Otto Graham: The Greatest Quarterback Ever

Many modern football fans have never even heard the name Otto Graham.  Decades before Bernie Kosar was taking the Browns through many playoff runs.  Otto Graham was the best quarterback not only in Cleveland but in the NFL.  Years before Jim Brown dominated teams, Otto Graham was dominating the league.  Graham will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.  He was the 1st and possibly the biggest Cleveland sports star ever.

Otto Graham goes for a pass in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. (Getty Images)

Otto Graham goes for a pass in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. (Getty Images)

Otto Graham started his professional career in Cleveland during the 1946 season.  At the time the Browns played in the All American Football Conference (AAFC).  In that season Graham lead the Browns to their 1st Championship and the team finished with a 12-2 record.  The winning did not stop there.  The Browns went on to win the 1947, 1948 and 1949 AAFC Championship prior to entering the NFL in 1950.  During his first 4 seasons he played in 54 games and had 86 TD’s and 10,085 yards passing in total.  Many people considered the AAFC to be the minor leagues so to speak.  The Browns were not expected to be as dominant in the NFL.

The critics were completely wrong with their assumption.  Graham had almost the same numbers in the NFL as he did in the AAFC.  Graham would play in 72 games in the NFL and have 88 TD’s and 13,499 yards passing.  Graham and the Browns made the Championship game from 1950 to 1955.  In total Graham led the Browns to 10 straight championship games with them winning 7 of them.  The only years during this period where they did not win a championship was 1951, 1952 and 1953.  Their playoff record was 9-3 during those 10 seasons.

Otto Graham retired after the 1955 season.  He retired with 174 TD’s and 23,584 yards passing.  In his career Graham was a 5 time Pro Bowler and was a 7 time First Team All Pro.  He was one of the first inductees into the Hall Of Fame in 1965.

Otto Graham's Plaque (Getty Images)

Otto Graham’s Plaque (Getty Images)

Otto Graham was able to accomplish something that will never happen again by leading his team to 10 straight championship games.  The only other player to come close was Jim Kelly with the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills made it to the Super Bowl from 1990-1994 but never won any of those games.

There are many names that are discussed when talking about who was the greatest quarterback ever.  Names like Dan Marino, John Elway, Johnny Unitas and Tom Brady but none of those players achieved the success that Graham was able to do.  The only argument that any one might have against Graham would be that the playoffs were shorter with less games when he played.  The fact of the matter is he still won those titles and in both leagues.  The only reason that most people do not consider him the best is because they don’t know anything about him or what he did during his career.

As long as the stats and film are around no one can deny his greatness.  For such a short career by today’s standards he really made an impact.  Otto Graham passed away in 2003.  He left a legacy that will never be forgotten, he will live forever in the Hall Of Fame.

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2 responses to “Otto Graham: The Greatest Quarterback Ever

  1. I’ve been fortunate to have known all about Automatic Otto since I was a very young fan of the game. Both my father and uncle played for Otto Graham at the Coast Guard Academy. Both were being courted by schools with football programs we all are more familiar with as well as other military academy’s. I know my dad was considering Westpoint, University of Colorado, Air Force academy, Northwestern, and many more….to play QB or running back because of his speed.
    Them he was star struck when he had a personal visit by his favorite childhood player, Otto Graham! My grandmother and grandfather were both amazed that this hero of the game was sitting in their living room and stayed for dinner. Every kid in the neighborhood was waiting outside to catch a glimpse of this football God. Some kids were even looking in the Windows and eventually the media was outside waiting to get comments from my dad and his immediate coach he committed to at the dinner table without hesitation. His two year younger brother followed my dad to USCGA when they moved my dad to running back to have his younger brother play QB and used them in a wildcat offense. He moved my dad because he set league records in rushing as QB and kick/punt returns. Both my father and uncle have endless stories of their experiences with Automatic Otto. He often invited them to his house for dinner with Beverly and himself and shared many stories while walking them thru his trophy room where they got to see tons of news clippings and framed pictures w presidents and celebrities. While I’ve had the knowledge of how great of an athlete he was, it always made me wonder how his legacy was somehow lost by the sports media when he should be talked about as much as other great athletes of his era, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Russel and Joe Louis.
    During OTTO’S era of the game, it was a ground and pound offense. The west coast offense was decades away and the forward pass was ran in a simple fundamental way that typically was used on 3rd and long situations. The QBs avg completion % was 10% lower than today’s. However a stat that isn’t shared is yards per completion vs. Yards per attempt which you will find on the back of football cards and player stats used to compare all the greats. I made comparisons to Ottos yards per completion to the greats of my youth and his results were nearly double Joe Montana’s, Dan Marino, John Elway, and Payton Manning. I believe his career avg was 16 yards…one season was 19 yards per completion! He didn’t throw as many TDs as others But again in that era, you ran the ball in the red zone…although I bet Otto would have preferred to run a play action, or bootleg and let his arm out points on the board 😉
    But as we all hear from sports analysts and hall of gamers alike is winning, and winning championships is what matters most! And Otto Graham was the greatest winning QB in the history of the game! Just like Bill Russel was the greatest winner in basketball history, although I’m recreationally biased to say Michael Jordan could easily be co ordered that for the hoop game. So why isn’t Otto more recognized for his greatness, when his championship appearance 10 years in a row winning 7 world championships?! A major reason is that it was before the super bowl era but seriously we still talk about baseball greats like Babe Ruth who was decades before Otto, so why do football analysts not embrace the truly great athletes that paved the way to the enormous power corporation that owns a full day of the week now, the same day God once owned? Its easy to say players of generations before couldn’t play with the football giants of today BUT YOU CANT MAKE THAT ARGUMENT WITH JIM BROWN AND OTTO GRAHAM. They were not small players and they were extremely athletic in multiple sports. Otto could have played pro basketball easily as he dominated in two sports at Northwestern university. BROWN is still recognized as the best lacross player ever from his college days at Syracuse.

  2. Thank you great info- Hard to argue against him being the best

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