Thursday, December 18, 2003

QB was winner, innovator

Browns great won seven titles, never missed a game

The Associated Press

Otto Graham
CLEVELAND - Otto Graham, the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Cleveland Browns to a championship game in every season he played, died Wednesday. He was 82.

Graham died in Sarasota, Fla., team spokesman Todd Stewart said.

He died of an aneurism in the heart. Graham was taken to a hospital earlier in the day with a tear in his aorta, the same heart condition that killed actor John Ritter, said Otto's son, Duey Graham.

Graham was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease in 2001. Nicknamed "Automatic Otto," Graham never missed a game as a pro while passing for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns. He finished his career with a 105-17-4 regular-season record.

He took coach Paul Brown's teams to the title game in each season from 1946-55. With Graham as their quarterback, the Browns won four championships in the old All-America Football Conference and three NFL titles. He was MVP of the AAFC three times.

Graham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, and the Browns retired his uniform No. 14, which he wore from 1952-55. Graham wore No. 60 during the first part of his career, from 1946-51.

"The test of a quarterback is where his team finishes," Brown once said. "By that standard, Otto Graham was the best of all time."

In 1994, Graham was picked for the NFL's 75th anniversary team, joining quarterbacks Baugh, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.

"He helped glamorize the sport by winning championships and elevating the role of quarterback as the NFL entered the television era," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Wednesday night.

Graham announced his retirement in 1954. But he was talked into making a comeback on the eve of the 1955 season opener and led the Browns to yet another title.

Graham made history as the first player to wear a face mask after being viciously elbowed in the face on a late hit by San Francisco linebacker Art Michalik on Nov. 15, 1953, at old Cleveland Stadium. Graham returned with plastic wrapped around his helmet to protect his mouth.

"That was my real claim to fame right there," Graham said. "I had this big gash on my mouth and they gave me 15 stitches, but I wanted to play."

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