Van Brocklin had not been scheduled to start the team’s season opener on Sept. 28, 1951. Stydahar planned to juggle between two starters, a practice that had left both Van Brocklin, 25, and the veteran Bob Waterfield, 31, seething. According to reports, Waterfield became ill before the game, and Van Brocklin stepped in.
The Rams played that Friday night in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the more popular University of Southern California football team reigned on Saturdays. Their opponent, the New York Yanks, was a ragtag squad comprised mainly of players other teams didn’t want. The Yanks began as the Boston Yanks in 1944. The franchise was folded in 1948 by the owner Ted Collins for tax purposes. 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, Van Brocklin, a Pro Football Hall of Famer known as The Dutchman, had no problem taking the Rams up and down the field. In the first half, he threw touchdown passes of 67 yards to Smith, and a pair of 41- and 47-yard throws to Elroy Hirsch, another member of the Hall of Fame.
“We didn’t rush him at all,” George Taliaferro, who played halfback, quarterback and defensive back for the Yanks that day, told The New York Times in 2011. “We didn’t have that kind of a defense, so he could sit in the pocket and let it go. He didn’t have to scramble.”
Van Brocklin had 27 completions on 41 attempts for five touchdown passes and two interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers, led by Hirsch’s nine catches for 173 yards and four touchdowns.
The Rams won easily, 54-14, and went on to victory in that year’s championship game.
Years later, Van Brocklin argued when Sid Gillman was brought in 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, handing Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi his only defeat in a championship game.
Van Brocklin retired from playing after that win and in 1961 was named head coach of the expansion Minnesota franchise. As the Vikings’ coach, he constantly feuded with the footloose quarterback Fran Tarkenton since Van Brocklin believed that a quarterback should, as he had, remain in the pocket.