For nine autumns Otto Graham of the Cleveland Browns has been a clear and present danger to opposing teams—a man who dodged coolly about the backfield as he picked out pass receivers with the unnerving slow deliberation of a small boy budgeting a dime over a showcase full of candy. While the clock ticked off seconds and the hearts of thousands thumped an impatient rhythm, Graham would ponder and wait until at last a Brown receiver was able to break clear. Then he would throw the ball with his second great talent—the accuracy of a target rifle.
But there was one thing he could not do. He could not throw a touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions after Buddy Parker took over their coaching. Nor could he and Coach Paul Brown between them find a way to defeat Parker's Lions. In two play-off games, two league meetings and four exhibitions the Browns were unable to win until last Sunday.
Then in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium the Lions and Browns met for the National Football League title, the Lions favored by 2½ points, largely on the strength of the old jinx and its confirmation in the previous week's snowy encounter, won by Detroit 14-10.
But this was to be Otto Graham's last league game for the Browns, he said. Thereupon the 33-year-old quarterback, a fellow who has studied the oboe, the English horn, French horn, piano, cornet and violin, played a victory march for Cleveland that was a requiem for Detroit. He passed to three touchdowns, ran to three more, pitched out to another. He did it by himself and with the help of a Cleveland line that picked up his inspired tempo and on crucial plays tore apart the Detroit line as if it had been made of wet paper. Furthermore, he got from Fullback Maurice Bassett, only rookie to make the Browns' first team in his first year, the same fine protection he had enjoyed in the days of Chick Jagade and Marion Motley.
January 3, 1955
But even with Bassett out of the game during most of the second half, Graham continued his fabulous, record-wrecking assault, piling on the pressure and up the points until three minutes before the game ended with the score Cleveland 56, Detroit 10. As he came out of the game the Cleveland fans howled their happy hearts out in adoration. Even Detroit fans cheered him. They had precious little else to cheer about.
For Bobby Layne, the Lions' great quarterback, was totally inadequate against the Cleveland defense. When he threw, there were two or more Browns slithering past his blockers, forcing him to launch the ball before he could find a clear target. Where he threw, there was a Brown defense man. It was the sort of defensive play which makes the gods of the game look like people.
It started out like any other Detroit-Cleveland game. Doak Walker kicked a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter and put the Lions in the lead for the only time in the game. Thereafter, despite Bill Bowman's touchdown, when Detroit was dragging behind 21-3, it was all Cleveland, all Graham.
A certain amount of unnecessary gruffness prevailed throughout and persisted even after Charlie Ane of the Lions and Carlton Massey of the Browns were escorted to the sidelines.
NOW, BACK TO BUSINESS
But nothing mattered, really, except a man named Graham. For all that he was so effective in the air, gaining 163 yards thereby, the Browns' quarterback threw only 12 passes and three of these missed. It was just that he threw them, and they connected, when they counted most. Against this supreme efficiency and economy was Layne's desperate extravagance of 42 forwards, with only 18 completions for 177 yards.
In other games Graham, balked in his search for a free pass receiver, has been likely to accept his fate and sit down gently just before the tacklers reached him—too precious a man to risk bone or ligament very often in carrying the ball, too prudent to throw it away and risk interception. But on Sunday he showed an unwonted lithe grace in carrying the ball past tacklers on those occasions when a pass seemed likely to fail. Furthermore he ran the ball short distances to touchdowns on three plays. Two of these were sneaks and one was a five-yard keep.
There were the customary post-game statements.
"They were great"—Brown.
"What can you say?"—Parker.
"They outplayed us"—Layne.
"Haven't changed my mind about retiring"—Graham.
If Graham holds to his decision, he will be seen again in uniform only during the Pro Bowl game on Jan. 16 and the All-Star game next August.
There were 43,827 spectators paying $289,126.43. Television and radio rights brought in $101,250. Winning players thereby took record shares of $2,478.57 each. The Lion losers got $1,585.63 apiece.
Now Graham goes back to his various businesses in and near Cleveland. He is an assistant branch manager and a top salesman for the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company. He and Jim Hegan, Cleveland Indians catcher, last February opened a "discount house" to sell furniture, watches, household appliances and just about everything. And he's a stockholder in T. J. Paisley Company, which puts up gift packages of jams, jellies, honey and other sweets.
But none so sweet as the gift package Otto wrapped up for the Cleveland fans last Sunday.