Anyone with doubts as to the importance of the quarterback position in football need only look to the 1956 Browns to be convinced otherwise.
In most respects, the Browns were not that much different than they had been in 1954 and '55, when they won back-to-back NFL championships. Sure, the principal players were a year older, but they were still there.
With one exception.
One glaring exception.
Quarterback Otto Graham had retired -- this time for good. He had temporarily retired after the 1954 title game only to be lured back in training camp for one final season in '55.
But when the Browns routed the Los Angeles Rams 38-14 to claim the NFL crown, Graham once again called it quits. In that game, and in the 56-10 mauling of the Detroit Lions in the 1954 championship game, Graham had accounted for a combined total of 10 touchdowns -- five passing and five running.
He had been the heart and soul of the team from its inception in 1946 in the All-America Football Conference, and had been a big reason why the Browns played in the league championship game in each of those first 10 seasons, winning seven crowns. It's a feat that will likely never be matched.
And now Graham was gone, headed to the booth to serve as color analyst on the telecasts of Browns games with Ken Coleman. He would serve in that role for just that one season.
His absence on the field was felt immediately. The once-prolific Browns offense was held to single-digits scoring in three of the first four games in 1956, and, not surprisingly, the club lost each time.
The Browns would never score more than 24 points in a game all season. In 1955, they had totaled 24 or more points in eight of their 12 regular-season games.
The 1955 Browns had scored 394 points, and in '56, the total was much less than half of that, just 167. The Browns scored just 48 points in the second half of games. In 1955, they had twice scored 41 points in a game.
Whereas Graham had thrown 15 TD passes with just eight interceptions for a an NFL-leading 1,721 yards and a 94.0 quarterback rating in 1955, Tom O'Connell, Babe Parilli and George Ratterman combined in '56 for 1,358 yards, eight TDs, 18 interceptions and a 49.5 rating.
Wingback Ray Renfro caught four of those TD passes, but he had just 17 receptions in all. The receptions leader was Darrel Brewster with 28.
Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli, in his final season, added only 20. He was lost without his pal, Graham.
Preston Carpenter had a good rushing performance with 756 yards.
The lack of offense was the culprit in the Browns finishing just 5-7 for their first losing season. It would be 18 years before they suffered through another one.
The Browns, who had been 9-2-1 the year before, lost one more game in 1956 than they had from 1953-55 -- combined.
The only thing that kept the season from being even more unsuccessful was the fact the defense extremely well, allowing just 177 points, or 41 less than it had in 1955. The Browns posted a shutout and didn't permit any opponent to score more than 24 points.
Cornerback Don Paul had seven interceptions, the most by a Brown since 1954, to help lead the defense.
Safety Kenny Konz was second in interceptions with four, but it was on special teams where he really stood out, leading the NFL in average yards per punt return at 14.4.
The Browns had one memorable moment, rising up in the next-to-last game to plant a 24-7 loss on the arch rival New York Giants, who would go on to win the Eastern Conference title and then bury the Chicago Bears 47-7 in the league title game.
But without their unquestioned leader, Otto Graham, the Browns couldn't deliver those types of performances with any consistency.
|9/30||L 7-9||at Chicago Cardinals||20,966|
|10/6||W 14-10||at Pittsburgh Steelers||35,398|
|10/14||L 9-21||New York Giants||60,042|
|10/21||L 9-20||at Washington Redskins||23,332|
|10/28||L 16-24||Pittsburgh Steelers||50,358|
|11/4||W 24-7||at Green Bay Packers||28,590|
|11/11||L 7-21||Baltimore Colts||42,404|
|11/18||W 16-0||at Philadelphia Eagles||25,894|
|11/25||L 17-20||Washington Redskins||22,878|
|12/2||W 17-14||Philadelphia Eagles||20,645|
|12/9||W 24-7||at New York Giants||27,707|
|12/16||L 7-24||Chicago Cardinals||25,312|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||173||188|
|Total Net Yards||3,310||3,135|
|Avg. Per Game||275.8||261.3|
|Avg. Per Play||4.4||4.6|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,817||2,032|
|Avg. Per Game||151.4||169.3|
|Net Yards Passing||1,175||1,103|
|Avg. Per Game||97.9||91.9|
|Net Punting Avg.||50/39.2||59/35.3|
|Smith, Jim Ray||1||14||14||14||0|