There are a lot of great things about Football Perspective, but my favorite is the caliber of the commenters. The Football Perspective community is a great one, and has been going back to its days at the Pro-Foootball-Reference blog. In the recent Greatest QB of All Time, Wisdom of Crowds post, long-time commenters Kibbles and Brad O. got into a fascinating discussion in the comments about Norm Van Brocklin and Otto Graham.
I’ve decided to reproduce, unedited, their words here. Why? Well, for starters, I found the debate fascinating, but you may not have seen the whole thing buried in the comments. The Van Brocklin/Graham question is a great one, and any historian will enjoy reading their thoughts. I also present their words in an aspirational sense: the Football Perspective commenters are great, but these are the type of respectful, meaningful, and thought-out words that I hope breaks out more often.
I kicked things off by expressing a bit of disappointment that Van Brocklin finished only 25th in the Wisdom of Crowds poll. He had a star-studded career, is the only quarterback to lead two different NFL teams to a title, and had some outstanding efficiency seasons.
From there, let’s hear from Kibbles. Here was his response to my comment, in blue:
I had NVB 13th and Graham 15th on my list, so you’re preaching to the choir. If you separate out the AAFC numbers, Van Brocklin and Graham had pretty much identical passing stats. Graham had more championships and appearances, but Van Brocklin did it for two different teams.
For me, the difference is supporting cast. It’s not like Van Brocklin was playing with a bunch of nobodies, (check out Elroy Hirsch’s 1951 the next time you want your mind blown, and remember that Tom Fears also made the Hall of Fame, even if he seems like a borderline choice who did much of his damage before NVB really broke out). Still, thanks to Paul Brown, Otto Graham might as well have been playing a different sport from his contemporaries. When two guys are surrounded by Hall of Famers on offense, tiebreaker goes to the guy who also had arguably the most influential coach of all time prowling the sidelines. So, given NVB and Graham’s very similar stats, I find Van Brocklin’s ever so slightly more impressive.
In came Brad O., in brown:
I think you’ve taken a good idea a touch too far. The people who watched Graham and Van Brocklin had no doubt who was better. All-pro awards, 1950-55:
1950 — Johnny Lujack
1951 — Graham
1952 — Graham and Layne
1953 — Graham
1954 — Graham
1955 — Graham
They both had great stats during those years, so it’s hard to see that pushing the debate in either direction. But I believe Graham was greater from 1946-49 than NVB from 1956-60, and he clearly was a more accomplished postseason player. I don’t believe Dante Lavelli was as good as Crazy Legs Hirsch, or that the Browns had as many offensive weapons around Graham as Van Brocklin enjoyed in L.A. Van Brocklin won with two different teams, but so did Graham, really: the ’46 Browns and ’55 Browns shared only four players — Graham, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, and Lavelli. It also bears mention that the Browns dynasty collapsed upon Graham’s retirement.
Paul Brown was the greatest coach of all time, but I believe you’ve deflected an unrealistic amount of credit from quarterback to coach. Brown himself said, “Otto Graham was the key to the whole team … He had total composure on the field, the ability to find whatever receiver was going to come open, and the arm and athletic ability to get the ball to him … Otto was my greatest player because he played the most important position, and he played it to perfection. He was the crux of how we got things done.” At his HOF induction in 1967, Brown chose Otto Graham to present him.
You’re right about Van Brocklin, but you’re underselling Graham.
What follows was the rest of their debate, with Kibbles in blue, and Brad O. in brown.
It’s possible I’m underselling Graham. My belief is that people tend to dramatically underrate the impact that quality coaching has on a quarterback’s performance. For instance, I know of several statistical formulas that rank Montana, Young, and Anderson as three of the top 10 QBs of all time. Which do you think is more likely, that Walsh worked with three quarterbacks for an extended period and those three guys just so happened to be three of the top 10 QBs in NFL history… or Bill Walsh’s offensive system was so amazing that it made good-to-great quarterbacks look like top-10 quarterbacks? Personally, I think that second explanation is more compelling.
Paul Brown might say that Otto Graham was the key to the whole team, but that doesn’t change the fact that thanks to Paul Brown the whole team was essentially playing a different sport. Paul Brown invented modern pass blocking concepts and the idea of a “pocket”. He invented the draw play. He brought structured practices and organizational depth charts and coaching assistants and film study. He was an organizational genius whose concepts are still in wide use today. I would say no coach has had a bigger impact on the game in modern NFL history.
