The Ollie Matson trade, 55 years later


Fifty-five years ago today, an NFL team whose General Manager would soon be league commissioner traded nine players for a future Hall of Fame tailback.

And you thought the Trent Richardson trade was a big deal.

The year was 1959. The Los Angeles Rams, led by G.M. Pete Rozelle, traded seven players, a 1959 second-round pick and a player to be named later to the Chicago Cardinals for Ollie Matson.

Rozelle and the late Matson (second from left at right) had history together. Matson was a star fullback at the University of San Francisco, whose 1951 team went undefeated, while Rozelle was the school’s sports information director. Two other future Hall of Famers — tackle Bob St. Clair and defensive end Gino Marchetti — also played for the 1951 Dons. However, this exceptionally skilled club wouldn’t play in a bowl game; according to the school, the team rejected an invitation to the 1951 Orange Bowl that was conditional on the club’s African-American players — Matson and Burl Toler — not playing.

The Cardinals’ first-round pick in 1952 — the same year in which he won bronze and silver medals in track at the Olympics — Matson never played on a first-place team in his 14-season NFL career, and only twice did he play on teams with winning records. The Cardinals struggled in his six seasons on the field, and the Rams were 11-39-2 in his four seasons (1959-1962).

In the end, the trade didn’t lead to great success for either club. The Chicago Cardinals would move to St. Louis in 1960. Their next postseason appearance would be in 1974. The Rams, meanwhile, would next make the postseason in 1967, one season after Matson had wrapped up his NFL career with Philadelphia. Overall, Matson would rack up 12,844 combined yards and 73 TDs, and he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.

The trade for Matson, who passed away at age 80 in 2011, remains one of the biggest from a player count standpoint in NFL history.

Now, imagine something like this in the Twitter era.

17 responses to “The Ollie Matson trade, 55 years later

  1. I think it would be fascinating to see pro football players participate in the Olympics in track and field. Can’t tell me Randy Moss wouldn’t have been one amazing high hurdler.

  2. In 1951 people were still practicing exclusion and segregation politics which horrify us on reflection. Jump to 2014 and change “black” to “gay” and yet some people aren’t horrified.

    Yeah, that’s a lot of progress we’ve made in sixty plus years, isn’t it?

  3. What happened to the Univ. of SF athletics? They had national powers in both football & basketball with both teams being laden w/ future HoFers.

  4. Worth pausing to read the story of that USF team, which stood by its principles on desegregation.

  5. Imagine anyone not being able to play or eat based on color, sex etc in the social media day…

    oh wait…

  6. Olllie Matson was one of the all time great NFL RB’s…and, unfortunately, one of the NFL’s greatest tragedies; his CTE related dementia was the worst documented by Ann McKee. It was so bad that Mr. Matson could not speak for the final years of his life.

  7. The trade was a good one for the Cardinals. They acquired a number of very useful players while suffering no loss of quality at halfback, since John David Crow was a good replacement for Matson. The team’s record was no better in 1959 than it had been in 1958, but improved markedly thereafter, due to good drafting. The Cards still needed a good QB, however, but wouldn’t get one until 1963, when Charley Johnson became the starter.

  8. If this happened today it would be so insane. I’d love to see the cowboys do it and trade the vikings a ton of cap guys for ap. Just rebuild your defense with Dez, Romo and AP as your offense. Best shot at a sb since Jimmy Johnson.

    The all hail vikings guys will make a little sense with a defense like that too. So that’s always good. I guess..

  9. If a 15 player trade happened now (in what you describe as the twitter era) you’d probably run out of space & need multiple tweets

  10. USF had to drop football because they didn’t have the money to keep the program alive. If they would have played in that bowl game it would saved the football program. The team was given the option on whether or not to play the bowl game. They voted not to, even though they knew the school really needed the money. The irony is that the decision to stand up against segregation cost them the football program.

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