The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Celebrated at the time as the biggest trade in NFL history, the 10-player trade that sent fullback Ollie Matson from the Chicago Cardinals to the L.A. Rams was relayed by telegram to the league office with the caveat that each involved player arrive to their 1959 training camps “in good condition.” When news of the Matson-to-L.A. deal reached Jack Teele in the Santa Anita horse track press box, the former Long Beach Press Telegram sportswriter and eventual executive for two NFL clubs exclaimed to the room, "The Rams just got Ollie Matson… for a whole team!"
Los Angeles Rams general manager and future NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle organized the trade after years of coveting the 28-year-old Matson, at one point considering a $100,000 offer for the fullback according to the Press Telegram. (In 1951, $100,000 totaled the sum of the player contracts purchased by the league from the folding New York Yanks franchise). Rozelle had been the SID at the University of San Francisco while Matson was a player there and the undefeated USF Dons of ’51 famously turned down an Orange Bowl invite that stipulated it’s two black players, including Matson, couldn’t attend.
Eight years later, the 10-player trade meant little in the long run, with Los Angeles failing to win a title in Matson’s three seasons and the Cardinals eventually moving to St. Louis without any hardware. Matson, however, joined the Hall of Fame in ’72, and Rozelle, in his final significant act as commissioner, approved a record-breaking 18-player deal that sent Herschel Walker from the Cowboys to the Vikings in ’89.
— Robert Klemko