What makes someone a forgotten NFL legend? A trailblazer, someone whose dominance was unmatched, but also someone that isn’t mentioned much. Ten straight championship appearances, highest career winning percentage, NFL records that still stand today, and even a basketball championship. Despite all of these great achievements, Otto Graham has been forgotten.
Graham’s playing career began in 1946 after his WWII service was over. In 1945, Paul Brown offered Graham a contract to come play for the newly formed All-America Football Conference. Once Graham was out of the military he needed to wait until the fall of 1946, when the AAFC would start. In the meantime, he joined the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League (which later merged with the NBA). The Royals went on to win the championship with Graham. Then, once the AAFC started, Graham led the Browns to a 12-2 record. Graham and Browns went on to win the championship. This made Brown one of two players in the history of major North American sports to win a championship in two of the major sports. 1946 was just the start for Graham and his run of dominance.
From 1946-1949 the Browns won every AAFC championship, including an undefeated 1948 season. He led the league in passing from 1947-1949. His passer rating of 112.1 in 1946 was a professional football record for 43 years, until Joe Montana broke it. Graham was the all-time AAFC leader in passing yards with 10,085 and passing touchdowns with 86.
In 1950, with Graham leading the team, the Browns joined the NFL. Despite the dominance the Browns had shown in the AAFC, they weren’t expected to be big contenders in the NFL. That thought didn’t last long. Graham led the Browns to a 10-2 record and the NFL championship. In the Championship, Graham went off for 99 rushing yards, 298 passing yards, and four touchdowns as the Browns won 30-28. The following year the Browns went 11-1 but lost in the championship game. This marked the first time in Graham’s professional career that he did not win the championship game.
1954 marked a turning point for the Browns. Most of the team was at the end of their career and retiring. Graham told the team that 1954 would be his last season. The season started rocky with three straight losses, before the team rebounded with eight straight wins. Graham faced the Lions in the Championship, who had beaten the Browns in the previous Championship by a score of 17-16. Graham got his revenge, as he gave a dominant performance. Throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another three as the team went on to win 56-10. After the game, Graham announced his retirement.
The following season Graham’s replacements struggled in training camp and the preseason. They struggled so much that Paul Brown offered Graham a $25,000 (nearly $234,000 today) contract to come back for another year. Graham accepted and became the highest paid player in NFL history up to that point. The season started out with a loss, but finished with Graham scoring four touchdowns and another Championship victory. Graham received a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his way to the bench in the 4th quarter. He was the NFL MVP in his final season. The following year, the Browns posted their first losing season in franchise history.
Forgotten NFL Legend
In his 10 years with the Browns, Graham went 114-20-4 which is still the highest quarterback winning percentage in NFL history with .814. He also still holds the record for yards per pass attempt with 9. Graham led his team to ten straight Championships, winning seven of them. All while never having missed a game. Graham was a five-time Pro Bowler, five-time All Pro, three-time MVP, and a member of both, the 1950s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th Anniversary Team. The Browns retired his number 14 and in 1965 Graham, was elected to the Hall of Fame.
So why is Graham such a forgotten NFL legend? Playing so long ago is a major reason. People tend to not watch old game film and study the players of different eras. The athletes in today’s game are much better than they were in the 1950s. All Graham could do was play against who was in front of him. He dominated everyone he faced. Otto Graham should not be a forgotten NFL legend. Otto Graham should be revered as one of the greatest legends in NFL history.
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