Van Brocklin was not scheduled to start the team’s season opener on September 28, 1951. Stydahar planned to juggle two starters, a practice that had left both 25-year-old Van Brocklin and veteran Bob Waterfield furious. , 31. Waterfield reportedly fell ill before the game, and Van Brocklin stepped in.
The Rams played that Friday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the most popular football team from the University of Southern California ruled on Saturdays. Their opponent, the New York Yankees, was a ragtag team made up mostly of players other teams didn’t want. The Yanks began as the Boston Yanks in 1944. The franchise was retired in 1948 by owner Ted Collins for tax reasons. Collins moved the team to New York in 1949 as the Bulldogs. The name was changed to Yanks for the 1950 and 1951 seasons.
Perhaps because the Yanks were so inept, Pro Football Hall of Famer Van Brocklin, known as The Dutchman, had no problem carrying the Rams from one end of the field to the other. In the first half, he threw 67-yard touchdown passes to Smith and a pair of 41- and 47-yard passes to Elroy Hirsch, another Hall of Famer.
“We didn’t rush it at all,” George Taliaferro, who played running back, quarterback and defenseman for the Yankees that day, told The New York Times in 2011. “We didn’t have that kind of defense, so he could sit in the pocket and let it go. He didn’t have to fight.”
Van Brocklin had 27 of 41 completions for five touchdown passes and two interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers, led by Hirsch’s nine receptions for 173 yards and four touchdowns.
The Rams won easily, 54-14, and went on to win that year’s championship game.
Years later, Van Brocklin argued when Sid Gillman was hired as the Rams’ head coach and demanded a trade, which was completed in 1958, to Philadelphia. There, he led the Eagles to a title in the 1960 season and handed Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi his only loss in a championship game.
Van Brocklin retired from the game after that win, and in 1961 he was named the head coach of Minnesota’s expansion franchise. As coach of the Vikings, he constantly fell out with quarterback Fran Tarkenton, as Van Brocklin believed that a quarterback should, like him, stay in the pocket.