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Flashback: Redskins-Rams In '45 Title Game

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The Redskins have enjoyed two glory periods in their history, one during the Joe Gibbs' era in the 1980s and early-90s when they won three Super Bowls, and the other during a 10-season stretch spanning their last year in Boston, 1936, until 1945.

In the earlier period, the Redskins appeared in six NFL championship games and won twice: in their inaugural season in D.C. in 1937 and again in 1942.

The last of those six appearances came in 1945 against the Cleveland Rams, who have since migrated to Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Redskins' opponent this Sunday.

It was an infuriating day for the Redskins before 32,178 fans at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium on Dec. 16, 1945. Washington was stricken with bad luck, while Cleveland played with what seemed like a ghostly 12th man and profited from a boneheaded decision.

Those circumstances helped propel the Rams to a 15-14 win.

Cleveland found a friend in the goal posts, which were on the goal line at the time. A pass by Redskins superstar Sammy Baugh from his end zone hit a goal post and landed in the end zone for an automatic safety. In the Rams' case, an extra point attempt by Bob Waterfield was tipped, but it hit the crossbar and fell over.

Then came the brutal weather. With about six minutes left and Cleveland ahead, 15-14, the Redskins' Joe Aguirre tried a 31-yard field goal. But strong winds gusting into the stadium off of adjacent Lake Erie wreaked havoc on the ball and sent it just wide of the goal post.

In her 1947 book, "My Life With the Redskins," Corinne Griffith, the wife of then-Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, creatively recounted the agonizing moments after the ball was kicked:

"The ball rose high in the air, then headed hard and true toward the goal posts and three winning points.  An icy wind, sweeping through the open end of the stadium, raced toward the goal posts, reached them just as the ball spiraled in between, caught it in its icy breath – and held it. The ball shivered, dropped, just a little, still well within the uprights and a world's championship, then drifted to the left.

"The wind gave one last hard shove, drove the ball far to the left, six inches wide of the goal post, and slapped it hard to the ice-coated ground below. Then, like an evil spirit bent on some ghoulish mission, the wind swept the full length of the field, screamed with delight at its freakish prank, leaped the grandstand and scuttled away, leaving in its wake a dizzy backwash of whirling snowflakes."

The Redskins could only blame themselves for the other major factor that tilted the game toward the Rams. On a bitter cold day with temperatures barely above zero, the frozen field was as slippery as an ice skating rink.

It had snowed the day before.  The Redskins were the only team to come equipped with sneakers for better traction, giving them a distinct edge. Or so one would think.

But Redskins coach Dud DeGroot, responding to a request from Rams coach Adam Walsh, told his players before the game to remove their sneakers and wear cleats instead.

DeGroot's decision would level the playing field between the 8-2 Redskins and the 9-1 Rams, who were led by Waterfield, an electrifying rookie quarterback and the league MVP.

Waterfield victimized the Redskins, completing 14 of 27 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, including a 44-yarder to Jim Gillette in the third period. Waterfield's conversion sailed wide right, and Cleveland led, 15-7.

Washington retaliated. Quarterback Frankie Filchock, in for the injured Baugh, tossed a 50-yard completion to slippery halfback Steve Bagarus. Cleveland's defense stiffened.

But on fourth down from the 9, Filchock passed to a wide-open Jim Seymour in the end zone for his second scoring pass.

Aguirre's conversion created a one-point game late in the third quarter.

Filchock wasn't done. His passing guided Washington into Rams territory twice in the fourth period to set up scoring opportunities. Shortly after Aguirre missed his 31-yard attempt, the Redskins took possession on their 42.

 With Filchock hitting short passes, they moved to the Rams' 39, but Aguirre's 46-yard field goal try fell short with 2:10 to play. The Rams ran out the clock.

"Cold and defeat made it a miserable day for our heroes," The Washington Post wrote in summing up the Redskins' afternoon.


Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is www.redskinshistorian.com and his email is mikerichman@redskinshistorian.com.

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