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Sacco Sez: The alternating Hall of Fame quarterbacks


It seems there are never enough star quarterbacks to go around.

Here in Denver, one of the hot topics is who the Broncos' signal caller will be next year, following a season in which Denver won Super Bowl 50 with both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler starting and winning games.

Injury forced the Broncos to utilize two starting quarterbacks throughout the season, but did you know that there once was an NFL team that alternated starting quarterbacks, each of whom eventually made the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

I know, it sounds like some sort of a trick situation, but it was not.

Recently I wrote about the development of television in pro football during the 1950s. This situation also took place in the early 1950s, and the players were Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, with the Los Angeles Rams.

The two Hall of Famers—Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin—have enough color and stories to each merit books, never mind one column, so this is just one brief look at what the Los Angeles Rams did in the 1950s solving a playing time problem by playing both guys.


This is the only time it has ever happened in NFL history. Of course, the San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana and Steve Young on the team at the same time, but they never alternated during a season. Young did not get to start until Montana was gone.

This was way different.

Waterfield led the Cleveland Rams to the 1945 NFL title and was the first rookie to ever be named Most Valuable Player of the league.

The Rams then moved to Los Angeles in 1946, where they integrated pro football (another topic, another day) and he remained with them through 1952. But in 1949 the Rams drafted Norm Van Brocklin; you can never have enough quarterbacks, an axiom then as well as now, creating a very competitive situation at the team's prime position.

Joe Stydahar, a very stubborn character, was the head coach at that time and his newest quarterback, Van Brocklin, might have been one of the most stubborn, and outspoken, guys in NFL history. His nickname was "The Dutchman," and his personality embodied all of that.

The Rams were great and they had two great quarterbacks, so in 1951 Stydahar decided he would alternate them, game by game.

This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was handled well by all through motivation to move past previous playoff losses.

The Rams had lost the NFL title game to Philadelphia in 1949, and they won the National Conference title again in 1950 but lost a heartbreaker to Cleveland and Otto Graham in the title game, 30-28.

In the opening game of the 1951 season, it was Van Brocklin's turn to start, and he set the all-time NFL opening-day passing yards record with 554 yards. The record still stands today, but it was not good enough to get him the full-time starting job. He continued to alternate with Waterfield as the Rams rolled to the NFL Championship with a 24-17 win over the Browns for the crown.

They alternated for one more year, again making the playoffs, then Waterfield retired following the 1952 campaign.


Both players had been in the military during World War II and each man thus began his career a few years later than today's norm.

While Waterfield won his first title in Cleveland before teaming up with Van Brocklin, The Dutchman won his last after the partnership, guiding he Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL title in 1960, 17-13, in a gritty defensive battle over the Green Bay Packers.

That was the only championship game Vince Lombardi ever lost, by the way.

Neither Waterfeld nor Van Brocklin had been first-round draft choices in the NFL, but they not only earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame but had perhaps the most unique alternating starter situation in the history of the game.

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