My Great Uncle, The Football Player
My great uncle, Oliver M. “Ollie” Cline, had a storied football career with The Ohio State University and a handful of pro teams in the early days of American football.
The man nicknamed the Blonde Bomber had a pretty impressive three years at OSU. He played in 1944, 1945, left college to serve in the military in 1946, and then returned to the Buckeyes in 1947. Ollie played both ways, fullback and linebacker. In 1944, he blocked for Heisman Trophy winner Les Horvath and was a part of an undefeated (9-0) Big Ten Champion team. Things were just getting started; 1945 was Ollie’s standout year at Ohio State. He went on to rush for 936 yards, a school record and was named the Big Ten MVP. That same season against Pittsburg, Ollie rushed for 229 yards, a school record that stood until Archie Griffin broke it 27 years later.
Like I mentioned earlier, Ollie’s collegiate career was interruped in 1946 while he served in the military. After returning from his service, he came back and yet again led the team in rushing in ’47. Ollie was one of the high points of a very lowly 1947 season. The Buckeyes had just hired a new coach in Wes Fesler and had a miserable record of 2-6-1.
Ollie was picked by the Chicago Bears in the 1948 draft. He ended up playing his 1948 season for Paul Brown, the same man that recruited him to play for Ohio State, with the Cleveland Browns. His 1948 season entailed just 29 rushing attempts, and 3 punt returns. The Browns and quite a few other teams made up the AAFC (All-American Football Conference) which rivaled the NFL for the four years of its existence (1946-1949.) The Browns were the most dominant team in the AAFC, winning the Conference Championship each of those four years. The year Ollie was with them was no different, 14-0 and a commanding 49-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the championship game.
Ollie’s next proffesional season was with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills, in their last season with the AAFC, went a mediocre 5-5-2. They made it to the playoffs, only to be beaten by Ollie’s former team, the Cleveland Browns. In terms of personal statistics, the 1949 season was the highlight of his career. He rushed for 518 yards (4th best in all of the AAFC) on 125 attempts. He also had 15 receptions for 110 yards.
This brings us to the most well-known part of Ollie’s career. His stint with the Detroit Lions.
From left to right: Bobby Layne, Ollie Cline, Bob Hoernschemeyer, Doak Walker
In his four years with the Lions, Ollie shared the backfield with and blocked for future Hall of Famer Doak Walker. Ollie’s biggest years with the Lions were his first and his last. In 1950, as the starting fullback, Ollie was mainly a blocking fullback but still rushed for 227 yards on 69 carries. The Lions went 6-6 that year. The next two years, there wasn’t too much to be heard of him. Barely any mention of him in the 1951 season, then just 13 carries in ’52 on a team that went on to win the NFL Championship. Take in mind this was before the creation of the Super Bowl.
Then 1953 was a final breakout season. He was once again named the starting fullback and played in each of the 12 games that season. Ollie was primarily a blocking fullback, but still managed 169 yards on 42 carries along with 10 receptions for a total of 126 yards. Ollie and the rest of the 1953 Lions went on the beat the Cleveland Browns, Ollie’s original team, in the championship game.
Three championships in six years of pro football. Not too shabby.
Many, many years after his playing days in the year of 2000 Ollie was named to the Ohio State century team. Essentially, what that honor means is he was selected as the best fullback to play for OSU over the course of a hundred years. That same year, Ollie Cline was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame.
Now onto the collecting side of things, Ollie has a total of four cards. He is the 134th card in the 1951 Bowman set:
and then there are three postcards he appears on. I have only ever seen one of them and I own it. A 1951 J.D McCarthy Post Card, in the past three years that I have been on the look for Ollie’s cards this post card came up for sale just once. A seller put one up on eBay a couple months ago and I purchased it the first time I came across it. Here it is:
According to Beckett, there are two Ohio State post cards featuring Ollie, but like I said.. I’ve never seen them. I’ve decided that going after his cards is going to be one of my top priorities in collecting. Everything you see here has all been obtained within the past couple months and I plan on adding to that greatly.
The thing is, Ollie is such a renouned football player, but there is very little information out there about him. If you do a google images search for “Ollie Cline”, you get a couple scans of his 1951 Bowman card, a picture of his son, the picture you see at the very top of this post and then pages & pages worth of pictures that have no affiliation with Ollie. A picture of some kid with a knife, a bunch of tomb stones, you get the gist. According to Ohio State, he was the greatest fullback of the entire 20th century, but there it is nearly impossible to find game stats, pictures, virtually anything at all about him while playing at Ohio State. There are a couple sentences about him in Ohio State books I’ve got, but that’s pretty much it. He is ranked as the 32nd in a list of the 100 greatest OSU football players of all time, but where most other players have a picture there is a caption reading “NO PHOTO FOUND.”
Unfortunately, Ollie passed away in 2001 at the age of 75 and there wasn’t a whole lot said about his playing days before his death. As a result, I’m sure there were plenty of stories lost. To get back that information, and to promote the name Ollie Cline as much as I can, I am putting it on myself to uncover the history of Ollie’s playing days.