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The Arms Race

The NFL has seen its share of great passers, but who's the best? We crunch the numbers for the top 10 of all time
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

(continued from page 2)

Young labored in a city grown accustomed to winning in January—primarily due to Montana—but he finally got past the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football Conference Championship game and, in 1995, led his team to a 49-26 drubbing of San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX.


#2 Otto Graham: 7.27

It is highly unlikely that any quarterback will even come close to Otto Graham's record of appearing in 10 championship games in 10 years. From 1946 through 1955—four years in the All-America Football Conference and then six more in the NFL—Graham brought the world championship home to Cleveland seven times.

What places Otto Graham so high on this list was his 8.98 yards per attempt—more than a full yard ahead of anyone else. What keeps him from the number one spot is a high interception percentage (5.14) and a low number of total yards (23,584).

"Otto Graham was the key to the whole team," Browns head coach Paul Brown once said. "He had the finest peripheral vision I've ever witnessed. He had the ability to find whatever receiver was going to come open, and the arm and athletic ability to get the ball to him."

Graham was an outstanding tailback for Northwestern and then the Chapel Hill, North Carolina Pre-Flight team [a college squad] in the early 1940s. Before players were heavily recruited, Graham was "discovered" playing intramural football as a freshman. While he posted three fine varsity seasons, he had no experience in the
T-formation that Brown employed. But when Brown began planning his new AAFC team in 1946, he thought Graham would be perfectly suited for the T-formation.

Al Wistert, now 82, was an offensive tackle on the Philadelphia Eagles 1950 championship team that lost to Graham's Browns in their NFL debut. He thought Graham was tough for two reasons. "He was a great athlete, and Cleveland had a great offensive line, which allowed him to hold on to the ball longer and allowed his receivers to run longer routes." Wistert thought that Graham and Sammy Baugh were the two quarterback titans of his era.

With Graham, the Browns won four consecutive AAFC titles and compiled a sizzling 52-4-3 mark (including the post-season). The "experts" thought the Browns would get their comeuppance when they joined the NFL in 1950 and faced the big boys. But Graham threw four touchdown passes and led Cleveland to a 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL title game.

Nearly a half century later, no one has matched his rate of success. "The quarterback's biggest job is helping his team win," said Peter King, senior football writer for Sports Illustrated. "That is why Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback of all time."

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