Here's where Clark Shaughnessy re-enters the picture. In 1948, he took his only NFL head coaching job, with the Rams. After they went 6-5-1 in his first season, the Rams acquired halfback Elroy 'Crazy Legs' Hirsch, a 6-2, 190-pound breakaway runner who had spent two seasons in the AAFC.
Shaughnessy thought that Hirsch could be a great receiver, but the Rams already had two fine ends in Tom Fears and Bob Shaw. Fears was a big, possession type receiver blessed with great hands, while Shaw was not only bigger than Fears, at 6-4 and 226 pounds, but he was also considerably faster. The Rams also had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, veteran Bob Waterfield and rookie Norm Van Brocklin.
Searching for a way to get Hirsch into the lineup as a third receiver, Shaughnessy decided to use him as a flanker. That was the beginning of the three-end formation, which became known as the pro set, because all of the pro teams soon adopted it.
The Rams' passing attack didn't have the precision of Cleveland's, but it was just as frightening. With Hirsch flanked to one side and an end, usually Shaw, split to the other side, Los Angeles stretched defenses to the limit and often beyond.
While deep defenders back-pedaled furiously to prevent the bomb, the sure-handed Fears could go over the middle, where he was often covered by a linebacker.
Like Brown, Shaughnessy based his running attack primarily on traps and draws set up by the passing threat. He had two 220-pound fullbacks, Dick Hoerner and Tank Younger, to do the running. And, like Motley, they were both very good at picking up blitzes.
The Rams won the Western Conference title in 1949, but they had to play on a muddy Philadelphia field in the championship game. With their passing attack literally bogged down, they were shut out, 14-0.
For all his strategic and tactical genius, Shaughnessy wasn't very good head coaching material. He was a hard taskmaster of the sort that players usually dislike, and he was also abrasively undiplomatic in his dealings with owner Dan Reeves. Shaughnessy was fired after the 1949 season and Joe Stydahar replaced him.
Stydahar not only kept the three-end formation, he refined it considerably. Shaw was traded to the Chicago Cardinals and Hirsch moved from flanker to split end. Glenn Davis, the 1944 Heisman Trophy winner, joined the team as a 26-year-old rookie after his obligatory military service.
Davis split his time between flanker and running back, alternating with a 5-8, 175-pound scatback, 'Vitamin' Smith, and Stydahar also alternated his quarterbacks, Waterfield and Van Brocklin.
The Rams put up unheard-of numbers in 1950, with 64 touchdowns and 466 points in 12 games. Van Brocklin was the league's top-rated quarterback and Waterfield finished just behind him. Fears set an NFL record with 84 catches, while Hirsch and Davis had 42 apiece.
In the championship rematch against the Browns, the Rams opened scoring with an 82-yard touchdown pass from Waterfield to Davis and they went on to win the title, 30-28. In 1951, Hirsch was spotlighted, setting a new NFL record with 1,495 yards on 66 catches and tying Don Hutson's mark with 17 TD receptions. Again, the Rams beat the Browns for the title.
Success breeds not only success, but imitation. Even though Shaughnessy had originally gone to the three-end formation because of his personnel, other NFL teams quickly adopted it, then tried to get the personnel to make it work. By 1952, it was pretty much standard throughout the league.
RAM PICTURES TELL A STORY: