By Nick Webster
The Heights – 1951 – The Season of All Seasons
Prior to the start of training camp, Lenny indicated that he would wear a facemask for protection during the 1951 season, though not one as “cumbersome” as the one he wore in the 1950 Title game. However, he got comfortable without it in early action and would play maskless throughout the year. In 1953 after Otto Graham suffered a less severe jaw injury, he wore a plastic mask; this spurred Coach Brown to partner with Riddell on a more permanent solution. The result of this collaboration was the bar we’re all familiar with today, Brown would receive royalties for years as part of this collaboration. As training camp kicked off, Ford started better than ever. In an opener against the College All-Stars Lenny had a sack-forced-fumble where he then tackled the recovering lineman for a safety and a blocked punt in a dominating win over the College All-Stars. The league was beginning to evolve and rapidly integrate, the Green Bay Press-Gazette proclaiming that the “Packers Pull a ‘Cleveland’ With Four Negros in Action.” Ford had half a season as a full-time defensive player and a more settled personal life, in 1951, he was 25-years old, on the best team in football and primed for success.
The reigning Champion Cleveland Browns opened their 1951 season on the road against the powerful San Francisco 49ers at Kezar Stadium with almost 53,000 of the 59,000-seat venue filled. Temperatures were mild with spotty showers that had fans running for shelter prior to a downpour before halftime. The 49ers took it to the Browns in the opener, running the ball effectively and often with limited need for passing as they took the lead in the second quarter and stayed ahead throughout. The most effective running was by Verl Lillywhite who ran for 145 yards on 17 carries with Joe Perry effectively locked up with just four yards on 10 carries, despite scoring two touchdowns. The 49ers only dropped back 19 times, with 17 pass attempts and two sacks. Ford played almost entirely from a 3-point stance – something which will change over the course of the season – and only participated in 39 snaps (58% of the teams’ 67 total) as he was replaced by Jim Martin in Q4 with the Browns down on the scoreboard. Later in the season, we see Ford’s snaps limited due to fourth-quarter blowouts. This was the only time it occurred with the Browns down on the scoreboard. Despite few drop-backs and limited participation, Ford was effective and had the only two sacks the team produced, for 30 yards in losses. It was a disappointing result on the scoreboard, but Ford’s play was exemplary, portending things to come.
Week 2 had the Browns traveling down the California coast to Los Angeles for a rematch of last year’s championship game, but this time in the Coliseum, the home of the Rams. Typical for the era, when travel was slow and difficult, the Browns stayed out on the West Coast between games rather than travel back home. The Browns stayed at the Green Hotel in Pasadena and practiced “in secret” at the public Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl. Paul Brown was either pessimistic or playing possum in stating, “It’s simply not the ball club it used to be” in referring to his team after the 49er loss. Despite beating the Rams in both prior meetings – each at home in Cleveland – the Browns were initially established as 3-point underdogs as visitors off the loss to San Francisco.
The Rams kicked off to the Browns on a beautiful sunny day in the Coliseum with long shadows cast from the participants. The Rams got off to a strong start, scoring the first 10-points of the game and holding a 10-7 lead at the half. But in the third quarter, the Browns came on scoring 21 unanswered points on their path to a 38-23 victory. Ford played nearly 90% of the defensive snaps and was in a 3-point stance for three-quarters of those snaps, fewer than in the first game, but still playing primarily with his fist in the dirt. The Browns would only sack the Rams once, with Bill Willis darting up the middle for an early third-quarter sack. Ford got excellent general pressure, collapsing the pocket and making life difficult but with frequent double-teams and a missed tackle on both a potential sack and stuff, his stat sheet was clean with zero sacks, zero stuffs and a single QB hit on the game.
|Ford in a two-point stance at RDE, quickly penetrates, too quickly for the Wideout to execute his down-block|
|Ford makes contact and pushed the back further towards the goal-line, but misses the tackle|
|The play is cleaned up by the onrushing Safety for a 5-yard stuff, forced by, but not credited to Ford|
|The Steeler scheme has Fran Rogel attempting to take on Ford, he goes low, Ford gets by and hits the QB and the ball goes feebly into the ground|
|Lined up in a two-point stance Ford rushes off the edge and then dispenses with a chip from the releasing receiver|
|Ford is then engaged by G Bill Albright, who will be moved to defense in 1952|
|Lenny leaps and leaves his feet, while engaged with Albright|
|And grabs Conerly, still in the air and over G Bill Albright, before taking him down for the sack|
|Giants flare out a guard in protection against Ford, who plants his right foot in the dirt . . .|
|. . . and cuts back underneath the flaring guard, to bear down on the passer|
|And closed the deal with a sack|
|Ed Sprinke bears down on Otto Graham who’s focused downfield|
|Sprinkle leaps in the air his right arm extended in a Tomahawk chop which will become a popular fumble forcing move several decades later|
|He knocks both the ball and Otto’s helmet loose, causing the fumble|
|Which Sprinkle scoops up for a recovery and long TD return|
|An early 8-yard sack sees Lenny come off the edge and around RB blocking to hammer the QB before George Young can get in|
|Ford notches a 0-yard sack as the QB cannot make a gain attempting to escape the pocket|
|Lenny off right end unblocked blasts the QB and the ball comes out which Ford recovers deep in Steeler territory|
|Ford dodges a cut-block attempt by the Steeler RB|
|Lenny’s fourth sack results after an attempted cut-block from the back fails and he beat George Young in to make the play|
|Ford’s 5th sack of the Steeler game was a ‘mop-up’ sack, Willis getting early pressure and missing the diving sack, Young coming in but missing a tackle, with Lenny the beneficiary|
|Ford as stand-up right end swoops in for the sack after George Young misses|
|Lenny logs his second sack of the Eagle game|
|Lenny is unblocked and gets immediate pressure|
|Burke is hit and slammed against his own goal post|
|The Goal post is the only thing saving him from a Safety as Burke slides down for a sack at the one-yard line, resulting in a fourth-down punt from a snow pile in the back of the endzone|