Otto Graham - Biography

Otto Everett Graham, Jr.

Otto Everett Graham, Jr. set his first state record at birth in Waukegan, Illinois on December 6, 1921, weighing in at 14 lbs., 12 ozs. His music teacher parents mixed family values and the arts in raising four sons. Otto learned the piano, violin, and cornet before focusing on French horn. Bigger than most kids his age, Otto's versatility became apparent early when he became Illinois French horn and conference basketball scoring champion at age 16. As a senior, he was a member of Waukegan's National Champion brass sextet while also being selected to the All-State Basketball and football squads. Otto scored 20 points in the Bulldogs stunning defeat of state champ Dundee High, ending a three-year 44 game Dundee win streak. Graduating early, Otto pared numerous offers to Northwestern or Dartmouth and eventually accepted a full basketball scholarship to the nearby Evanston campus.

Made aware of a freshman throwing long accurate passes in the frat house intramural league, Northwestern Coach Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf saw the basketball recruit win the IM championship and invited him to spring football. After a promising freshman basketball season, Otto capped his Wildcat spring football debut by running for three scores and throwing for three more in the annual spring scrimmage. After missing a year due to knee surgery, Otto's college career was highlighted by 2 upset victories over Paul Brown's National Champion Ohio State football squad; connecting on a national record 20 for 29 passes for 295 yards in a loss to Michigan; scoring 27 of 41 points in a shut out of Wisconsin; shattering Tom Harmon's Big Ten career and Angelo Bertelli's season passing marks; and by returning a Sammy Baugh interception 97 yards for a touchdown in the College All-Star game against the World Champion Washington Redskins. Otto finished third in 1943's Heisman voting to Notre Dame's Bertelli and was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions.

As a scholarship basketball player, "Automatic" Otto was the second leading Big Ten scorer as a junior, Wildcat captain and MVP his senior year, and was named MVP in the College All-Star upset of the reigning NBA champion Washington Bears. Named Big Ten football and basketball MVP in the same scholastic year, Otto's bunting ability also gave him one of NU's highest batting averages and 8 varsity letters before graduating early. Few athletes have ever been All-American in Football and Basketball yet Otto managed the task in back-to-back seasons.

Enrolled in the Navy's V-5 carrier program after Pearl Harbor, Otto received orders halfway through his senior basketball season, finishing the basketball season at Colgate University. He was transferred to Chapel Hill where he became cadet Regimental Commander and learned the T-formation under Glen Kilinger and Paul "Bear" Bryant. Passing on the Lions, Otto married college sweetheart Beverly Collinge from Wabash, Indiana and signed instead with Paul Brown's newly formed Cleveland Browns of the All America Football Conference. After his Naval discharge and before football, Otto played in his second football All-Star game and was recruited to play pro-basketball with the Rochester Royals. Along with teammates Red Holtzman, Chuck "Rifleman" Connors, Al Cervi, Del Rice and Tom Rich, etal., the Royals won the 1946 NBL Championship a year before the NBL reformed into the NBA.

Starting his second rookie season of '46, Otto retired from basketball to join the Cleveland Browns who proceeded to stun the football establishment by winning the AAFC Championship. Otto became the only athlete ever to win World Championships in different sports and accomplished the feat, again, in back to back seasons. The Browns dominated the AAFC in '46, again in '47, went undefeated in '48, and shattered existing attendance records, including those of the reigning NFL, in winning their fourth title in '49. Otto was the MVP of the AAFC in all but one year. The Brown's dominance eventually led to the league's demise; ending any hopes of a super game between the AAFC and NFL.

In 1950, the Browns, 49ers, and Colts were absorbed into the NFL. Commissioner Bert Bell, intent on teaching the upstarts a lesson, scheduled their regular season debut against two time World Champion Philadelphia. Otto's first pass in the NFL was a touchdown as the Browns stunned the Eagles. The Browns lost two games on their way to a 30-28 Championship victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the team which had defected from Cleveland after winning the '45 title. Lou "The Toe" Groza kicked the game winning field goal giving the Brown's their first NFL title and Otto his first big league MVP.

The Browns fought their way to the title game again in '51, '52 and '53 but lost to the Rams and Lions twice. Rebounding in '54, with Otto throwing three scores and running for three more, the Browns buried the Lions, 56-10. Retiring after the season, Otto was coaxed back for one more year and led the Cleveland franchise to it's final Championship under his tenure, throwing for two scores and running for two more in a career ending 38-14 victory over the Rams. Named league MVP for the second time, Otto retired at age 33 after ten seasons. Otto's number 14 Jersey, the first retired by the Browns, today rests in the Professional Football Hall of Fame next to his '55 Hickock Belt, awarded to the nation's top professional athlete. Otto became the first gridiron recipient by leading the Cleveland Browns to ten Championship games in a ten year career, winning seven. With Otto under center, the Browns lost only 17 regular season games. An original ironman, Otto played in every game his entire career.

In 1959, thanks to long time pal George Steinbrenner's recommendation, Otto accepted the Athletic Director and football coaching position at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Appointed a reserve Commander by President Kennedy, and later Captain by LBJ, Otto led the academically selected Bears to an undefeated season in '63, culminating in a Tangerine Bowl loss to Western Kentucky. He was also named to the President's Council on Physical Fitness. With two wins in the College All-Star game as a collegian, and two more as a Brown, Otto was asked to coach ten All-Star squads resulting in victories over the '58 Detroit Lions and '63 Green Bay Packers. Leaving the Coast Guard to become Head Coach and General Manager of the Washington Redskins from '66-'68, Otto's offensive squads, behind the arm of Sonny Jurgensen, shattered league passing marks earning Otto the opportunity to coach the east team in the 1968 NFL Pro Bowl.

When replaced in Washington by Vince Lombardi in '69, Otto returned to the Coast Guard Academy where he was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 1977, resulting in a colostomy. After winning a golf tournament with Joe DiMaggio a month after surgery, Otto was named honorary national chairman of the National Cancer Society. Retiring as coach, Otto remained the Academy Athletic Director and good will ambassador until his retirement in '85.

Otto Graham was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in '65, his first year of eligibility and is still ranked a top ten passer. In 1994, Otto was selected along with QB's Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, and Joe Montana to the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team and represented his peers by tossing the game coins at Superbowl XXIX and the Hall of Fame inaugural game between the Jaguars and Panthers. In 1999, Otto was named one of 100 top athletes of the millennium by ESPN, one of Sports Illustrated's top six football players of all-time, the sixth ranked gridder of all time by Sport Magazine, the fifth of all time by NFL Films and quarterbacks the all time All-Madden team.

Otto died peacefully of a dissecting anneurism on December 17, 2003 surrounded by his family. He had celebrated his 58th wedding anniversary with Bev in October and his 82nd birthday eleven days prior to his death. He is survived by three children, Duey, Sandy, and Dave; two foster children, Kay and Charee; 16 grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren.




Home | Biography | Merchandise | Statistics | ??? and Answers | Photos


Website Designed By
Creative Computer Concepts