Graham did win all of those All Pros over Van Brocklin when they were contemporaries, but it’s a bit of a squidgy comparison. In 1950, 1951, and 1952, Norm Van Brocklin actually platooned at the QB position with Bob Waterfield. That’d normally be a strike against Van Brocklin, but Waterfield was a Hall of Famer in his own right, too- Van Brocklin made the pro bowl in each of those three seasons, and Waterfield made it as well in 1950 and 1951. If Steve Young had managed to platoon with Joe Montana, would that have been a negative for Young, or a positive? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s something of a unique situation.
That really only leaves 1953, 1954, and 1955 when both players were competing head-to-head for awards on an even playing field. Which is bad for Van Brocklin, because 1953 and 1955 were far and away Graham’s two best seasons in the NFL. Also in NVB’s favor is the fact that he essentially had nearly twice as many NFL games played (140 to 72) and NFL pass attempts (2895 to 1565). Graham had the AAFC, but again, if we’re counting what he did there, I really think we have to count what Moon did in the CFL, and what Jim Kelly did in the USFL. I think the quality of competition was equal or better.
I don’t know. It’s a hard comparison, and I ultimately had the two very close to each other for a reason. Van Brocklin had an unconventional NFL career, but I think with all things considered he was as great as Otto Graham. Or perhaps even just a little bit greater. His efficiency stats were essentially identical, he presided over arguably the greatest offenses in history, and he won championships with two different teams, all without the help of arguably the greatest head coach the game has ever seen. Had the two quarterbacks had their places switched, who would have fared better? I think maybe Van Brocklin.
You’ve clearly given this issue some thought, and you deserve a detailed response, so I hope you won’t take offense that I’ve Fisked your comment.
re: Montana, Young, and Anderson — first of all, I would dispute your inclusion of Young, whose best seasons came under George Seifert. Certainly Young benefited from his time with Walsh, but I have a hard time crediting a guy who retired in early 1989 for what Young did from 1992-98.
There’s a similar case to be made regarding Anderson, who had two of his best seasons in the early ’80s. I also believe there’s a little bit of a straw man problem here. Ken Anderson didn’t make my top 25 or yours, so I’d rather not base our discussion on an assumption that he was a top-10 QB.
Furthermore, there’s a case to be made that Walsh scouted effectively to find the right players, and not simply that he developed their talent. I believe it’s a balance of the two.
You’re obviously correct that a coach can help his quarterback succeed, but I don’t believe the correlation is nearly as strong as you imply. Peyton Manning has had four head coaches. Johnny Unitas took three different HCs to NFL Championship Games. Sammy Baugh had eight head coaches, and so on. Most great QBs succeed with several coaches, and there are great coaches — including great offensive coaches, like Joe Gibbs — who never developed HOF-caliber QBs. Coaching is a factor, but probably not as large a factor as you’ve indicated.
You don’t need to talk up Paul Brown for me. I have written repeatedly (including in the comment you replied to, but apparently I need to repeat myself) that he was the greatest coach of all time. But I don’t believe you truly addressed my point; Brown said Graham was his greatest player (including Jim Brown), and the greatest dynasty in football history collapsed when Graham retired. Paul Brown never won a pro championship without Otto Graham. Again, I’m not trying to discredit Brown. But you’re not giving Graham enough credit. You also haven’t mentioned that Van Brocklin worked with Clark Shaughnessy and Sid Gillman.
re: the all-pro votes … obviously the platooning limited Van Brocklin’s opportunities, and you’re right that splitting time with Waterfield is nothing to be ashamed of. But Graham did play more in those seasons, and I rate players on what they did, not what they might have been. What if Young had supplanted Montana in ’88? I don’t want to rate anyone based on assumptions. If you’re going to imagine what Van Brocklin might have done without Waterfield, let’s imagine what Graham might have done without World War II. He never played in the pros until he was almost 25.
And it’s a cop-out to complain that ’53 and ’55 shouldn’t count because Graham was really good those years. That’s kind of the point. I also think you’re undervaluing Graham’s contributions in ’52: he was the Cleveland offense that year; the team was much more balanced in ’55. And it’s not just the all-pro votes; Graham was NFL MVP in ’51, ’53, and ’55, and I suspect he would have won in ’52 if any of the major organizations had named one. I have trouble dismissing a consensus in contemporary opinion. It’s obviously not the only factor, but surely it should be a factor.
