ograham.jpgOtto E. Graham Jr., the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, died on Dec. 17 from an aneurysm of the aorta. He was 82.
At birth, Graham weighed 14 pounds, 12 ounces, the Illinois record for the largest male. He studied music at Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship and played intramural football until Wildcats coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf invited him to a spring tryout. Graham made the team and led Northwestern to two upset wins over Ohio State. He was serving as a naval aviation cadet during World War II when the Browns signed him.
“Automatic Otto” never missed a game as a professional football player. From 1946 to 1955, the six-foot one-inch, 196-pound quarterback passed for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns. He holds the NFL career record for average yards per passing attempt (8.63), and took the Browns to the championship game in every season he played.
When the team joined the National Football League in 1950, Graham’s first pass against the defending champion Eagles went for a touchdown. He was also the first football player to wear a face mask, after being elbowed in the mouth by San Francisco linebacker Art Michalik.
Graham announced his retirement in 1954, but was talked into making a comeback just before the 1955 season opener. Not one to shirk his duties, he led the Browns to yet another title. After he left the NFL, Graham worked as the athletic director and football coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and as the general manager of the Washington Redskins.
Named Most Valuable Player of the All-America Football Conference three times, Graham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, and selected for the NFL’s 75th anniversary team in 1994. In his autobiography, former Cleveland coach Paul Brown described Graham as the greatest football player in history.