The best No. 14 for the Cleveland Browns had a marvelous 10-year career
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 14 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 14: Otto Graham.
If winning is the metric by which all quarterbacks are measured, then there has never been a better quarterback than Otto Graham. Graham played professional football for 10 years and in all ten Graham found himself playing in the championship game and won a staggering seven championship games. That is a feat that will never be duplicated.
Graham grew up in Illinois and attended Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship. While at Northwestern, Graham was noticed by head football coach Poppy Waldorf playing in an intramural football game and was invited to a practice. In Graham’s first game as the quarterback of Northwestern, he accounted for five total touchdowns. Graham threw for two touchdowns, ran for two scores, and he also returned a punt for a touchdown.
During his time as a three-sport athlete at Northwestern, Graham was named the Big Ten player of the year in 1943, finished third in Heisman voting, and was named an All-American in both football and basketball. Graham also beat the Ohio State Buckeyes twice, and the coach of Ohio State, Paul Brown, never forgot.
Graham enlisted in the coast guard during World War II. While serving stateside, Graham was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the fourth overall pick of the 1944 NFL draft. Graham opted not to sign with Detroit and wait until the war had concluded to weigh his options. However, in 1945, Paul Brown offered Graham a contract to play for the soon to be formed Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference. Browns also offered Graham a stipend that would begin immediately if he would sign the contract. Graham signed on the spot.
Between the end of World War II and the start of the AAFC, Graham decided to play professional basketball. Graham played for the Rochester Royals in the National Basketball League (precursor to the NBA) and won an NBL Championship in 1946.
Graham reported to the Browns first-ever training camp in Bowling Green, Ohio in the fall of 1946 and the winning continued. Graham and the Browns won every championship in the four-year history of the AAFC. Named the AAFC MVP twice as well as first-team All-AAFC quarterback three times, Graham is widely considered the best player in league history. The Browns were absorbed into the NFL after the AAFC dissolved following the 1949 season.
Graham and the Browns continued their winning ways once joining the NFL, playing in six straight championship games and winning three NFL championships. Graham was named NFL MVP three times, first-team All-NFL four times, and named to the Pro Bowl five times. In the 100 years of the NFL’s existence, no quarterback has ever matched Graham’s six-year stretch of dominance.
Graham retired after his final championship win in 1955. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and named to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade team. In the years since his retirement, Graham has been named to the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams, a testament to the lasting impact of the quarterback’s dominance.
The Browns retired Graham’s number 14 upon his retirement. Graham was inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor in 2001, and the team erected a statue in his honor outside of First Energy Stadium before week one of the 2019 season.
Otto Graham is the best quarterback in the history of the Cleveland Browns, the AAFC, and quite possibly the NFL, and he is the best player to ever wear number 14, not just for the Browns but for any team.