I absolutely believe we should credit Moon and Kelly for what they did before coming to the NFL, but if you really think the quality of play in the early-80s CFL was as high (relative to the NFL) as the AAFC, you are crazy. That’s not a tenable position. I don’t believe there’s any question that Otto Graham was the best QB of the late ’40s. I suspect Graham was at least as good in his age 24-27 seasons as his age 31-33 seasons. Using NFL games and attempts is a canard; you can’t throw 1946-49 out the window if you’re doing an honest evaluation of Graham. Van Brocklin is not substantially ahead on service.
It is a hard comparison, and you speak to my line of thinking with the “had the two quarterbacks had their places switched” question. But Graham had comparable or (in my view) slightly better stats, he certainly was more highly regarded at the time, and his team achieved greater results. It’s disingenuous to credit Van Brocklin for two titles with two different teams, but not mention that Graham won seven championships, played in the league championship every year of his career, and generally performed really well in big games. Let’s not penalize him for staying in Cleveland.
You’ve obviously given this matter real consideration — I wish more people approached the all-time question with your thoroughness — but I think you’re underrating Graham at every turn.
Re: Steve Young- yes, it’s true that he received little playing time under Walsh himself, but Walsh was responsible for Young’s development, and to some extent I’m using “Bill Walsh” as metonymy for the entire Bill Walsh coaching system and offensive scheme. Which seems fair to me, because that’s how the rest of the world treats it. Witness: Mike Shanahan being considered part of the “Bill Walsh coaching tree” despite (a) never coaching under Bill Walsh, and (b) having a decade worth of coaching experience (including two years as a head coach) before he ever joined San Francisco.
Re: Ken Anderson- yes, some of his best years came after Walsh left, but see my last point. Also, it’s true that neither of us had him in our top 25, but that’s not my point. My point is this, and only this: revolutionary coaching causes a player’s statistical production to outpace his true talent level. He was a guy we agree was not a top-25 QB, and yet he still put up top-10 numbers because his offense was decades ahead of its time. Otto Graham’s offense was also decades ahead of its time, so I treat his statistics with skepticism.
Re: Walsh scouting effectively – this actually is an interesting demonstration of my point. Bill Walsh called Jake Plummer “the next Joe Montana”. Is this an example of poor scouting, based on how Plummer did in Arizona? Or an example of good scouting, based on how Plummer did in Denver? Personally, I think it reinforces the importance of coaching and the power of the West Coast Offense, properly implemented. Plummer had 4.37 ANY/A in Arizona. He had 6.32 ANY/A in Denver. I think Plummer is perhaps the biggest example of just how dependent a quarterback’s production really is on his situation.
Re: Manning, Unitas, Baugh- you’re absolutely right that they all succeeded with multiple coaches. Which is exactly why all three made my all-time top 10. I’m much more confident that those three were not a product of their scheme or coaching than I am about, say, Otto Graham.
Re: Paul Brown – So he says Graham was his greatest player ever. That’s awesome. That’s a data point. John Madden says Ray Guy was the greatest punter of all time. Doesn’t make it true, but it’s a data point. I think Graham was absolutely the most integral piece of those dominant Cleveland teams, but does that mean he was a better quarterback than NVB? Not necessarily. Maybe those Cleveland teams would have been even better still if they’d had Van Brocklin, and Paul Brown would instead be claiming NVB was the greatest player he ever coached. So yeah, you keep repeating that statement, and I think it’s a data point, but I don’t find it nearly as dispositive as you seem to. Bill Belichick could say that Tom Brady is the greatest player he’s ever coached and I still wouldn’t think he’s better than Peyton Manning.
I also vehemently disagree with your claim that the Browns dynasty “collapsed” after Graham retired, unless by “collapsed” you mean “had one losing season in the next 18 years”, or “went 9-2-1 and made the championship game two years later, and then went 9-3 the year after that.” Sure, they weren’t winning multiple titles, but they were doing pretty well for a team that had lost so many Hall of Famers. Remember, in addition to Graham, you had Lavelli and Gatski retire in 1956, plus Motley retired in 1953. That’s FOUR Hall of Fame offensive players gone in a very short span.
Speaking of collapse, though, how did the Rams do after Van Brocklin left? Philly did fine, but they had this young guy named Sonny Jurgensen waiting in the wings, which probably helped.
I didn’t mention that NVB worked with Clark Shaughnessy and Sid Gillman, this is true. Of course, you failed to mention that NVB won a league MVP award under Buck Shaw. My point wasn’t that NVB never played in phenomenal circumstances – obviously those early ’50s Rams teams were tailor-made for huge offensive production. My point was that we saw NVB succeed outside of those situations, too, which makes me more convinced that NVB’s production was inherent to NVB himself, whereas I have far less assurance that Graham could have succeeded elsewhere. Again, it’s like Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. I’m sure Peyton could have succeeded on multiple teams for multiple coaches, because we’ve seen him do that. I’m not sure Tom Brady could have, because we haven’t. It’s possible Brady could have, but the fact that we never saw him do it hurts him in comparison to Manning.
