Okay folks, it’s been awhile since we delved into history. But it’s time. And we’re starting with a biggie. You know how when people talk about two-sport athletes, they always mention the same two names: Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
Now I’m not going to take anything away from those two. They are both outstanding athletes, and I wish we would’ve gotten to see Bo’s career actually pan out. But neither of these guys hold’s a candle to Otto Graham.
Now before you ask, “who?”, I’m going to tell you.
Otto Graham was a high school and college basketball player-turned college tailback at Northwestern-turned quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Now, if you’re a young sports fan, or just pay attention once in awhile and you’re asking, “How have I never heard of this man?”, don’t worry. He played from 1946-1955.
Which is why I am writing about him. It’s time to respect history. And you respect what you know. So you’re about to get to know the most underrated Quarterback and maybe athlete of all-time..
Otto Graham was born in Waukegan, Ill. Where he was a two-sport athlete for Waukegan High School. He played tailback and kicker for the football team and starred on the basketball team. After high school he accepted a scholarship to Northwestern where he continued his versatile ways, even adding baseball to his resume. He was Second Team All-American in basketball as a junior and made the First Team as a senior.
He also destroyed records on the gridiron. He played the position of tailback, but he threw like a quarterback. He set records at Northwestern by passing for 2,072 yards for his career, returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown and in 1943, finished third in the Heisman balloting.
He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1944, but it was World War II and Graham decided to do his civic duty and join the United States Navy Air Corp for two years. (now called the United States Coast Guard). While serving he was approached by Paul Brown. Brown was forming a professional football team in the All American Football Conference. And he needed a quarterback…
Brown had seen first-hand what Graham could do. Back in 1941, Brown was the head coach of Ohio State and was upset by Graham’s Northwestern Wildcats, 14-7. After witnessing what Otto could do, Brown decided playing with him was better than against him. So he signed him to a contract with the Cleveland Browns.
When World War II ended, Graham went back to sports. But not to the AAFC. His first stop was his first love… basketball. Otto was a bench player for the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League. And in that 1945-46 inaugural season, the Royals would go 24-10, be the 2nd seed in the playoffs and defeat the Sheboygan Redskins in three games to win the first NBL Championship.
This was a start of ridiculous things to come for Otto Graham. From the NBL, he went to the AAFC in the same year and lead the Cleveland Browns to a 12-2 record in their inaugural season, including a 7-0 start where they outscored their opponents 180-34. In the AAFC Championship game the 12-2 Browns defeated the 10-3-1 New York Yankees 14-9. Graham’s second championship in ONE year.
Take that “Neon” Deion.
Graham would go on to lead Cleveland to a 52-4-3 record and 4 straight AAFC championships before the Browns moved to the National Football League. Graham’s Browns were snickered at. Saying they played lesser competition and that they wouldn’t be able to play with the big dogs of the NFL. Their first test would be against the two-time defending NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
It was no contest. Otto Graham threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns as the Browns routed the Eagles, 35-10. Graham would lead the Browns to a 10-2 record and a 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL Championship game.
By the time his career was finished, he had taken his team to 10 CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS. Winning seven of them, including his last two years in the NFL. Nine out of the 10 years he finished as the First-Team All-League Quarterback.
He completed 55 percent of his passes in his 10-year career. He threw for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns. His play in the championship games were even better. In 1950 he had four touchdown passes in the 30-28 victory over the Rams. In 1954, the Cleveland Browns (fresh off back-2-back title-game losses to the Detroit Lions) demolished the Lions 56-10. Graham ran for three touchdowns and threw for three more. And in 1955, his final season in the league, he went out as he came in, with a NFL title victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Otto Graham conquered sports from 1946-1955. It started with basketball and ended with football. He won SIX championships in his first FIVE years as a professional athlete and finished with enough rings to cover both hands, minus the thumbs. His record in the AAFC was 52-4-3. His record in the NFL was 57-13-1, the best winning percentage of any quarter at .810. He was a winner any way you look at it. Going 109-17-4 as a quarterback.
Respect is about what you know and now you know plenty. Go out and impress your friends with this information the next time they argue about greatest quarterback ever. Because while I love Joe Montana (4 Super Bowls, 4 titles), Dan Marino (1 Super Bowl, no titles), Peyton Manning (2 Super Bowls, 1 title) and the rest. They don’t hold a candle to the great “Automatic” Otto (11 Championship Games, 8 titles).
Otto Graham, the greatest two-sport athlete of all-time.