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Reeves, Dan

Dan Reeves

1912-1971

American football executive

One of football's greatest innovators, the American entrepreneur Dan Reeves is credited with bringing the first major sports team to the West Coast. After purchasing the Cleveland Rams in 1941, Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles five years later, paving the way for other Pacific Coast sports teams. Reeves was also the first modern day National Football League (NFL) owner to sign an African American player, halfback Kenny Washington, who joined the Rams in 1946. After the trend setting Reeves established the first full-time scouting staff, other NFL team owners followed suit. A New York-born businessman, Reeves was also known for founding a "Free Football for Kids" program at the Rams' stadium. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1967.

Born in New York City on June 30, 1912, Daniel F. Reeves was the son of Irish immigrants James Reeves and Rose Farrell. His father and an uncle, Daniel, had risen from fruit peddlers to owners of a grocery-store chain, bringing wealth to the family. Young Reeves attended the Newman School in Lakewood, New Jersey, where he captained the football team. But rather than desiring to play football professionally, Reeves dreamed of becoming a football team owner. Upon graduating in 1930, he received the Newman School's General Excellence Medal.

Reeves attended Georgetown University but left before completing his degree. He then worked in the family business, and married Mary V. Corroon, a friend of a Georgetown classmate, on October 25, 1935. The pair had six children.

After the family's grocery-story chain merged with Safeway Stores in 1941, twenty-eight-year-old Reeves set out to fulfill his childhood dream of owning a football team. He bid unsuccessfully for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles franchises before purchasing two-thirds of the Cleveland Rams. In addition to this NFL team, Reeves also acquired holdings in an American Professional Football Association team, the Jersey City Giants.

During the Second World War, the sports entrepreneur served as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. Joining the service in 1942, he relocated with his family to army bases in upstate New York. By the following year, a manpower shortage during the war led to a temporary disbanding of the Cleveland Rams franchise. Reeves remained with the army and was promoted to captain before his discharge in 1945. That same year, the Rams took the NFL championship title in a 15-14

game against the Washington Redskins. Rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield, who had led the team to victory, was named NFL Player of the Year.

Brought First Major Team to West Coast

The Rams' championship game was to be their last played in Cleveland, as it was Reeves' decision to relocate the team to Los Angeles for the 1946 season. Poor attendance among the Ohio fans, as well as a high rental fee at the Cleveland stadium, had impelled Reeves to look for a new home for the team. In choosing Los Angeleswhich was then 2,000 miles away from the nearest NFL citythe Rams' owner generated heated controversy. Though the city boasted college football, Los Angeles had no pro-football tradition. (A former NFL team, the Los Angeles Buccaneers, had played a road schedule but had never established a home stadium.) Although they pronounced the move financially irresponsible, Reeves' fellow NFL owners eventually conceded, and the Los Angeles Rams were established.

Once in Los Angeles, Reeves made another major contribution to professional football when he employed the NFL's first full-time scouting staff. This network of scouts specialized in visiting universities and evaluating the major-league potential of college athletes. Before long, every other major-league team had copied Reeves' idea, and scouting staffs became standard NFL team fixtures.

In another innovative move, Reeves became the first post-war NFL owner to sign an African American player, halfback Kenny Washington, who joined the team in 1946. A few months later, he hired a second African American player, Woody Strode. It was no coincidence that two major changesthe Rams' move west and its racial integrationhad come at the same time. The Los Angeles Coliseum had stipulated that the team must racially integrate if the coliseum was to serve as the Rams' home stadium. Reeves readily agreed, and some credit the Rams owner for helping to inspire racial integration in all American pro sports. A year later the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson , the first African American major-league baseball player. (Incidentally, Washington and Robinson had been roommates at the University of California at Los Angeles.)

Also in 1946, Reeves opened his own Wall Street firm, Daniel Reeves & Co., with offices in Beverly Hills and New York City. He had become a member of the New York Stock Exchange in 1943, through the firm of Adler, Coleman and Co. Yet the dual responsibilities of his firm and his football team proved too much. In 1947 Reeves transferred his seat to L. Morton Stern, a member of his New York office.

Meanwhile, the Rams encountered serious financial difficulties. During their first years in Los Angeles, the team had to compete for ticket sales with the Los Angeles Dons, who were part of the new All-America Football Conference. Using his business acumen to draw fans to the stadium, Reeves created the "Free Football for Kids" program. By encouraging children's attendance, Reeves invested in a future audience for the Rams. By 1949 the All-America Football Conference had folded, removing the competition for Los Angeles football fans. In another positive move, Reeves hired Pete Rozelle as the Rams' publicity director. Rozelle, who became Reeves' protégé, would later serve as commissioner of the NFL.