I never complained that 1953 or 1955 shouldn’t count. I said that Graham was better than NVB when they played together, but that was essentially a 3-year window. We can’t play the “who was better when they were contemporaries” game, because “when they were contemporaries” basically represented such a tiny portion of their total careers. It was a three-year span. Graham was better during that three-year span, no doubt, but it was a three-year span.
You might not want to rate people on assumptions, but my original post rating quarterbacks started with the clarification that I was rating based on who I thought could “take his’n and beat your’n, then take your’n and beat his’n”. That’s naturally rating based on assumptions and counterfactuals. You’re welcome to rank some other way, but that’s how I ranked. If you want to say “any ranking system based on what players actually did and nothing more should value Graham over NVB”, I would heartily agree. Of course, I could argue that any such ranking system should probably include Ken Anderson in the top 25. Ultimately, I believe Adam said there were 80 sets of rankings, which means that there were 80 sets of assumptions and value judgments. Yours might not be mine, but given the parameters of the activity, mine were still valid.
Likewise, I absolutely *CAN* throw out AAFC production, just like I threw out CFL and USFL production. I did not consider production that came outside of the NFL (or AFL, and even there I substantially discounted early-AFL stuff because the league was a joke for its first few years). You seem to have a much higher opinion of the AAFC than I do. It’s possible that the early ’80s CFL was substantially worse than I thought, too, but the AAFC was atrocious aside from the Browns. Look how much Cleveland’s statistics declined when they merged. Look how much San Francisco declined when they merged. Look how few other AAFC players landed on an NFL roster after the league disbanded. It was a bad league with one great team. Otto Graham averaged 9.4 AY/A against the AAFC and 7.0 AY/A against the NFL. Graham had a rating of 99.1 against the AAFC and a rating of 78.1 against the NFL. I feel quite comfortable discounting his AAFC production just like I’d discount a player’s college production, or production in any other similarly inferior league.
Again, maybe I’m underrating Graham. I’m supremely open to that possibility, given that we’re talking about guys who played more than 50 years ago, (and I am not more than 50 years old). That’s okay though. It’s my opinion. I’ve given it a lot of thought. If opinions on Graham exist on a continuum, mine might be among the lowest, but personally I think it’s important to try to balance out those whose opinion on Graham is among the highest, (many of whom I guarantee have thought far less about this particular issue).
I think coaching is an underrated factor in player success. I think the AAFL was a joke league. I think “RINGZ BABY” is an uncompelling argument. For these reasons, I’m destined to be lower on Graham than consensus. And I’m okay with that.
Kibbles, it seems I may have offended you, and that wasn’t my intention. If so, I apologize.
I don’t want to get too sidetracked on the Bill Walsh issue, but I can’t agree about Steve Young or Ken Anderson. Young threw 170 passes for Walsh in 1987-88, and I don’t believe that and the WCO are what made him the NFL’s best QB in the mid-90s. The systems that show Anderson as a top-10 QB are bad systems. I’m willing to disagree on these issues, though, because I don’t think they’re central to our discussion, and surely we’d agree that Walsh is an exception, not the rule.
I think you’ve misunderstood me here: “Re: Paul Brown- So he says Graham was his greatest player ever. That’s awesome. That’s a data point. John Madden says Ray Guy was the greatest punter of all time.”
Madden was comparing Guy to all punters, ever, and  he’s biased for his guy,  punting is widely misunderstood. Brown was comparing Graham to his own players, the guys he coached. That carries stronger weight. But it’s also not the crux of my argument. You’re right, it’s a data point. I didn’t intend to imply that was the end of the discussion. But I don’t believe Paul Brown would agree with you that Graham was so much a product of the system.
Browns, 1946-55: 105-17-4 (.849), 7 CS, 10 CS Appearances
Browns, 1950-55: 58-13-1 (.813), 3 CS, 6 CSA
Browns, 1956-62: 53-31-4 (.625), 0 CS, 1 CSA
The Browns were a +.800, year-in, year-out championship team with Otto Graham. Their worst record was 8-4 (.667). Their average following his retirement was 40 points lower, and they ceased to be a championship caliber team. Furthermore, they fell from 9-2-1 in Graham’s final season to 5-7, then rebounded when they added Jim Brown, arguably the greatest player in NFL history. So yes, I think it’s fair to say that the Browns dynasty collapsed upon Graham’s retirement. No one considers the 1957-62 Browns a dynasty.
