When the National Football League needed a 10th team to balance its two divisions in 1937, the Cleveland Rams stepped in to round out the Western Conference.
The Rams, who had played in the fledgling American Football League in 1937, were eager to make the jump to the big time, but their debut season in the NFL crashed and burned in a hurry. After splitting their first two games, the Rams lost their final nine contests to finish 1-10.
The Rams’ first game drew 24,800 fans to Municipal Stadium on Friday night, Sept. 10, 1937, but the Detroit Lions were rude guests, shutting out Cleveland 28-0. A photo of Cleveland’s Bill O’Neill being tackled by the Lions’ defense is part of RMY Auctions’ Mega Collectors Auction 2018, which began May 10 and will run through May 26.
O’Neill, who also doubled at quarterback for the Rams, is shown returning a punt during the second quarter of the game. He was tackled at the Rams’ 36-yard line.
After taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Detroit broke the game open in the second period with a pair of defensive scores. Harry Ebding recovered an O’Neill fumble in the Cleveland end zone, and Tom Hupke returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. The Detroit Free Press described Hupke’s interception, thrown by “the unfortunate O’Neill,” as a play that began when Lions end Chuck Hanneman began to tackle the quarterback “around his ears.” O’Neill’s pass attempt bounced off Hanneman, and Hupke alertly grabbed the carom and ran for the touchdown.
Regis Monahan kicked the extra point after each score as Detroit took a 21-0 halftime lead.
“There were some tears, visible or otherwise, as the Rams’ opening efforts resulted in a 28-0 victory for the veteran Detroit club,” the Beacon Journal reported.
Quarterback Earl “Dutch” Clark directed Detroit’s attack in his head coaching debut for the Lions, and while not scoring any touchdowns, he did convert a pair of extra-point attempts.
The photo offered by RMY Auctions measures 7 inches by 9 inches and has a 4.5/5 condition, according to the lot description. The auction house gives the photograph, published by Acme and carrying a full paper caption on the back, a 9/10 overall grade.
The caption notes that the Rams were “rudely initiated into pro football.” Since the Rams only won one game — a 21-3 victory against Philadelphia in Week 2 — and scored no more than 10 points in a game the rest of the season, it was a tough way to break in. But by 1945, the Rams would become NFL champions — one year before the franchise relocated west to Los Angeles.