In the long history of the Cleveland Browns, one of the most important seasons was 1950.
In 1950, the Browns had their first season in the NFL and won their first NFL championship.
An important contributor to Cleveland’s success in 1950 was Rex Bumgardner.
Rushing the ball and catching passes, Bumgardner helped the Browns win several games in 1950, including the 1950 NFL championship game.
Bumgardner’s play in 1950 was part of his five-year professional football career, including contributing to Cleveland advancing to the NFL championship game in 1951 and 1952, as well as in 1950.
CLEVELAND : Boris Dimancheff #41, Bear's FB, is downed by @Browns HB, Rex Bumgardner #22, on the 40-yard line in Exhibition game between Cleveland Browns and @ChicagoBears , August 29. Browns Won 14-7. pic.twitter.com/W8bB15ynH0
— John Skrtic (@SkrticX) September 26, 2021
We take a look at the life of Rex Bumgardner – before, during, and after his professional football playing career.
The Early Years Before College
Rex Keith Bumgardner was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia on September 6, 1923.
Clarksburg is located in northern West Virginia.
When Bumgardner was growing up there, Clarksburg had a population of approximately 27,000 to 31,000 persons.
Keith O. Bumgardner (who was Chief of Police in Clarksburg) and Bonalee Kerr Bumgardner were Bumgardner’s parents.
Bumgardner attended Victory High School in Clarksburg.
He helped the Victory High School basketball team win the West Virginia state basketball championship in 1941.
After graduating from Victory High School in 1941, Bumgardner served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
He was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he played on the base’s football team.
After World War II, Bumgardner headed to Morgantown, West Virginia to attend West Virginia University.
The College Years
Bumgardner played football at West Virginia in 1946 and 1947.
In 1946, Bumgardner primarily was a substitute at halfback.
West Virginia had a 5-5 record in 1946.
In 1947, Bumgardner led West Virginia in rushing, principally playing left halfback.
— Gold and Blue Nation (@GoldAndBlueNtn) August 6, 2019
On September 27, 1947, Bumgardner scored on a 60-yard touchdown run, as West Virginia shut out Otterbein College 59-0.
Bumgardner had a 69-yard touchdown run, in a 60-7 Mountaineers victory over Waynesburg College on October 11, 1947.
In a 40-0 West Virginia shutout of NYU on October 18, 1947, Bumgardner scored two touchdowns – on a 37-yard pass reception from West Virginia quarterback Tommy Keane and on a 35-yard run.
The Mountaineers had a 6-4 record in 1947.
After West Virginia, Bumgardner headed to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
In 1948, Bumgardner signed with the Buffalo Bills in the All-America Football Conference (“AAFC”).
The AAFC was formed in 1946 as a competing football league to the NFL.
Bumgardner (playing at a height of five feet and 11 inches and at a weight of 193 pounds) played in 13, and started three, regular season games for Buffalo in 1948.
On October 24, 1948, in a 35-21 Bills victory over the Los Angeles Dons, Bumgardner scored his first professional football touchdown on a 91-yard punt return.
Bumgardner scored on another punt return touchdown, this time for 90 yards, in a 39-35 Buffalo win over the Chicago Rockets on November 25, 1948.
In the 1948 regular season, Bumgardner led the AAFC in punt return touchdowns (the above-described two) and ranked second in punt return yards (336 yards on 16 punt returns).
In addition, Bumgardner, in the 1948 regular season, rushed for 82 yards on 14 rushing attempts, caught one pass for 63 yards, and returned nine kickoffs for 141 yards.
He also intercepted two passes, which he returned for seven yards.
The Bills had a 7-7 record in 1948, which tied Buffalo for first place with the Baltimore Colts in the AAFC East Division.
On December 12, 1948, in a “playoff tiebreaker”, the Bills defeated the Baltimore Colts 28-17 to advance to the 1948 AAFC championship game against the two-time defending AAFC champion Cleveland Browns.
Bumgardner did not play in the “playoff tiebreaker” win over the Colts.
In the championship game against the Browns on December 19, 1948, Bumgardner did play, starting the game.
He rushed for 34 yards on 11 rushing attempts and caught one pass for 25 yards, but the Bills lost to the Browns 49-7.
Bumgardner saw more playing time in 1949.
He played in 10, and started eight, regular season games at right halfback for Buffalo in 1949.
In a 28-17 Bills triumph over the San Francisco 49ers on September 25, 1949, Bumgardner scored a touchdown on a 39-yard pass from Buffalo quarterback George Ratterman.
