Sat, 22 Jan 2022

75 for 75: AAFC Rivals

San Francisco 49ers
30 Nov 2021, 04:44 GMT+10

Joe Hession

"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

-- October 9, 1949

During the 49ers first four years of existence, one team, the Cleveland Browns, continually thwarted their path to a championship.

Still, quarterback Frankie Albert sent the Browns scurrying home to Cleveland in 1949 after firing five touchdown passes in the 49ers 56-28 dismantling of the reigning All-America Football Conference champions. It established a 49ers single-game scoring record not matched until 1992 and provided Cleveland with its worst beating in AAFC play.

"The Browns, with Paul Brown coaching and Otto Graham at quarterback, were awfully tough," Albert said. "They hadn't been beaten in 29 games, and they'd beaten us five-straight times, so we really wanted to get back at them."

Cleveland was an AAFC powerhouse loaded with a slew of future Pro Football Hall of Famers. They lost just four games during the AAFC's duration from 1946-1949, and quickly became San Francisco's nemesis. The 49ers were their primary challenger for league dominance, yet Cleveland edged them out for the AAFC title in four-consecutive seasons. This was a grudge match for the 49ers and they came out swinging.

With a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 60,000 fans in attendance at Kezar Stadium, the 49ers started quickly, posting 21 points in the first 10 minutes. On their opening possession, Albert directed the offense to Cleveland's 16 yard line then fired a scoring strike to running back Johnny Strzykalski.

Minutes later Strzykalski hit paydirt again. Albert set up his second touchdown with a 42-yard dart to receiver Alyn Beals, who was tripped up at the one yard line. "Johnny Strike" took it in from there.

Before the first period ended, Albert connected with fullback Joe Perry, who made a spectacular one-handed grab at the five yard line then carried Browns defensive back Warren Lahr into the end zone to finish the 28-yard TD pass.

The always-dangerous Browns battled right back. Cleveland's All-Pro quarterback Otto Graham fired three touchdown passes in 12 minutes of play, but the 49ers still took a 35-21 lead into the locker room.

With 30 minutes of football left to play, head coach Buck Shaw had wise words for his signal caller during the intermission. "I told Frankie to play it in the second half as if it were 0-0, and that's the way he played it," Shaw told reporters in the postgame locker room.

The 49ers continued to grind out yardage on the ground. Perry finished with 156 yards on 16 carries while Strzykalski added 44. Midway through the third quarter, Perry burst off a tackle for 19 yards to move the 49ers into scoring position. From there, Albert fired a 24-yard scoring dart to Eddie Carr, which proved to be the back breaker for Cleveland.

Trailing the 49ers 42-28, the Browns failed to maintain any offensive continuity after that. Carr added the coup de grace in the fourth quarter by intercepting Graham's pass at midfield. Then he capped the 49ers ensuing drive by scoring on a five-yard sweep.

The 49ers reached the end zone twice more to post a team single-game record eight touchdowns (since tied). Albert completed 16 of 24 throws for 249 yards. His five scoring passes were an AAFC record that lasted just seven days. Graham broke it the following week by throwing for six scores against the Los Angeles Dons. Kicker Joe Vetrano registered another single-game team record with eight PATs (since tied).

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