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Graham's greatness is easy to see (R.I.P. Otto Graham)
Cleveland Plain Dealer via cleveland.com ^ | 12/19/03 | Bob Dolgan Plain Dealer Reporter

Posted on 12/20/2003 9:33:24 AM PST by Chi-townChief

Otto Graham never bragged or boasted. Like most athletes of the 1940s and 1950s he did not shag, shake or shimmy when he performed one of his football miracles.

The great quarterback, who died Wednesday, actually downplayed his passing ability. He often said that current NFL defenses are much more difficult to pass against than those of his time.

That probably is true, but it also is true that quarterbacks had less protection from the rules in Graham's era. If a rusher so much as touches a quarterback after he has released the football today, he is penalized for roughing.

It was not like that when Graham played.

Many times a rusher would take three steps after "Automatic" Otto released the ball and crash into him. That was allowed then, on the theory that the rusher could not stop his own momentum.

On one occasion in the All-America Football Conference, Graham was knocked cold on the other side of the field from the Browns bench. A trainer accompanied him as he walked groggily around the end zone, right in front of our 25-cent student-ticket seats in the bleachers, heading for the Cleveland bench as play continued. He soon went back into the action. He never missed a game in 10 years.

Tougher people

Americans, hardened by the Depression and World War II, were tougher then.

There was less posing and primping. The Cleveland coach, Paul Brown, had assembled a team with six future Hall of Famers - Graham, Marion Motley, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Bill Willis and Frank Gatski - for his first practice in 1946.

Although Graham was his highest-paid player, Brown made sure he would keep his head small enough to fit in his hat. In an early scrimmage, Willis crashed into center Mike Scarry and knocked him back into Graham, who fell down.

Brown wanted to know what happened. "Scarry stepped on my toe," Graham said.

Brown called the whole team to attention and said, "From now on, I don't want anybody to step on Otto's toe."

For those who never saw Graham play, he had the relaxed posture and walk of a natural athlete. In his first season, he not only played quarterback but doubled at safety, making tackles. Free substitution had not yet come into the rule book.

To put that into perspective, can you imagine Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb playing safety today?

No holds barred

Graham constantly was looking to throw deep. Interceptions did not seem to be as much of a concern in those days. As a result, you seldom saw the quarterback making the dink-and-dunk passes that are so prevalent now.

There were only 29,751 of us at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the bitterly cold afternoon of Christmas Eve 1950 to watch the Browns play the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL championship in their first season in the league. It became Graham's most remembered game.

The Browns were losing, 28-20, with eight minutes to go. We were worried but we knew Graham would come through, as he always did. He did not let us down.

He began hitting his passes on the Z-out pattern the Browns had made famous. A 6-foot-high mound of snow surrounded the field, a residue from Cleveland's record snowfall that year. Graham kept hitting Rex Bumgardner, who would catch the ball and crash into the snow. Suddenly it was 28-27.

With 1:50 to go, Graham took over on his own 32 for the final push. He and Bumgardner again made key connections, and Groza won it with a 16-yard field goal.

Surprise defeat

Cleveland fans had become so used to winning that they were shocked when the Rams beat the Browns, 24-17, for the 1951 NFL title. They had 8-4 and 11-1 seasons the next two years, but lost close championship games to Detroit both times.

Graham hit his bottom in the 1953 title clash, completing only 2 of 15 passes. But he rebounded and had two of his best years in 1954 and 1955 as the Browns won the crown both times.

During the last 10 years or so, when working on Browns historical articles, I frequently phoned Graham at his retirement home in Sarasota, Fla.

It was like talking to somebody from the old neighborhood. He was as uninhibited as he was making those long passes.

About two years ago, it was said he had Alzheimer's disease. I couldn't believe it. He always sounded fine on the phone. The next time I phoned him he said, "You know, I've got Alzheimer's."

I tried to cheer him up, saying, "Come on. You sound great. What makes you think you've got Alzheimer's?"

"I'm not always like this," he said. "It comes and goes."

That was the last conversation I had with Cleveland's greatest football player. He led the team to 114 wins and 20 losses in 10 years while winning seven league championships. Nobody else ever did that. Maybe he was the greatest, period.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

bdolgan@plaind.com, 216-999-3540


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; US: Ohio
KEYWORDS: ottograham; rip
"He led the team to 114 wins and 20 losses in 10 years while winning seven league championships. Nobody else ever did that. Maybe he was the greatest, period."

