The best quarterback in Cleveland Browns history remains the team’s first - Otto Graham.
Graham was the first player signed by head coach Paul Brown as he began assembling his team for the new All-America Football Conference. During his 10-year career with the Browns, which started on September 6, 1946, when he threw his first career touchdown pass in a 44-0 win against the Miami Seahawks, Graham would lead the Browns to 10 league title games and seven championships.
The final game of his career game came in the 1955 NFL Championship Game as Graham threw for two touchdown passes and ran for two more to lead the Browns to a 38-14 win against the Los Angeles Rams. That season marked the ninth time that Graham was selected as first-team all-league quarterback.
Even though he played his last game 64 years ago, Graham’s name is still among the franchise’s all-time list as he is Cleveland’s leader in career touchdown passes (154), is second in career passing yards (23,584) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (44).
Those numbers combined with his championship résumé help make Graham the league’s fifth best quarter of all time, according to Elliot Harrison’s rankings at NFL.com:
Arguments can be made for an old-timer like Graham ranking this high that, unfortunately, some football fans just won’t consider. Imagine a world in which people only believe what they want to believe, basing their opinions on alternative facts. Thank goodness that only happens in pro football. The stat/number/fact that you hear the most about Graham is concise and carries import: 10 seasons, 10 championship game appearances. The first four came in the All-America Football Conference, a rival league that contributed three franchises to the NFL: the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts (who later folded, then reformed.) Graham’s Browns dominated the AAFC, winning the title all four years. During those seasons, Graham not only engineered plenty of wins, but he also generated impressive stats in a prehistoric era for the passing game, including a 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 99.1 passer rating. In 1950, Graham’s Week 1 assignment was to lead the Browns against the two-time defending champion Eagles. Graham threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for another in leading the league’s newbie franchise to a 35-10 win. Graham helped Cleveland reach a 10-2 record that first year in the NFL, then threw for 298 yards and four scores (and rushed for 99 yards) in the championship game win over the Rams. The Browns played for the NFL title in each of the next five years, winning in ‘54 and ‘55. During that time, Graham acclimated to defenses that were superior to those he faced in the AAFC. He paced the NFL in completion percentage in ‘53, ‘54, and ‘55, while producing the highest passer rating in two of those seasons (‘53 and ‘55). That final year, Graham also led the league in yards per completion (17.6) and touchdown percentage (8.1), was named first-team All-Pro and won the last title for Paul Brown’s Cleveland teams. And he did it all with class.
Stat you need to know: I have always thought that yards per attempt was the most unheralded measure of a player, or at least quarterback, in pro football. It’s a simple data point: How much bang for the buck does a quarterback give his team when he cocks his arm? It’s also the one area that older passers, such as Graham, can be measured fairly equally with players of today. Guys like Graham threw down the field, as opposed to tossing none-yard outs to Danny Amendola and three-yard ins to Jarvis Landry. All of which is to say that no stat in this article is more impressive than Graham’s career yards-per-attempt mark of 9.0. The dude almost got a first down every time he released the ball! When I sat down with Jack Andrade to go over the numbers, Jack had the brilliant idea of finding out how many times Graham would have had to spike the ball into the dirt for the next closest player to catch him on the all-time list. The answer: 174 times! For the next active passer? More than 200! Next!
Graham was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, one of 16 Browns currently in the hall.