Otto Graham’s teams — the Cleveland Browns — won the All American Football Conference four years in a row, then made it to the NFL Championship Game six straight years and won the World Championship three of those six years. Hence if they had given out championship rings in his day, Graham would have seven of them, and he would have 10 division rings, one for every year he played. Graham’s ghost is the one that Tom Brady is chasing today.
Graham played college basketball, baseball, and football at Northwestern, and caught the eye of Paul Brown in 1941 and 1943 by beating the defending college champion Ohio State Buckeyes, coached by Brown.
During World War 2, Graham and several Northwestern teammates joined the Navy but were allowed to play football for Northwestern. Eventually, he entered the V-5 cadet program, a pilot training course, but was released from his Navy commitment when the war ended in 1945.
He found time to play guard and forward for the Rochester Royals who won the championship of the National Basketball League, which was a predecessor to the National Basketball Association (bet you didn’t know that!). No joke, he averaged 5.2 points per game, which was fifth highest on the team.
Paul Brown recruited Graham to play football for the Browns in the inaugural 1946 season, although initially, he was not certain whether Otto was ready for the pro game. But by Week 2, Graham was running the offense with big Marion Motley as his fullback, and Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli as the high flying split ends. The Browns, of course, won the first AAFC title game.
Graham went on to post insane numbers, making All-Pro teams three times, he also won the NFL championship in 1950, 1954, and 1955, was a four-time All-AAFC selection, a four-time first team NFL All-Pro (once he only made the second team, in 1952), a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player, a two time AAFC MVP, a five-time NFL Pro-Bowl, a member of the 1950s All-Decade Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary team, and also a five-time league leader in passing yards and passer rating.
So is Automatic Otto the greatest quarterback of all time? If he is not, then what exactly do you want the quarterback to do?
The NFL Hall of Fame website provides the following summary of Graham’s love of football.
"“Pro football is no game for weaklings – everyone knows that. The men are rugged, they play hard, but they play clean. When men get into big time football, they’re good enough not to have to play dirty. We love the game and we believe football competition, as well as all sports competition, makes high types of men.”"