Hard to argue with that.

1 posted on 12/20/2003 9:33:24 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Very nice reading thankyou
2 posted on 12/20/2003 9:36:25 AM PST by al baby (Ice cream does not have bones)
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To: E Rocc; Bikers4Bush; rdb3
CLEVELAND PING
3 posted on 12/20/2003 9:37:05 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Back in the days when Cleveland wasn't a joke.
4 posted on 12/20/2003 9:38:16 AM PST by Commiewatcher
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To: conspiratoristo; Las Vegas Dave
Ohio bump lists.
5 posted on 12/20/2003 9:39:34 AM PST by Commiewatcher
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To: Commiewatcher
Yep - long before Ralph Perk and Dennis the Menace.
6 posted on 12/20/2003 9:45:44 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
That was the last conversation I had with Cleveland's greatest football player. He led the team to 114 wins and 20 losses in 10 years while winning seven league championships. Nobody else ever did that. Maybe he was the greatest, period.

Maybe, but there are a few catches. Four of the seven league championships were in the All America Football Conference, an independent league which competed with the NFL. The reason that league failed was that Paul Brown easily out-recruited all the other AAFC teams and grabbed all the available talent. The Browns hardly ever lost in AAFC competition, even in the regular season. They won the title in all four years of its existence. (But, when the league went under, the Forty-Niners and Colts joined the Browns in making the transition into the NFL.)

Another point is that Brown minutely scripted the Browns team, even to calling the offensive plays in that pre-tech era by shuttling the offensive guards on every play. Although no NFL quarterback calls his own plays now, it was almost unheard of in the 50s for there to be any other arrangement. Part of the legendary aspect of the careers of Unitas and Starr, for instance, is that they were good playcallers. Although Graham actually had to read defenses and occasionally audible, he never got much credit for the brainy side of the Browns offense because of Brown's overshadowing figure.

7 posted on 12/20/2003 9:50:16 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: Chi-townChief
There were only 29,751 of us at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the bitterly cold afternoon of Christmas Eve 1950 to watch the Browns play the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL championship in their first season in the league. It became Graham's most remembered game.

I was there.

8 posted on 12/20/2003 9:57:58 AM PST by monocle
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To: Chi-townChief
Damn that Otto Graham

As I kid I hated him and the Browns cause the always beat the EAGLES especially in 1950 just after the EAGLES came off two straight NFL championships

He surely was one of the GREATS
9 posted on 12/20/2003 10:09:58 AM PST by uncbob
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To: monocle; VadeRetro; conspiratoristo; Las Vegas Dave; Commiewatcher; E Rocc; Bikers4Bush; rdb3; ...
Turn on your speakers and check it out:

http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/news_room/video/rmconsole.php?t=video&f=otto_graham.rm
10 posted on 12/20/2003 10:11:22 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: VadeRetro
Another point is that Brown minutely scripted the Browns team, even to calling the offensive plays in that pre-tech era by shuttling the offensive guards on every play.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.I forgot how Brown and I think Tom Landry may used the shuffle, to get plays in.
A class act, Graham, may he rest in piece.

11 posted on 12/20/2003 10:17:56 AM PST by BobbyK (The Truth Is Out There.)
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To: Chi-townChief
On my dialup modem that video is maddenly jerky, but a splendid tribute to a sports legend.
12 posted on 12/20/2003 10:25:16 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: BobbyK
Thanks for the walk down memory lane.I forgot how Brown and I think Tom Landry may used the shuffle, to get plays in.

Every coach knew the trick of sending the play in with a player. Lombardi did it repeatedly in the Western Conference playoff game with Detroit which occupies the spotlight in his book Run to Daylight. "Let's hit them with our quick screen, Paul!" (To Paul Hornung.)

Brown, however, was control-freak enough to try to do it every play of every game. Well, it was his system and he made it work. He also invented the "Taxi Squad," which really was a Taxicab company. Can you imagine getting into a cab and finding one of today's NFL players at the wheel?

