Otto Graham Passes Away at 82

One of the great ones passed away this evening. Otto Graham was an icon of Cleveland Browns football, and is perhaps the most successful quarterback in the history of professional football. The condolences of everyone at Bernie's Insiders goes out to his family and friends.

Ten years of professional football.

Ten championship games.

If the true measure of a quarterback is his ability to lead his team to success, then Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Period.

Otto Graham was nearly not a quarterback at all, in fact, he was nearly not even a football player. Originally on a basketball scholarship at Northwestern, the young man from Waukegan, Illinois joined the football team (at tailback) his sophomore year, after members of Northwestern's footabll coaching staff saw him playing intramural ball at the Illinois college. He switched to quarterback as a junior, and set Big Ten passing records his first year at the position. By his senior year, he was a collegiate All-American.

Graham's incredible success continued in the professional ranks, but not before he had spent two years serving his country in the Armed Services. Paul Brown had seen Graham victimize his Ohio State Buckeyes while in college, and moved to sign the Navy Air Corps officer to a contract while World War II was still in progress. When the war ended, Graham was under contract to the Browns.

While he didn't start the first AAFC game for the Cleveland Browns, Graham quickly took over and led the Browns to the first of four consecutive AAFC Championships. During his first year, he was also a member of the championship Rochester Royals basketball team.

While crushing their competition in the AAFC, Graham and his Browns put together some genuinely astonishing statistics, beginning with the 52-4-3 record they assembled, and four consecutive AAFC championships. Graham threw 86 touchdowns while in the AAFC, with less than half that many (41) interceptions. He was the league's MVP three times.

Graham continued to march the Browns to championships when he came to the NFL, quickly capturing the attention of football fans when they crushed the Philadelphia Eagles, who were gunning for their third straight NFL championship, by a score of 35-10. The game was quickly shown to not be a fluke, as the Browns rolled to a 10-2 record and won the NFL championship by defeating the LA Rams, 30-28, a game where Graham threw for four touchdowns.

The Browns, under the direction of "Automatic Otto", continued to make it to championship games throughout the early 50s. Although they lost championship games in 1951-3, Graham led the Browns to two more championship seasons in his last two years (1954-5). Graham finished his pro career with 23,584 yards passing, with 174 touchdowns. He also scored 44 touchdowns running the ball.

During and after his playing days, Graham was given numerous honors, including spots in the College Football Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and being named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Following his retirement as a player, Graham served as head football coach and athletic director at the Coast Guard Academy (1959-65, 1970-84), and also spent a few years as GM and Head Coach of the Washington Redskins (1966-69). Graham also was the head coach of the College All-Stars during the annual game against the NFL champion team from 1958-1965.

Graham became a valuable spokesman alerting the public to the dangers of colo-rectal cancer in his later years. Graham fought the cancer, enduring an operation in 1978.

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