March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: "Automatic" Otto Graham

Early last month, New England quarterback Tom Brady led the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl championship. With this accomplishment it was difficult to click on a sports web site and not find an article proclaiming that Brady was the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.” Twenty years ago, similar stories were being written on Joe Montana after he won his fourth Super Bowl. The common thread in these pronouncements being that winning championships equates to greatness.

If such an equation is valid, how is it that these writers have forgotten the greatest championship quarterback of them all? That would be Northwestern and Cleveland Brown Hall of Famer Otto Graham. In his ten professional seasons (1946-1955) Graham led the Browns to the league title game in all ten seasons, winning seven of those championship contests.

Yet, the focus of this article will not be to convince you to give the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time” title to Graham. Instead we will look at another aspects of an illustrious athletic career that includes a sport more appropriate to this time of year.

Graham grew up in the Chicago suburb of Waukegan, Illinois. His parents were music teachers with one of their violin pupils being Jack Benny. Unlike Benny, Otto had musical talent as he became proficient on the violin, piano, cornet and French horn. In high school, he won a state competition on the later instrument and was part of a national championship brass sextet. In athletics, he was all-Illinois in both football and basketball as he led the state in scoring.

He received a basketball scholarship to attend Northwestern and study music. Much like today, the Wildcats had a difficult time on the court as Otto could only lead the team to one winning season. But in that 1944 senior campaign, Graham became a first-team All-America after receiving second-team status as a junior. Near the end of that ’44 season Graham entered a Navy pilot training course that was located at Colgate University. There he closed the year playing for the Red Raiders. Graham then served his military obligation until the end of World War II.

In the winter of 1945/1946 Graham joined the newly formed Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League. With Graham playing both guard and forward the Royals finished second in the Eastern Division but excelled in the playoffs taking the league title. Among his teammates were future New York Knick head coach Red Holtzman and Chuck Conners who would be best remembered as Lucas McCain from “The Rifleman” TV series. The NBL would eventually become a part of the NBA and the Royals would (three cities later) find themselves as the Sacramento Kings.

The 1946 season would be his only professional basketball season as a year previously Graham signed with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns did not begin play until the fall of 1946 in the newly formed All-America Football Conference. In the AAFC the Browns won all four championships, before joining the NFL adding championships in 1950, 1954 and 1955. To learn more about legends like Otto Graham, come visit the College Football Hall of Fame.

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