GRAHAM, OTTO EVERETT, JR. (6 December 1921-17 December 2003) was the first starting quarterback for the CLEVELAND BROWNS.
Graham was born in Waukegan, Illinois. His parents, Otto Sr. and Cordonna, were both music teachers, and young Otto was skilled at multiple musical instruments. He was also skilled at athletics, being named all-Illinois for football and basketball at Waukegan High School. Graham went to Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship, but his performance at intramural football led to him making that varsity team as well. He set numerous passing records during his time at Northwestern, and following the 1943 season, finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy. He also played one season of baseball for the Wildcats.
While at Northwestern during World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy V-5 program, and in 1944, transferred to Colgate University, where he also played basketball. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions of the NFL in 1944, but was obligated to military service.
Among Graham’s big wins at Northwestern were two against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ coach, PAUL BROWN, was recruited to become the coach of a new football team in Cleveland, and signed Graham to a contract to play quarterback. Graham also played a season for the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League (the forerunner to the NBA), winning a title with them in 1946.
Graham and the Browns started play in the All-America Conference in 1946, and they were champions in all four years of the league’s existence, including an undefeated season in 1948. In 1950, the Browns joined the NFL. By the time Graham retired following the 1955 season, he had played in a league championship in each of his 10 years playing professional football, winning seven (three in the NFL in addition to four in the AAFC). At Graham’s retirement, he’d led the Browns to a 105-17-4 regular-season record. He still holds the NFL record for average yards per passing attempt, at 8.6 (including his time in the AAFC, it’s 9.0).
In 1959, based on the recommendation of his friend, Cleveland native GEORGE STEINBRENNER, Graham was named the football coach and athletic director at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. On his watch, the academy had its first undefeated and untied season, going 8-0 in 1963. He was lured to the NFL in 1966 to become coach of the Washington Redskins. He spent three years on the sidelines there with a record of 17-22-3, before he was replaced by Vince Lombardi.
Graham returned to the Coast Guard Academy, where he served as athletic director until 1984. He coached for two additional years, 1974 and 1975. His lifetime record as Coast Guard Academy coach was 44-32-1
Graham was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, the same year his number 14 was retired by the Browns. In 2019, the Browns announced a statue of Graham would be unveiled the first weekend of the regular season at FIRST ENERGY STADIUM.
Graham married his wife, the former Beverly Collinge, in 1944. They had three children, Duey, Sandy and Dave; two foster daughters, Kay and Cheree, 16 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He is buried in Palms Memorial Park in Sarasota, Fla.