fullback Bill Bowman ran for 50 yards but lost the ball to Cleveland on a fumble. The Lions regained possession at the Cleveland 35 when Joe Schmidt intercepted an Otto Graham pass. The Browns defense held and Detroit was forced to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Doak Walker.
Billy Reynolds returned the subsequent kickoff 46 yards, crossing midfield to the Lions' 41 yard line. Cleveland was forced to punt but a roughing penalty gave the Browns new life and Graham hit Ray Renfro with a 35-yard pass for a touchdown. Following the Lou Groza conversion, the score stood at Cleveland 7, Detroit 3.
On the next possession another Layne interception by defensive back Paul was run back 33 yards, setting up Cleveland in the red zone on the Detroit 8 yard line, with Graham hitting left end Darrell Brewster for the score. Following Groza's kick the score was Browns 14, Lions 3.
Detroit was again stopped on their next possession and its punt was taken by Cleveland's Billy Reynolds and returned 46 yards to the Detroit 10 yard line. Grinding the ball to the 1 yard line, Graham ran a quarterback sneak and hit paydirt. Following the Groza conversion the score stood at Browns 21, Lions 3.
Lion running back Lewis Carpenter tore up a 52-yard run in Detroit's next possession, setting up Detroit for its only touchdown of the day when fullback Bill Bowman scored from five yards out. Following the conversion by Lions kicker Doak Walker, it was Browns 21, Lions 10.
Cleveland was forced to punt, but on the next Detroit possession defensive lineman McCormack ripped the ball from Layne, with the Browns recovering on the Detroit 31. Four plays later Graham ran for another touchdown, reaching the end zone standing up. With the conversion the score was Browns 28, Lions 10, and the route was on.
Yet another Bobby Layne pass was intercepted by Cleveland's Michaels, who was listed as a substitute fullback and was thus probably playing the modern equivalent of the safety position. With the ball on the Lions' 31, Otto Graham launched a pass to halfback Ray Renfro, who made a great catch at the five yard line and took the ball over the score. With Groza's conversion, the halftime score was Browns 35, Lions 10.
The Browns opened the second half with a six play drive, highlighted by a 43-yard strike from Otto Graham to Darrell Brewster, who was stopped just short of the goal line. Graham scored his third touchdown of the day with a quarterback sneak, with Groza converting to make the score Browns 42, Lions 10.
Kenny Konz grabbed the first of his two interceptions, running the ball back to the Detroit 13. Two plays later substitute fullback Curly Morrison scored on a 12-yard run. Following the Groza extra point, the third quarter score stood at Browns 49, Lions 10.
Yet another pick by Konz set up the final touchdown of the day, when substitute halfback Chet Hanulak scored from the 10. With Groza's extra point, the final score was reached: Browns 56, Lions 10.
Sunday, December 26, 1954
Kickoff: 2 p.m. EST
- First quarter
- DET – FG Walker, 36 yards, 3–0 DET
- CLE – Renfro 35-yard pass from Graham (Groza kick), 7–3 CLE
- CLE – Brewster 8-yard pass from Graham (Groza kick), 14–3 CLE
- Second quarter
- CLE – Graham 1-yard run (Groza kick), 21–3 CLE
- DET – Bowman 5-yard run (Walker kick), 21–10 CLE
- CLE – Graham 5-yard run (Groza kick), 28–10 CLE
- CLE – Renfro 31-yard pass from Graham (Groza kick), 35–10 CLE
- Third quarter
- CLE – Graham 1-yard run (Groza kick), 42–10 CLE
- CLE – Morrison 12-yard run (Groza kick), 49–10 CLE
- Fourth quarter
- CLE – Hanulak 10-yard run (Groza kick), 56–10 CLE
- Total yards: Cleveland 303; Detroit 331
- Passing: Cleveland: (9-12) 165 yards; Detroit (19-44) 195 yards
- Yards rushing: Cleveland 140; Detroit 136
- First downs: Cleveland 17; Detroit 16
- Turnovers: Cleveland 4 (2 int., 2 fum.); Detroit 9 (6 int., 3 fum.)
- Punts: Cleveland 4 (43.0 average); Detroit 6 (41.3 average)
- Penalties: Cleveland (4 for 40 yards); Detroit (5 for 63 yards)
- Paid attendance: 43,827
- Gross receipts (includes TV and radio): $289,126.43
- Net receipts: $263,606.07
- Total players' pool (70% of net): $184,524.25
- Winners' pool: $99,643.10 ($2,478.57 per player)
- Losers' pool: $66,428.73 ($1,585.63 per player)
- Pool for second place clubs (Eagles, Bears): $18,452.42
- Browns ownership share: $19,770.45
- Lions ownership share: $19,770.46
- League share: $39,540.91
Detroit quarterback Layne (18 for 42, passing for 177 yards) was intercepted six times, with Len Ford and Kenny Konz pulling in two each. The Browns also recovered three Detroit fumbles, with two of the recoveries leading to scores.
The 56-10 score of the 1954 NFL Championship game was the second most lopsided in the 22-year history of the event, exceeded only by the 1940 game, in which the Chicago Bears embarrassed the Washington Redskins by a score of 73 to 0. The victory was the second World Professional Football Championship win for the Browns.
The gross receipts for the game, including over $101,000 for radio and television rights, were just over US$289,000. Each player on the winning Browns team received $2,478, while Lions players made $1,585 each.
- The Green Bay Packers won three consecutive (1929, 1930, 1931) when the title was determined by the regular season final standings.
- Al Ennis (ed.), "1954 World Professional Football Championship Game," Professional Football: Official 1955 Year Book of the National Football League. Baltimore, MS: Stadium Publishing Co., 1955; pp. 5-7.
- "Mixture as before: Lions beat Browns". Pittsburgh Press. United Press. December 20, 1954. p. 21.
- Livingston, Pat (December 26, 1954). "Lions battle Browns for NFL title". Pittsburgh Press. p. 1, section 4.
- "Browns-Lions clash in Cleveland today for grid title". Youngstown Vindicator. Ohio. Associated Press. December 26, 1954. p. D1.
- Stolle, Lawrence M. (December 27, 1954). "Graham features as Cleveland crushes Detroit 56-10, for pro grid championship". Youngstown Vindicator. Ohio. p. 8.
- Strickler, George (December 27, 1954). "Browns whip Lions, 56-10, for pro title". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 1, part 4.
- "Facts and figures". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. December 27, 1954. p. 10, part 2.