Pivotal Pro Football Plays
1946: Graham Leads Go-Ahead Drive and Intercepts
All-America Football Conference Title Game: New York Yankees @ Cleveland Browns
When Paul Brown was hired to put together a Cleveland team for the inaugural season of the All-America Football Conference in 1946, the first player he contacted was Otto Gra­ham. Brown's Ohio State teams had played against Graham's Northwestern teams from 1941-43. Otto attended Northwestern on a basketball scholarship and did not take up football until his sophomore year. Impressed with his running and passing, Coach Pappy Waldorf made Graham his single wing tailback. The Wildcats defeated the Buckeyes two of the three years Otto was the tailback and defensive back. As a senior, Graham was first-team Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American. He also was named a first-team basketball All-American.
Brown was particularly impressed by a play where Graham, running to his left, stopped and threw an accurate long pass to his right.
In 1945, Brown offered Graham a contract worth $7,500 per year ($107,814 in 2020 dollars) to play for the Cleveland Browns. The salary would not begin until the Browns began playing. In the meantime, Graham would receive $250 a month. Otto recalled, "All I asked was, 'Where do I sign?'"
Graham led the Browns to a 12-2 regular season record in the AAFC's first season. Otto finished first in the league in touchdown passes (17) and second in passing yards (1,834). His retroactively-computed Quarterback Rating of 112.1 was an astounding 42.3 points higher than the second-place rating of Frankie Albert.
Browns QB Otto GrahamBrowns FB Marion Motley
L-R: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley
The first championship game of the AAFC pitted the West Division champion Browns against East Division champion New York Yankees. The Browns had defeated the Yankees twice during the season, 24-7 and 7-0.
The temperature prediction for Sunday, December 22 was right on target but not the clear skies. Fine, wet flakes of snow drifted lazily into the stands of Municipal Stadium on the shore of Lake Erie during most of the game, and a damp wind off the lake penetrated every corner of the horseshoe. Snow from earlier in the week was piled along the sidelines. Some sections of the field were muddy because of melted snow.

Harvey Johnson boots an 11y field goal to put the Yankees ahead 3-0.
The underdog Yankees led 9-7 in the final period when the Browns received a third down punt on their 24. Frustrated because they had outgained the Yankees by a large margin and racked up more first downs but facing possibly their last possession if they failed to score, Graham started by giving the ball to FB Marian Motley, who ripped off 10. But two runs gained only a yard.
Browns HB Edgar Jones
L-R: Mac Speedie, Dante Lavelli, Edgar "Special Delivery" Jones, Lou Groza
3rd-and-nine on your 35 trailing by two calls for a special play. Graham took to the air and, finding wide receivers Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli covered, fired the ball to HB Edgar Jones streaking across the middle. Special Delivery scooped up the ball at his shoe tops and fell to the ground. The 24y gain moved the ball to the NY 42. Continuing to mix his plays, Graham called for a reverse, Lavelli throwing forward to HB Don Green­wood for eight. Jones slipped off left tackle for seven and a first down at the 27. Tommy Colella made another first down when he took Graham's lateral and ran around right end to the 16. Otto then called for the same play that had produced the only touchdown in the 7-0 victory on a rainy night in Yankee Stadium in October. Known for running precise pat­terns, Lavelli had been having a hard time trying to shake DB Eddie Prokop. But this time, Dante started straight down, then cut to his right, and headed for the corner of the field. Graham hit him on the six just out of the reach of Prokop's diving effort, and Dante carried the ball and two Yankees into the end zone. Lou Groza's PAT boot made it 14-9 with 4:13 on the clock.
Lavelli discussed his crucial reception. "I knew he (Prokop) was right behind me ... I turned and found the pass practically in my arms, then looked around and saw the diagonal stripe of the end zone. I thought, 'Gosh, will I ever make it before Prokop gets me?' I think I must have said a few prayers."
That was plenty enough time for the Yanks to mount a touchdown drive. So Brown went to his prevent defense, which included none other than Otto Graham at safety. The New Yorkers started to move until Graham jumped between a pair of receivers with such fury that he lost part of his shirt but came down with Ace Parker's desperation pass to clinch the championship.
Paul Brown was asked if he was worried in the fourth quarter. "Worried? You bet I was worried! I didn't stop worrying until it was all over ... They all were great - played a mar­velous game. It was really a team triumph."
When Graham pulled off the remaining shreds of his jersey, he revealed an egg-shaped bump where, he said, opposing linemen were rapping him after each pass. He gave credit for his 16 completions (out of 27 attempts) to Lavelli and Speedie. "All I do is throw the ball. When you have ends like that, it's simple."
Browns celebrate with their coach.
L-R: Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Paul Brown, and Mac Speedie