13 posted on 12/20/2003 10:32:41 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: AbsoluteJustice; Barnacle; BeAllYouCanBe; BillyBoy; cfrels; cherry_bomb88; chicagolady; ...
I guess since Otto Graham was born in Waukegan and starred in football and basketball at Northwestern, this should get a Chicago Ping as well.
14 posted on 12/20/2003 10:32:52 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Nice clips. I was only 4 yrs old in 1950 so I don't remember much. Most memories are vague but they are there.
15 posted on 12/20/2003 10:33:12 AM PST by Commiewatcher
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To: Chi-townChief
Thanx. I lived in WVA and the Browns were our "local" team. Their games were broadcast evey Sunday in WVA. I watched the first half of every game. Then we had to leave to catch the bus to boarding school.

In WVA the Jim Brown/Sam Huff matchups drew the most interest, but Otto Graham and Lou Groza were my favs until Brown came along.

My dad told me to become a place kicker like Groza since you could make a living and not get hit a lot. I didn't follow his advice and joined the offensive line in the pits.

16 posted on 12/20/2003 10:35:54 AM PST by breakem
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To: VadeRetro
What always strikes me is how the AFC Central has three versions of the Cleveland Browns: the new Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals (Paul Brown's team after the swine Art Modell kicked him out of Cleveland), and the hated Baltimore Ravens. Of course, none of them are very good.
17 posted on 12/20/2003 10:39:13 AM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Which reminds me that the Washington Senators gave baseball the Texas Rangers and the Minnesota Twins and there's still no Washington Senators baseball team.

Calvin Griffith, owner of the Senators, assured a sportswriter that the Senators were staying in Washington "so long as I'm alive." Within the year, that reporter was typing, "Acting posthumously, Calvin Griffith moved the Senators to Minnesota yesterday."

18 posted on 12/20/2003 10:45:08 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: Chi-townChief
I've listened with interest as the old-timers talk about the era before free substitution when players went both ways, and I'm struck with the fact that teams often went with a single 'signature play' or two until the defense stopped it. Green Bay had it's Power Sweep, the Colts had Unitas-to-Berry, etc. Much more of an 'in your face' style -- find a weakness (usually an outmanned player) and exploit it until the defense shifts to cover it. Only then did the offense adjust.

Today you have 'situational substitutions' and 'scripted plays' -- a tacit admission that the defense controls today's game. Every good offense relies on a high degree of deception. If a play works, many times you won't see it again until much later in the game. Even the best teams aren't able to man-handle a weaker team. Divisional opponents often split the season series unless one of the teams is the basement dweller and the other is among the League's elite.

Bottom line: it's a vastly different game since the early '60s.

19 posted on 12/20/2003 10:45:41 AM PST by Tallguy (I can't think of anything to say -- John Entwistle in "The Kids are Alright")
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Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

To: VadeRetro
no NFL quarterback calls his own plays now

Peyton Manning does, and Dan Marino did late in his career. But it is the exception and not the rule.

21 posted on 12/20/2003 11:41:18 AM PST by squidly (Although prepared for martyrdom, I prefer that it be postponed.)
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To: Chi-townChief; All
The "All-American Football Conference" was a post-WWII rival to the NFL. They had some great teams and great players in the few years they played in the late 1940's.

Trivia time: Which three teams from the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950? (No fair looking this one up, that would be too easy.)

22 posted on 12/20/2003 11:58:45 AM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Chi-townChief
If a rusher so much as touches a quarterback after he has released the football today, he is penalized for roughing.

So true. I'm watching the Bucs-Falcons game right now, and a few minute ago Tampa QB Brad Johnson was blasted by an ATL defensive lineman a second after he released the ball (and threw an INT for a Falcon TD). I was a borderline late hit, but that didn't prevent the ultra-sensitive fella in the booth from claiming that the D-lineman should not only have been penalized for the hit, but he should've been tossed from the game.

23 posted on 12/20/2003 12:04:40 PM PST by Mr. Mojo
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To: capitan_refugio
Easy - Browns, Colts, 49ers.
24 posted on 12/20/2003 12:24:03 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Otto Graham never bragged or boasted. Like most athletes of the 1940s and 1950s he did not shag, shake or shimmy when he performed one of his football miracles.

That's because back then, professional football was comprised mostly of white players.

25 posted on 12/20/2003 12:31:43 PM PST by usadave
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To: capitan_refugio
I'm trying to recall all of the other teams in the AAFC - New York Yankees, Chicago Rockets, L.A. Dons but then I go blank.
26 posted on 12/20/2003 12:38:31 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
The greatest, indeed.

