Duey Graham is about to a have a second “once in a lifetime” moment. Both occurred as the NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The first began as the league kicked off its centennial season in September. The Cleveland Browns honored his father, Otto Graham, who quarterbacked the team from 1946 to 1955, with an 11-foot bronze statue outside FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Duey Graham and 38 other family members attended the ceremony.
Another second “once in a lifetime” moment will occur in February as the NFL closes its 100th season. Graham will attend an on-field tribute to the league’s 100 greatest players, in Miami prior to Super Bowl LIV. From 1946 to 1955, it was automatic that the Browns were going to play in the championship game. Otto Graham quarterbacked the team to 10 consecutive championship game appearances with seven wins. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, won three NFL titles and four All-American Conference championships, is a two-time NFL most valuable player and has the highest winning percentage (81%) of any NFL quarterback in history.
So when the NFL Network began creating an all-NFL 100 team earlier in the season, an almost automatic decision was selecting the winningest quarterback in league history. And the network panel named Otto Graham one of the 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time. The network will air the top 10 quarterbacks selection show at 8 p.m. Dec. 27. One of the panelists is New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. “He was a big admirer of Paul Brown (who coached Graham). The panel selected Jim Brown as the No. 1 running back, and it will be interesting to see who the No. 1 quarterback is. I think it’s dad, but I’m partial,” Duey Graham said.
He plans on watching the program with a group of friends. He believes his father’s days playing in the AAFC hurt perceptions of his greatness. The Browns won four consecutive AAFC championships before joining the NFL with San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts. “All three were outdrawing and more popular than the NFL. The problem was the Browns were just too good for the AAFC. So the leagues merged, and I think Otto’s performance in the AAFC is not given the due it deserves.”
The league is inviting all NFL 100 team members to invite one guest and participate in the ceremony. Otto Graham died at 82 in 2003. The league invited his widow Beverly Graham to participate. She had a stroke a few weeks ago and is still recovering. “We’re not sure if she can go, but it’s been a family goal to get her to the point where she can,” Duey Graham said.
The Grahams plan on Beverly being wheeled out to the ceremony by Duey's brother David. The Graham brothers will accompany their mother to the Super Bowl and if Beverly is healthy to participate in the ceremony, she will. "I will be in Miami with my mother and brother. David will be her plus-one and hopefully mom will be there to take the bow when it comes time. If she can't, I will join my brother and he will take the bow," Duey Graham said.
When Duey Graham heard about the NFL honoring his father one more time, he asked his mother to be the plus-one. This will be Duey Graham's 20th Super Bowl, but his first in 24 years. “This year’s game is likely to be the most special of them all. This is a once in a lifetime event, and i’'s happening for the second time in the same year, which really models how my dad’s football career went.”
It seemed Otto Graham repeated his major football achievement in consecutive years. In his first four pro seasons, the Browns won four straight AAFC championships. He received league MVP honors in 1947-48. He won back-to-back NFL titles in 1952-53. And in his rookie year of 1946, he pulled off the most unlikely double of all. He won a National Basketball League championship with the Rochester Royals, who later became the Cincinnati Royals, then finally the Sacramento Kings, before joining the Browns later that year and winning the AAFC title.
Duey Graham arrived in the Boothbay region in 1976. He was a vacationing FBI agent who happened to witness a car accident on Route 27. He became friendly with local law enforcement officers Leighton Davis and Floyd McDunnah who tried to entice Graham to join their department. Graham was working in Newark, New Jersey with a possible transfer to New York City on the horizon. The offer was enticing, but a potential huge pay cut resulted in his declining the offer. “A couple months later, I called to see if the job offer was still available, and I took it,” Graham said.
He later taught at Boothbay Region High School and coached the football team. Since the mid-70s, Duey Graham has made the Boothbay region his home for most of the years. He described the place as “one of the most beautiful places on Earth.” There is another reason Boothbay remains home. “It’s the people. They are wonderful,” he said. “I liked the people right away. They tell you what’s on their mind whether you want to hear it or not. I like that.”
One resident recently told him in the supermarket what was on her mind. She jokingly remarked about how his family picture appeared on the Boothbay Register’s front page last September in reference to the event in Cleveland. She asked, “‘Are you through being famous yet,’” said Graham.
Well, for at least one more football championship Sunday, Otto Graham’s legacy will be on display in Miami. And his son Duey will honor his father’s achievement as one of the 10 best quarterbacks in history.
This article has been updated from its original posting.