In this post, I thought I’d have a look at another of the Cleveland Browns’ legends so as to get us a little better acquainted with the franchise and its history before they hit the Twickenham turf for their NFL London 2017 regular-season game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Otto Graham

Otto Graham is, in my mind and many others, the best QB to ever play the game of football. A bold statement, perhaps, but when you look at what he did during his 10-year professional playing career surely he’s got to be up there in any discussion on the subject.

He went to Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship but the universities football coach saw him and invited him to try-out for the football team. He obviously impressed as he ended up playing for the football team as a regular.

His first ever competitive football play was a punt return which he ran back 90-yards for a touchdown. In that same game, he would go on to score a further 2 touchdowns – one with a pass and the other with his legs as he ran it in.

Otto Graham would get his first contact with the legendary Cleveland Browns head coach, Paul Brown whilst they were both involved in the college game. Otto was starring for the Northwestern University and Paul Brown was the head coach of the successful Ohio State Buckeyes university team. In 1941 Graham and his team would hand Brown and his Ohio team their only loss that season.  Graham’s performance would stick in Paul Brown’s head, as did the beating Graham and the Northwestern Wildcats University team would give the Ohio State Buckeyes a few seasons later in 1944 when they were the current national champions.

Otto Graham during his time at Northwestern University

The great performances Otto Graham had displayed against the very successful Ohio State football team during the 1941 and 1944 college football seasons were enough to have new Cleveland Browns head coach, Paul Brown come knocking wanting Graham to lead his offense as the team embarked on its All-America Football Conference (AAFC) journey. The coach offered him large amounts of money to do so and Graham was keen on the idea. He was, however, tied to the navy at the start of the Browns life in the league.

At the time Otto Graham was ready to become a pro, after leaving the navy in 1946 after the Second World War, there were two leagues to choose from. The established National Football League (NFL) and the newly formed All-America Football Conference (AAFC). Graham was a sought-after player and was actually drafted by the Detroit Lions of the NFL but chose to go into the AAFC with Paul Brown and his Cleveland team. This team would take on the surname of its first head coach due to popular demand from the fans and become known as the Cleveland Browns.

Find out more about the founding, naming and early years of the Cleveland Browns here.

Life in the AAFC

After joining the team late in training camp of their first season due to his navy commitments, Graham soon won the starting QB job and led the Browns to a 12-2 won/lost record. This would be the first of their four AAFC Championship victories – there were only ever four AAFC Championships played.

Otto Graham wearing #60 before he had to change to #14 due to an NFL rules change.

He was a star in the AAFC and held records for passer rating of 112.1 and passing yards as well as winning league MVP awards in 1947 and 1948. When the league merged with the NFL after the 1949 season – partly due to a decline in popularity that could be blamed on the Cleveland Browns and their total dominance every season – Graham was the league’s leading passer with 10,085 yards and 86 touchdowns.

Otto in the NFL

After the AAFC-NFL merger, which saw the Browns enter the NFL as a franchise, Otto Graham and the team continued as a top contender even though it was said they’d struggle in the more competitive league. They soon silenced the doubters as they won the NFL’s Championship game on their first attempt as they overcame the competition in the big game that was the LA Rams by a score of 30-28 largely due to Graham’s running and passing.

1950 NFL Championship game. Cleveland Browns beat the LA Rams 30-28

The following seasons in the NFL whilst Graham was the Browns’ QB would see the team go to league’s Championship game EVERY YEAR!

So, let’s get this clear, that’s 6 NFL Championship games in 6 NFL seasons for Graham as well as the 4 AAFC Championship games won out of that league’s 4 seasons in existence! He won 3 of those NFL Championship games out of the 6 he played in. All this adds up to an incredible 7 Championship titles during his 10-year playing career.

Another way of looking at it – if what I’ve already stated isn’t enough to show just how great this guy was – is that Otto Graham went to the Championship game (the pinnacle of his sport) EVERY season he played during his pro career!

Who says Tom Brady’s the GOAT? Not me, that’s for sure!!!

The Facemask is Created

It was during the 1953 season in a game against the San Francisco 49ers that an elbow to the face caused considerable damage to Graham’s face that is said to have required 15 stitches. This injury inspired the team to fit a clear plastic facemask to his helmet to protect against this type of injury happening to their star player again. This was the start of all helmets being fitted with a facemask.

Otto Graham, Paul Brown and the clear plastic facemask that was the inspiration for today's helmets

End of Otto Graham’s Playing Career

The great man had intended to retire after the 1954 season, along with many of the other original Browns players, but after a return to winning ways in the Championship games – they’d lost the previous three – when they battered the Detroit Lions 56-10 and Graham threw for 3TD’s and ran for 3 more, he was convinced to return for one more season in 1955.

In this season Graham became the highest paid player in the league – this kind of helped him decide to return I’m sure – and yet again proved he was worth every penny as he led the evolving team to the Championship game yet again. This would be his 7th and final Championship title as a pro. They beat the LA Rams in this season by a score of 38-14 and Graham passed for 2 and ran for 2 touchdowns in this game. When he left the field in the fourth quarter of the game, Graham was given a standing ovation.

It speaks volumes about how good and how important he was to the Browns organisation as he retired after the season and the team recorded its first losing record the following season. This was their first losing season in team history.

With Graham at the helm during his 10-year professional career, the Browns had a record of 114 wins, 20 losses and 4 tied games which is just incredible.

To this day the QB holds records for average yards per pass attempt with 9 as well as highest career winning percentage of QB’s with 0.814. He also never missed a game throughout his entire career.

I do truly believe that Otto Graham is the real GOAT, but then again I could be regarded as being biased due to the fact that I’m a Cleveland Browns fan 😉

Otto’s Recognition

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and his #14 has been retired by the franchise which is a huge mark of respect. He actually wore #60 during the earlier part of his career but swapped to 14 after the NFL introduced a rule that offensive linemen had to wear numbers between 50-79 to make it easier for referees to stop any ineligible receivers during plays.

Some of his other awards include being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, voted to the Pro Bowl 5 times and onto the All-Pro Team 4 times. He was NFL MVP 3 times, AAFC MVP twice, 3 times an AAFC All-Pro. He was also voted onto the NFL’s 1950 All-Decade team and their 75th Anniversary team.

Basically, a total legend!

Otto Graham inducted into Hall of Fame 1965

The Cleveland Browns play the Minnesota Vikings at Twickenham stadium as part of the NFL London 2017 series and I for one can’t wait.

If you see a guy wearing an Otto Graham #14 jersey then say “Hi” as it’ll most probably be me.