Football Friday: November 25, 1951 — The Day the Flags Flew

Horace Gillom, punter, Cleveland Browns
Browns punter Horace Gillom was ejected after punching Wayne Hansen of the Bears in retaliation for an earlier hit.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of one of the more ignominious contests in the annals of the NFL. On November 25, 1951 the Chicago Bears met the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at venerable Cleveland Municipal Stadium and made league history.

The Browns crushed the Bears 42-21 thanks in part to an amazing six Dub Jones touchdowns, but the stat that is even more eye-popping is the penalty line. Here are the game totals:

  • Chicago Bears16 penalties, 165 yards
  • Cleveland Browns — 21 penalties, 209 yards

As a Raiders fan I’m familiar with penalties, and 37 of them are a lot. There was one flag thrown every 96 seconds on average on that day. During one drive the Browns were penalized three consecutive times for personal fouls. Numerous players from both teams were ejected, including Cleveland’s punter.

Those 37 infractions between the two squads represent a dubious feat that has managed to stand the test of time for six decades, which is probably a good thing. A writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer covering the game wrote the following poem to commemorate it:

Over and over you would hear the man say, ‘It’s being called back — there’s a flag on the play.’ “