Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh: Honoring Two Of The Founding Pigskin Fathers

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 17, 2013

December 17th marks the date of death for two of pro football's greatest quarterbacks in history: Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh.

Graham died on this day in 2003 at the age of 82; Baugh died at age 94 this day in 2008.

Although they don't share the exact same date of death like two of the founding fathers of America, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, we can agree they're two of the founding fathers of the quarterback position. 

Below is the Cold Hard Football Facts description for both Graham and Baugh from our definitive list of Top 10 quarterbacks in history, written in 2008.

4. OTTO GRAHAM (Cleveland 1946-55)

Best NFL season (1953): 167 for 258 (64.7%), 2,722 yards, 10.6 YPA, 11 TD, 9 INT, 99.7 passer rating 

Career (includes AAFC career): 1,464 for 2,626 (55.8%), 23,584 yards, 9.0 YPA, 174 TD, 135 INT, 86.6 passer rating 

Championships: AAFC 1946-49; NFL 1950, 1954, 1955

Overview: Otto Graham was Tom Brady before Tom Brady, putting up gaudy numbers for his time while winning games and championships at an unprecedented rate. He led the Browns to a championship in all four years of the AAFC's existence (1946-49).

But he and the Browns proved they belonged in the big leagues by capturing the NFL title in their first year in the league. In fact, they'd go on to set a record that still stands, appearing in six straight NFL championship games from 1950 to 1955, winning three of them.

Bottom line: Graham played in a pro football championship game every single season of his 10-year career, winning seven of them in two different leagues. 

He also set passing marks that stood for decades. His 86.6 passer rating, for example, is the top mark of the pre-Live Ball Era. And his career 9.0 YPA is No. 1 by a sizable margin. So why, then, isn't Graham higher on the list? 

His four years in the AAFC make for some awkward comparisons. There's every reason to believe the Browns would have been a dominant NFL team over those four years, but little reason to believe they would have won four straight championships.

Graham's numbers also declined pretty noticeably when he went to the NFL, from simply unbelievable to merely spectacular. His career 9.0 YPA average, for example, drops to 8.63 if we look only at his NFL numbers. Of course, that 8.63 YPA mark is the best in NFL history, too. 

The full measure of Graham's impact is this: the organization has never recovered from his departure at the end of the 1955 season. Sure, they remained competitive through the Jim Brown years (1957-65), winning a championship in 1964. But that's the only championship the organization won since Graham last took a snap for the Browns. 

3. SAMMY BAUGH (Washington, 1937-52)

Best season (1945): 128 for 182 (70.3%), 1,669 yards, 9.2 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT, 109.9 passer rating 

Career: 1,693 for 2,995 (56.5%), 21,886 yards, 7.3 YPA, 187 TD, 203 INT, 72.2 passer rating 

Championships: 1937, 1942 

Overview: Here's a little rule of thumb: if you ever see a list of greatest quarterbacks (or greatest players, period) that doesn't include the Pigskin Messiah, burn the author of said heresy at the stake.

Seriously. Public execution. 

We paid Baugh the ultimate compliment two years ago when we named him the quarterback of our peerless All-Time 11. We even listed his 1945 campaign as one of the greatest Old School seasons in NFL history a couple weeks ago. 

You could make an argument that he's the best athlete in NFL history (we're not making the argument here, but you could). He certainly can stake a claim as the most accomplished two-way player in the history of the game.

He was a devastating defensive back (31 career picks) and still stands as one of the most spectacular punters in the history of the game – as evidenced by his tremendous 45.1 career punting average, second only to Oakland's current punter Shane Lechler. 

But we're talking quarterbacks here, and even at that position, few were as good as the man they called Slingin' Sammy.

He virtually invented the modern quarterbacking position, and put up performances that continue to stand the statistical test of time. (For the record, while researching the 1942 NFL championship game between the Redskins and Bears, Baugh was actually listed as a "left halfback" in the papers. But he's really one of the first players we'd identify as a passer, as the nickname Slingin' Sammy suggests). 

His 70.3 completion percentage in 1945 has been surpassed just once (by Ken Anderson, in 1982 ... edit ... Drew Brees set the new standard in 2011 with 71.23 percent), and his 109.9 passer rating that season stood as the second-best in league history until Joe Montana surpassed it in 1989.

How impressive is that? 

Consider that the league-wide passer rating in 1945 was just 47.4 – Baugh more than doubled the league-wide mark! We can only imagine what kind of numbers the Pigskin Messiah might have produced had he played only offense today, in an era that favored passers. 

Baugh was also a two-time champion who led the greatest upset in NFL history.

In the 1942 title game, his Redskins toppled the undefeated Bears, 14-6. Keep in mind that the 1942 Bears are the only club in history more dominant over the course of an entire regular season than the 2007 Patriots.

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