When Paul Brown began organizing the Cleveland Browns team to play in the new All-America Football Conference (AAFC), the first player he signed was Otto Graham, a tailback from Northwestern University. Brown eyed Graham as the perfect quarterback for his new pro team.
Graham planned to concentrate on basketball at Northwestern. He was "discovered" playing intramural football as a freshman and, although he became a fine passer in three varsity seasons, he had no experience in the T-formation. Brown never wavered in his decision. "Otto has the basic requirements of a T-quarterback – poise, ball-handling and distinct qualities of leadership," he said.
It turned out the coach was right. Once Graham joined the Browns, he not only quickly mastered the mechanics of the T but also became the heart of a dynamic football machine. With Graham at the controls, the Browns won four straight AAFC titles and compiled an awesome 52-4-3 record.
Still, pro football "experts" theorized Graham and the Browns would get their comeuppance once they faced the NFL in 1950, but both the quarterback and the team proved more than equal to the occasion. In the Browns' 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL Championship Game, Graham threw four touchdown passes.
His finest title-game performance came four years later when he scored three touchdowns and threw for a trio of scores in a 56-10 lacing of Detroit. Graham retired after that game but responded to Paul Brown's SOS early in 1955. In the final game of his career, the NFL championship against the Los Angeles Rams, he ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more in a 38-14 victory. For the ninth time in 10 seasons, Graham was named first-team all-league quarterback.
While Graham was guiding the Browns, Cleveland played in 10 straight title games and had four AAFC and three NFL championships.
Graham later transitioned from a player to a coach and administrator. Graham coached the college all-stars and served as the head football coach and athletic director at the Coast Guard Academy. Under his guidance, the academy produced its first undefeated team during the 1963 regular season.
After seven seasons at the Coast Guard Academy, Graham headed back to the NFL as the Washington Redskins coach and general manager. He later returned to the Coast Guard Academy, serving again as athletic director and coach.
Shortly after his retirement from the Coast Guard Academy, Graham became a spokesman for cancer awareness programs after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and retiring from the Coast Guard Academy in 1985.
Ten years later, the former Browns quarterback was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has been one of the most decorated quarterbacks in pro football history.
The Browns wore black-and-white Number 14 decals on their helmets in a home game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 after Graham passed away. Members of Graham's family also took part in the pregame coin toss and a video tribute was played on the stadium's scoreboard before kickoff. The team also inducted Graham into their Ring of Honor. His name is prominently displayed on the facade of the upper deck of the stadium.
The U.S Coast Guard Academy celebrated the school's 1963 football team in 2013. The team wore throwback uniforms during a game featuring the same colors and design worn by the '63 team. The school also built the Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence, which showcases the history of CGA's athletic programs, honors its Hall of Fame inductees and recognizes the pioneers of men and women's sports at the Academy. Northwestern's fundraising department created The Otto Graham Society to honor his achievements and help support the school's athletics programs through donations