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On This Date in Sports December 23, 1951: California Champions

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cleveland Browns 24-17 in the NFL Championship Game at the Memorial Coliseum. The Rams' third straight appearance in the Championship Game, as they had lost in 1949 and 1950. It was a rematch of the 1950 title game won by the Browns. The Rams won the game when Norm Van Brocklin hit Tom Fears on a 73-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. It is the Rams' only championship won while playing in Los Angeles.

The Cleveland Browns joined the NFL after four seasons in the AAFC and ran roughshod under coach Paul Brown, winning the NFL Championship Game in 1950. The Browns dominated the AAFC, winning the league in all four seasons to that it existed. After opening the 1951 season with a 24-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Browns won their last 11 games to win the American Conference with a record of 11-1, as quarterback Otto Graham won the NFL MVP award. The Browns came into Cleveland in 1946 after the Rams won the 1945 NFL Championship and immediately departed for Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Rams emerged as a power in the NFL in 1949 due to their passing offense, as Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. After losing the 1949 NFL Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles in a quagmire, the Rams won the National Conference again in 1950. That team set a record, scoring 466 points while finishing 9-3. Their 38.8 points per game remain the highest average score during an NFL season. The Rams' offense continued their high scoring ways as they won the National Conference again with a record of 8-4 under coach Joe Stydahar to set up a rematch with the Browns at Los Angeles Coliseum. However, their dreams of a title died in Cleveland as they were beaten by the Browns 30-28. 

The 1951 NFL Championship Game was the first to air nationally on television. The game was broadcast on the DuMont Television Network, which was the first network to commit to showing NFL games every week. The Rams were a home underdog. The first quarter would not have any scoring, as the Rams took the lead on a one-yard run by Dick Hoerner in the second quarter. The Browns would answer and lead 10-7 at the half, as Lou Groza nailed a 52-yard field goal, while Dub Jones caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Otto Graham. 

In the third quarter, the game turned in the Rams' favor as Larry Brink pounded Otto Graham leading to a fumble that Andy Robustelli returned to the Cleveland two-yard line. Dan Towler had a one-yard run to put Los Angeles in front 14-10. In the fourth quarter, the Rams increased their lead to 17-10 on a 17-yard field goal by Bob Waterfield. The Browns would tie the game on a long time-consuming drive, as Ken Carpenter capped an eight-play 70-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run. The Rams needed 25 seconds to answer as Norm Van Brocklin, who shared the quarterback duties with Waterfield, connected with Tom Fears on a 73-yard touchdown pass. Fears caught the ball at midfield and raced past defenders into the end zone. The score would be decided the game as the Rams won 24-17.