The following game, on October 2, 1949, Bumgardner caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from George Ratterman, as the Bills lost to the Baltimore Colts 35-28.
On November 6, 1949, Bumgardner caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from George Ratterman, in a 17-14 Buffalo win over the New York Yankees.
Bumgardner scored a touchdown on a 29-yard pass from George Ratterman, in a 38-14 Bills victory over the Baltimore Colts on November 27, 1949.
In the 1949 regular season, Bumgardner rushed for 391 yards and one touchdown on 101 rushing attempts, caught seven passes for 168 yards and the above-described four touchdowns, and returned nine kickoffs for 163 yards and four punts for 35 yards.
With a 5-5-2 record, Buffalo again made the AAFC playoffs in 1949 (under an expanded “four-team” AAFC playoff system).
On December 4, 1949, the Bills played the Cleveland Browns in a 1949 AAFC playoff game.
Bumgardner started the game, rushing for 37 yards on 10 rushing attempts and catching four passes for 80 yards, but Buffalo lost to Cleveland 31-21.
The AAFC folded after the 1949 season.
As part of the termination of the AAFC, the Buffalo Bills franchise also dissolved.
Bumgardner then was signed by the Cleveland Browns before the 1950 season.
The Browns, who had won all four AAFC championships, were one of three teams from the AAFC that joined the NFL for the 1950 season.
In 1950, Bumgardner played in and started 10 regular season games for Cleveland at left halfback.
On September 16, 1950, the Browns played their first NFL regular season game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The game matched Cleveland against the defending NFL champion Eagles.
Before the game, most observers predicted that the Eagles, as the NFL champion, easily would defeat the champion of the AAFC because the NFL was considered superior to the AAFC.
However, the Browns defeated the Eagles 35-10.
Bumgardner rushed for 18 yards, including a two-yard touchdown, on four rushing attempts and caught three passes for 37 yards.
The following game, on September 24, 1950, Bumgardner rushed for 40 yards on four rushing attempts, in a 31-0 Cleveland shutout of the Baltimore Colts.
On November 5, 1950, in a 10-7 Browns victory over the Chicago Cardinals, Bumgardner rushed for 32 yards on 11 rushing attempts.
The following game, on November 12, 1950, Bumgardner rushed for 32 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown, on 12 rushing attempts, in a 34-14 Cleveland triumph over the San Francisco 49ers.
In the next game, on November 19, 1950, Bumgardner rushed for 45 yards on 12 rushing attempts and caught one pass for 21 yards, in a 20-14 Browns win over the Washington Redskins.
On December 10, 1950, Bumgardner rushed for 24 yards on six rushing attempts and caught three passes for 41 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from future Pro Football Hall of Fame Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham.
Cleveland again defeated Washington, this time 45-21.
In the 1950 regular season, Bumgardner rushed for 231 yards and the above-described two touchdowns on 67 rushing attempts and caught nine passes for 112 yards and the above-described one touchdown.
The Browns, in 1950, finished tied for first with the New York Giants in the NFL American Division.
Cleveland had a 10-2 record.
In a “playoff tiebreaker”, on December 17, 1950, the Browns defeated the Giants 8-3.
Bumgardner (who started the game) rushed for 39 yards on 13 rushing attempts and caught one pass for eight yards.
Cleveland advanced to play in the 1950 NFL championship game against the Los Angeles Rams on December 24, 1950.
Bumgardner (who started the game, rushed for two yards on five rushing attempts, and caught four passes for 46 yards and the below-described touchdown) made several key plays in the game.
First, with the Browns trailing Los Angeles 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Bumgardner scored a key touchdown.
As has been described:
“[F]rom the 14, [Otto Graham] saw that Rex Bumgardner had gotten a step on LB Fred Naumetz. So Graham threw a low, wide pass that Rex snagged at his shoe tops in the end zone before tumbling out of bounds.”
Second, on Cleveland’s final drive, with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Rams leading Cleveland 28-27, Bumgardner had two key pass receptions.
As has been described:
“[Graham] threw to Bumgardner in the left flat for 13 to the Rams 39 where Rex wisely ran out of bounds. . . . [Graham threw] another quickie to Bumgardner for a first down at the 11 with 0:45 on the clock.”
Bumgardner’s two pass receptions helped set up the game-winning field goal by future Pro Football Hall of Fame Cleveland kicker Lou Groza, as the Browns defeated Los Angeles 30-28 to win their first NFL championship.