RIP

27 posted on 12/20/2003 12:43:34 PM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: VadeRetro
That late 50s Senators team that moved up to Minnesota had some pretty good ballplayers: Killebrew, Pascual, Allison, etc.
28 posted on 12/20/2003 1:13:07 PM PST by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Posted on Thu, Dec. 18, 2003

Akron Beacon Journal

Graham a champion in life
By Terry Pluto

He met me at the door, wearing a shirt that read: PAUL'S GUYS.

He had a huge smile, a warm handshake, and all day to tell stories.

That's what I remember about Otto Graham.

He was more than a Hall of Fame quarterback, the best in the history of the Browns.

He was a good man.

Graham died Wednesday at the age of 82 of heart problems. If Paul Brown was the man who invented the Cleveland Browns as most of us know them, it was Graham who made Brown perhaps the greatest coach in the history of pro football.

Graham and Brown were together for 10 years, four in the old All-American Football Conference and the next six in the NFL.

In all 10 of those years, they went to the title game.

Seven times, they won.

It's a record that might never be matched again.

But that's not what Graham talked about in Sarasota, Fla., that Sunday afternoon, when he invited me to his nice home in a modest neighborhood.

He talked about the fun he had as a football player.

He talked about the strong personality of Brown.

He talked about how autographs had become an industry.

``I never would believe you could charge for an autograph,'' he said.

``Do you?'' I asked.

``If you want me to sign it for yourself or your Uncle Harry, no problem,'' he said. ``I'll personalize it for you. But if you just want me to sign my name on 10 things and nothing else, then I know you'll sell it. So I expect a little something.''

That's classic Graham, sizing up a situation.

Always a good guy

He then talked about being the coach of the Washington Redskins from 1966-68, his record being 17-22-3.

``You've got to be part SOB to be a good NFL coach,'' he said. ``I was too nice of a guy. In one game, I had a rookie who dropped a punt. On the sidelines, I put my arm around him.''

What happened?

``People booed,'' said Graham. ``I couldn't help it. I felt bad for the kid.''

Vince Lombardi replaced him.

``He could be an SOB,'' Graham said. ``Like Don Shula, Paul Brown, all of them.''

Not Graham.

He was most comfortable coaching at the little Coast Guard Academy, where, for seven seasons, he could work with Cadets without having to worry about winning always being the bottom line.

The day I visited him, he had Graham, his pet black Labrador, at his side. He enjoyed taking walks and talking to strangers. He said that he never made more than $25,000 as a player and that he never was obsessed with money.

He was the kind of guy you'd have wanted as a neighbor, a person who believed you treated people just as you wanted to be treated.

I liked him very much.

All-around standout

Veteran Cleveland sportswriter Hal Lebovitz knew Graham well.

``He played the piano,'' Lebovitz said.

What else?

``I first saw him play pro basketball,'' he said.

It was in the old National Basketball League in the early 1940s, Lebovitz said. He said Graham was a gritty point guard for the Rochester Royals, where his teammates included Red Holzman and the forward-turned-actor Chuck Connors.

Lebovitz was an official in that league and, later, covered Graham with the Browns.

``He and Paul Brown would really butt heads,'' Lebovitz said. ``But after Otto became a coach himself, then he turned into Paul Brown's biggest fan.''

Graham told me that his teams won five consecutive titles with him calling the plays, then Brown decided he'd take over the offense.

``I didn't like it,'' Graham said. ``But he was Paul Brown, so I did it.''

Not always.

``They had a big game with Detroit,'' Lebovitz said. ``The night before, several key players met with Otto at the old Pick Carter Hotel in Cleveland. They told him that he had to call the plays. Otto did, and they won.''

Graham discovered something that day.

``If I changed the play and it worked, I didn't hear anything,'' he said. `'If it didn't, I never heard the end of it.''

So he picked his spots.

Graham was a running back at Northwestern. Brown converted him to quarterback. Lebovitz said Graham credited former Browns assistant Blanton Collier with teaching him the nuances of the position.

How were his passes?

``Perfect spirals,'' Lebovitz said.

Really?

``I never saw him throw a really bad ball,'' Lebovitz said.

Or say a really unkind word.

