Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pillars of the NFL: Otto Graham

In Patrick McCaskey's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships he covers the ten greatest NFL coaches of all-time.  Among the pillars is Paul Brown who coached the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.  In Cleveland, Brown won four AAFC titles and three NFL titles  in 25 years as head coach.  In Pillars, we describe some of Brown's key players and we'd  thought we'd reproduce some of that for our posts.  


Otto Graham

Brown wasted no time signing Otto Graham who was at Glenview Air Station—a short distance from Great Lakes Naval Station when he started up the Cleveland Browns.  Graham had impressed Brown with his vision of the field and his athleticism when he led Northwestern to victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Brown’s first season in Columbus. Graham was also Brown’s kind of player: disciplined, calm under pressure, and committed to the game. He adjusted to playing quarterback in Brown’s T Formation quickly. Graham was an excellent passer and a great team leader--he would take the heat when the Browns faltered. Graham would also run for good yardage when he scrambled away from the rush. A long pass had always been part of the Browns’ arsenal as well. 

Graham ended his career after the 1955 season. Few quarterbacks come close to Graham’s success record. He and Brown had won seven titles and competed in 10 championship games in a row. In his last season, Graham completed 98 passes on 185 attempts for 1,721 yards with a completion rate of 53% and 15 touchdowns. With just eight interceptions, Graham had a quarterback rating of 94.0—his second best NFL mark. Graham would be lauded by teammates as a quarterback nonpareil. He brought his team to victory in so many games it became routine in Cleveland. 

Graham completed 55.8% of his passes for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns. He played for 10 years nonstop while taking a beating in an era where there were no special rules to protect the QB. He had great vision and found the open man. And perhaps his greatest quality was his honest focus on his own culpability in losses—focusing on what he could have done better. Graham’s teammates responded and made protecting him a priority. Brown was lucky to have such a man lead his team for a decade. Likewise Graham was lucky to have a coach who would work very hard to use Graham’s skills and surround Graham with great players. Coach and quarterback, Brown and Graham, would be one of the best football combinations of all time. Graham would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965 and Brown would follow in 1967.