Yet the Rams' financial troubles were not over. A year earlier, Reeves' team had suffered a deficit of $250,000, and he was forced to take partners. These included the oil mogul Edwin Pauleywho, along with Reeves, owned one-third of the teamas well as Fred Levy, Hal Seley, and the entertainer Bob Hope. With larger funding, the team was able to increase its promotional campaigns. Crowds soon swelled at Los Angeles Coliseum, which hosted the first NFL game attended by more than 100,000 spectators.

Hired Coach George Allen

The Rams won NFL championship titles in 1951 and 1955, during a high point of the team's history. But by 1956 a personality clash between Reeves and co-owner Pauley was beginning to have a detrimental effect on the Rams. In 1962 a solution was finally reached when Reeves bought out Pauley and other owners for $4.8 million. Meanwhile, the Rams' performance had dipped. After seven consecutive losing seasons, Reeves hired a new coach to pull the Rams out of their slump.

The new coach was the flamboyant, talented George Allen, who would later gain a reputation for transforming losing teams into consistent winners. Once a former assistant coach for the Rams, Allen was hired in 1966 as head coach. His effect on the team was immediate. The Rams became contenders once again, thanks to Allen's creation of the "Fearsome Foursome"a defensive line that included future Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones.

Despite Allen's stellar winning record, the head coach clashed with Reeves. The Rams owner disapproved of some of Allen's tactics, which included spying on other teams and publicly criticizing the Rams' opponents after defeats. Reeves fired Allen in December 1968, but rehired the popular coach when the players threatened to strike. Two years later, Allen's contract expired and Reeves failed to renew it.

During the early 1960s tension had mounted between the NFL and its rival, the American Football League (AFL). When the two leagues finally merged in 1966-67, Reeves took a key role in representing the NFL team owners. It was Reeves' general manager, Tex Schramm , who negotiated on behalf of the NFL during the historic negotiations.

Chronology

1912 Born June 30 in New York, NY
1930 Enters Georgetown University (leaves before completing degree)
1935 Marries Mary V. Corroon
1941 Purchases two-thirds of Cleveland Rams franchise
1942 Serves in Army Air Corps as second lieutenant, then captain
1943 Joins Wall Street firm Adler, Coleman and Co.
1946 Moves Rams to Los Angeles
1946 Hires NFL's first African American players since 1932
1946 Founds Wall Street firm Daniel Reeves & Co.
1966 Hires head coach George Allen
1967 Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1971 Dies at age 58

Awards and Accomplishments

1930 General Excellence Medal, Newman School
1946 First sports team owner to bring a major team to the West Coast
1946 First post-World War II NFL owner to hire an African American player
late 1940s First NFL owner to employ a full-time scouting staff
1967 Pro Football Hall of Fame

Reeves died on April 15, 1971, in New York City. The cause of death was Hodgkin's disease. He was fifty-eight years old. Four years before his death, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He will be remembered for his historic contributions to the game, including his essential role in football's cross-country expansion to the West Coast.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Daniel F. Reeves," Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-75. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

Other

"Dan Reeves." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/enshrinees/dreeves.cfm (December 9, 2002).

"Dan Reeves Moves West." Professional Football Researchers Association. http://www.footballresearch.com/articles/frpage.cfm?topic=reeves (December 9, 2002).

"George Allen." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/mainpage.cfm?cont_id=94070 (December 9, 2002).

"St. Louis Rams Team History." NFL Archives. http://www.nflarchives.com/ramsHistory.htm (December 9, 2002).

Sketch by Wendy Kagan

Related Biography: Head Coach George Allen

Born on April 29, 1918, in Detroit, Michigan, George Allen approached coaching with passion and a determination to win. He attended Alma College, Marquette University, and the University of Michigan before becoming a coach at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1948. Three years later he moved to Whittier College in California, and in 1957 he joined the NFL as an assistant coach to the Rams' Sid Gillman. After joining the Chicago Bears as a defensive assistant, Allen returned to the Rams in 1966 in his first job as head coach. After lifting the Rams out of a losing slump, Allen was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1967. Moving to the Washington Redskins in 1971, Allen worked a similar magic. In his twelve years of coaching, he never had a losing season, and was ranked tenth in NFL history upon his retirement. Allen died on December 31, 1990, at age 72.

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