Messages for Terry Pluto can be left at 330-996-3816 or terrypluto2003@yahoo.com Sign up for Terry's free weekly e-mail newsletter at www.thebeaconjournal.com/newsletter/

29 posted on 12/20/2003 3:53:27 PM PST by Deadeye Division
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To: Chi-townChief
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota; P.O. Box 4068, Sarasota, Fla., (941) 953-5369.
30 posted on 12/20/2003 3:56:39 PM PST by Deadeye Division
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To: Chi-townChief
Fair Winds and Following Seas, Captain




http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/history/faqs/ottograham.html
31 posted on 12/20/2003 4:03:34 PM PST by Coastie (Try not! Do or Do Not! - Yoda)
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To: Commiewatcher; 88keys; Akron Al; babyface00; Badray; Bikers4Bush; boxerblues; Captiva; ...
My Pleasure......

In God We Trust......Semper Fi

32 posted on 12/21/2003 5:37:41 AM PST by North Coast Conservative (never take a gun to a gunfight that doesn't start with at least .40 cal)
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To: Chi-townChief
To put that into perspective, can you imagine Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb playing safety today?
Tim actually might be able to, he's a very good athlete and is proven tough. He'd have to bulk up some though. Still, the point is made.

Graham or Montana was the best QB ever to play the game.

-Eric

33 posted on 12/21/2003 9:48:15 AM PST by E Rocc (It wasn't until 1998 that the old AFL teams won more NFL Titles than the old AAFC teams.)
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To: Chi-townChief
AAFC 1946
WESTERN DIVISION

Cleveland Browns
San Francisco 49ers
Angeles Dons
Chicago Rockets

EASTERN DIVISION

New York Yankees
Brooklyn Dodgers
Buffalo Bisons
Miami Seahawks

Other Information:
The Browns defeated the Seahawks in the first AAFC Contest, 44-14. The Miami Seahawks folded after the end of the 1946 season. The franchise was transferred to the city of Baltimore following the season.

34 posted on 12/22/2003 2:12:33 AM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Chi-townChief
AAFC 1947
WESTERN DIVISION

Cleveland Browns
San Franciso 48ers
Los Angeles Dons
Chicago Rockets

EASTERN DIVISION

New York Yankees
Buffalo Bills
Brooklyn Dodgers
Baltimore Colts

Notes:
Buffalo franchise modified their name to the "Bills." Baltimore Colts had been Miami Seahawks during the previous season. The Yankees and the Dodgers franchises both had affiliations with their baseball counterparts.

35 posted on 12/22/2003 2:18:41 AM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Deadeye Division
Great article. Many thanks for posting!
36 posted on 12/22/2003 2:22:33 AM PST by dennisw
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To: Chi-townChief
AAFC 1948
WESTERN DIVISION

Cleveland Browns
San Francisco 49ers
Los angeles Dons
Chicago Rockets

EASTERN DICISION

Buffalo Bills
Baltimore Colts
New York Yankees
Brooklyn Dodgers

Notes:
The Bills and Colts tied for first in the Eastern Division, with the Bills winning the playoff game. The Cleveland Browns went 14-0 in league play and won the championship game for a perfect season.

37 posted on 12/22/2003 2:24:51 AM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Chi-townChief
Nice tribute. I remember a lot of those games.

Automatic Otto was a class act all the way.

Thanks.

38 posted on 12/22/2003 2:36:45 AM PST by metesky (My investment program is still holding steady @ $.05 a can.)
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To: Chi-townChief
AAFC 1949
Cleveland Browns
San Francisco 49ers
Brooklyn-New York Yanks
Buffalo Bills
Chicago Hornets
Los Angeles Dons
Baltimore Colts

Notes:
The Brooklyn and New York franchises merged, with the Yankees picking up nine Dodger players. Chicago changed the franchise name, picked up a few unclaimed Dodgers, and posted their best season result since 1946. The Colts were 1-11 in the final AAFC season, after finishing 2-12 in 1948 and 2-11-1 in 1947.

San Francisco, which had finished second to Cleveland in the Western Division the previous three seasons, finally got to play in post season. They defeated the Brooklyn-New York Yanks and played in the Championship game. The 49ers then lost to Cleveland 21-7. Thus ended the AAFC.

39 posted on 12/22/2003 2:39:46 AM PST by capitan_refugio
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To: Chi-townChief
And the Browns of today promptly went out on Sunday and disgraced his memory.
40 posted on 12/22/2003 6:27:57 AM PST by Bikers4Bush (Bush and Co. are quickly convincing me that the Constitution Party is our only hope.)
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