Everything You Need To Know About Otto Graham
Otto Graham, the legendary quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, a three-time NFL champion, a member of several symbolic NFL All-Star teams, and a member of both the college and professional football Halls of Fame.
Otto Everett Graham was born on December 6, 1921, in Waukegan, an industrial city near Chicago. His parents were music teachers, and it's no wonder that Otto had a strong musical upbringing and was proficient in playing various instruments like the piano, violin, clarinet, and French horn.
In high school, Graham started playing basketball, and his performance allowed him to receive a scholarship to Northwestern University in 1940. He continued pursuing music and basketball while trying his hand at football in his second year of college. He also played baseball for the college team. After the United States entered World War II, a naval aviation training center was established at Northwestern University. Graham joined the Coast Guard but continued balancing his service with his education.
In 1944, he was transferred to New York and continued his training at the Naval Air Station. During his time at Northwestern, he set several conference records, was recognized as the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, and was a Heisman Trophy candidate. In 1956, Otto was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Graham's performance in college caught the attention of Paul Brown, who offered him a contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1945. According to the agreement, Graham would only receive a salary once the season started, but during the war, he received a monthly stipend of $250 (equivalent to about $3,500 in today's currency). The start of the AAFC season was scheduled for the fall of 1946, and Graham spent the interim months playing for the Rochester Royals, a team in the National Basketball League, which later became the National Basketball Association. In March 1946, Graham became an NBL champion. After that, his entire sports career revolved around football.
From 1946 to 1949, Cleveland dominated the AAFC, winning the championship every year. Graham was one of the team's leaders and was twice recognized as the league's MVP. Over the course of four years in the AAFC, he threw for 10,085 yards and made 86 touchdown passes, earning the nickname "Automatic Otto" for his consistency and accuracy.
In 1950, Cleveland joined the NFL and won the championship in their first season. Graham continued to dominate at the NFL level. In 1951, 1953, and 1955, he was named the league's Most Valuable Player, and he led the league in passing yards twice. He also led the Browns to victory in the championship in 1954 and 1955, while the team lost in the finals twice. Otto participated in the Pro Bowl five times and was included in the All-Pro team four times. His football career spanned ten years, during which his team reached the championship game every year, and he never missed a game.
As a starting quarterback, Otto won 81.4% of his games in the NFL, a record that still stands today. In 1965, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The number 14 jersey that Graham wore for the Browns was retired. He is also one of only two athletes in history to have won championships in two major U.S. professional leagues.
After retiring from playing, Graham pursued a coaching career. His first coaching position was at the Coast Guard Academy, where he led the team to its first-ever bowl appearance. He was offered several head coaching positions in the NFL, but Otto consistently declined, stating that he was not aligned with the "win at all costs" philosophy prevalent in professional sports. Nevertheless, in 1966, he took over as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Three seasons in the nation's capital proved unsuccessful, and Graham was fired.
In 1970, he returned to the Coast Guard Academy and served as the athletic director for nearly fifteen years. After retiring, Otto settled in Florida. He battled and overcame cancer, but in 2001, he was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. He also faced other health issues. Otto Graham passed away on December 17, 2003, at the age of 82.
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