In 1951, Bumgardner played in 10, but did not start any, regular season games for Cleveland.
On October 14, 1951, Bumgardner rushed for 40 yards on five rushing attempts and caught one pass for 10 yards, in a 45-0 Browns shutout of the Washington Redskins.
Bumgardner scored on a one-yard touchdown run, as Cleveland defeated the Chicago Cardinals 49-28 on December 2, 1951.
He also rushed for two yards on six rushing attempts and returned one kickoff for 20 yards.
In a 24-9 Browns victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on December 16, 1951, Bumgardner rushed for 10 yards on two rushing attempts and caught two passes for 37 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass from Otto Graham.
Bumgardner, in the 1951 regular season, rushed for 126 yards and the above-described one touchdown on 45 rushing attempts, caught five passes for 61 yards and the above-described one touchdown, and returned three kickoffs for 75 yards.
With an 11-1 record, Cleveland won the NFL American Division title in 1951.
The Browns advanced to the 1951 NFL championship game and a rematch with the Los Angeles Rams on December 23, 1951.
Bumgardner played in, but did not start, the game, as Cleveland lost to the Rams 24-17.
In 1952, Bumgardner played in 11, but did not start any, regular season games for the Browns.
For the 1952 regular season, Bumgardner rushed for 38 yards on nine rushing attempts and returned five kickoffs for 89 yards and four punts for 24 yards.
He also intercepted two passes, which he returned for 33 yards.
The Browns, with an 8-4 record, again won the NFL American Division title in 1952.
Cleveland advanced to play the Detroit Lions in the 1952 NFL championship game on December 28, 1952.
Bumgardner did not start the game, but he did catch four passes for 43 yards.
However, the Browns lost to Detroit 17-7.
Before the 1953 season, Bumgardner was sold by Cleveland to the Baltimore Colts in a cash transaction.
However, Bumgardner was cur by the Colts before the beginning of the 1953 season.
He then decided to retire from professional football.
The Years After Professional Football
Bumgardner was married to Mary and Judy.
He had four sons – Frederick Rex, Rex Douglas, Rex Keith, and Christopher.
After his retirement from professional football, Bumgardner returned to West Virginia.
He worked in various law enforcement positions, including as Sheriff of Harrison County, West Virginia from 1957 to 1960 and 1965 to 1968 and as a U.S. Marshal from 1969 to 1975.
Bumgardner also operated the Sport Shop in Clarksburg, West Virginia from 1961 to 1964.
He was twice a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
Bumgardner died in Clarksburg, West Virginia on June 1, 1998.
After his death, Bumgardner received praise.
Former West Virginia football player Clarence Fiber Jr. said about Bumgardner:
“He was one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Harrison County. . . . He was a great inspiration, a great friend and a great man.”
Ronald Cork, who worked under Bumgardner when Bumgardner was Harrison County Sheriff, stated:
“[Bumgardner] was always there when you needed him.”
Playing only three seasons for Cleveland, Bumgardner does not rank high in Cleveland Browns career statistical history.
He ranks 66th in rushing yards (395) and 168th in pass reception yards (173).
Yet, career numbers alone obscure Bumgardner’s significance in Browns history.
1950 was a critical year for the Browns.
After achieving dominance, winning four consecutive championships, in the AAFC, how would the Browns compete against what was expected to be the more demanding competition of the NFL?
In this important 1950 season, two of the most important games were Cleveland’s first regular season game against the defending NFL champion Eagles and the 1950 NFL championship game against the Rams.
The victory over the Eagles gave the Browns credibility in the NFL.
The triumph over the Rams gave the Browns one of the four NFL championships that the team has won.
More than just scoring touchdowns in these two games, Bumgardner had two key pass receptions on the game-winning drive for the Browns in the 1950 NFL championship game.
Rushing the ball, catching passes, returning kickoffs and punts, and intercepting passes, Bumgardner also contributed to Cleveland winning the NFL American Division title and advancing to the NFL championship game in 1951 and 1952.
Bumgardner was the ultimate winner.
Including his two seasons with the Buffalo Bills in the AAFC, Bumgardner made the playoffs in each of his five professional football seasons from 1948 to 1952.
Not many football players can state that they made the playoffs in each of their playing seasons.
While his time with the team was short, Bumgardner should be recognized for his role in helping the Browns win their first NFL championship in 1950 and achieve success in their first three seasons in the NFL from 1950 to 1952.