In 1952, the Browns won the American with an 8-4 record, while the Detroit Lions won the National division with a 9-3 record (after defeating the defending-champion Rams in the National tiebreaker game). Otto Graham and Bobby Layne were the two top quarterbacks in the NFL that year according to both the AP and the NY Daily News. Detroit traveled to Cleveland on December 28th and defeated the Browns 17-7, with Doak Walker’s 67-yard touchdown providing the biggest blow.
The next season, Graham had a season for the ages by any measure. You’d be hard-pressed to argue for a better regular season by any quarterback from World War II to 1983, when a Graham-led Browns passing game finished with a Relative ANY/A of +5.00. The Browns began the 12-game season with 11 straight wins, while Detroit finished 10-2 with both losses coming against the 8-3-1 Rams. Cleveland lost the season finale in Philadelphia, and then traveled to Detroit for an NFL Championship rematch.
The Browns and Lions were tied 10-10 after three quarters, and Cleveland was up 16-10 late in the game. But in the final minutes, Layne found an unlikely hero in Jim Doran for a 33-yard game-winning touchdown (video here), with Walker’s extra point providing the margin of victory. The bigger story? Graham having one of the chokiest games in football history, finishing with 2 of 15 for 20 yards with 2 interceptions. [click to continue…]