The Browns won back-to-back titles without Motley; his greatest years were in the AAFC and in 1950. Lavelli was a fine player, but he absolutely would not make the Hall of Fame today. I get your point, that Graham wasn’t the only player Cleveland lost. It’s a valid point, but the ’57-58 Browns had 5 HOF players. The Browns in Graham’s era were a uniquely successful team, the greatest dynasty in the history of professional football. Immediately upon Graham’s retirement, they ceased to be that exceptional team. My interpretation is that Brown’s magic wasn’t enough in Graham’s absence.
As stated earlier, I agree with you about Van Brocklin; we rank him the same. It’s Graham we disagree upon. You don’t need to convince me Van Brocklin was great. He was.
re: rating methodology, of course yours is valid. But I don’t see how you can restore credit to Van Brocklin during the years he split time with Waterfield, and throw Graham’s AAFC years or Moon’s CFL years out the window entirely. As with Van Brocklin, they were obviously great QBs, but their NFL playing time was limited by unusual circumstances. It seems logically inconsistent to include one but not the other.
I’m not suggesting you take AAFC stats at face value (or CFL, USFL, etc) — just that we need to acknowledge what Graham did during his years in the league. He was the best QB in football in the late ’40s, and any evaluation that ignores that is inevitably wrong. Warren Moon was prevented from playing in the NFL until he was 28, but we know he was a good quarterback in the early ’80s. Jim Kelly was the best QB in the USFL. We don’t have to take his stats at face value to acknowledge he had two good seasons that aren’t included in his NFL record. Signing with Houston didn’t make Kelly a worse QB. It’s hard to compare players in other leagues, but it’s better to make an educated guess than to ignore those years entirely. Graham was the best QB of the late ’40s. Moon and Kelly were good players before they reached the NFL. Those aren’t radical ideas at all; indeed, they’re obvious. All I’m suggesting is that we acknowledge this.
Otto Graham was also the best QB of the early ’50s (great stats, all-pro every year); I don’t need a ringz argument to support him. At the same time, I think his team’s success and his own championship performances are a valid consideration that can only enhance his case. If you revise your position on Paul Brown’s importance to Graham’s success, and give Graham credit for being what we know he was in the late 1940s, I imagine we’d rate him nearly the same, just as we do for Van Brocklin.
I’m not offended, I’m just chatting. I don’t mind a little bit of healthy disagreement in the slightest.
You keep bringing up Graham’s championships, which I suppose is unavoidable in any discussion of Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns. Here’s my big problem with that. From 1950 to 1957- an 8-year span- the average rank of the Cleveland Browns in points allowed was 1.25. The average rank in yards allowed was 2.00. These figures are unprecedented – I have never seen an 8-year run anywhere close to that. Any way you slice it, Otto Graham played with an absolutely dominant defense. And I’m sure Graham made their job easier, but they ranked 1st in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed in each of the first two seasons after Graham retired, so it’s not like we can give him too much credit. Part of that was pace, of course – Cleveland ranked “only” 2.75, on average, in yards per play allowed. (Though that was partly skewed by the fact that they were playing with so many leads). On the other hand, during Graham’s 6 years in the NFL, the Browns ranked 2.83 in points scored and 4.5 in yards gained. Again, part of that is pace – they ranked 3.00 in yards per play. But the larger point is this: Graham played with one of the best sustained defenses the league has ever seen. By any measure, that defense deserved every bit as much credit- if not more- for those championships.
By comparison, NVB’s Rams defense ranked, on average, 7.5 in points allowed and 9.13 in yards allowed. His Eagles defenses ranked 8.33 in points allowed and 9.0 in yards allowed. While Graham’s defenses were consistently among the top 2 in the NFL, Van Brocklin’s were consistently below average. If you average points allowed and yards allowed together, Graham played with one defense in his NFL career that ranked lower than 1.5 – a 1953 unit that was 1st in points allowed and 6th in yards allowed, for an average of 3.5. At the same time, Van Brocklin played with only one defense in his entire career that ranked better than 6th by that simplistic method – also in 1953, when his defense ranked 4th in points allowed and 5th in yards allowed for an average of 4.5. So Van Brocklin’s best defense was worse than Graham’s worst defense. And Graham also played with the best coach of all time and even had the best placekicker of his generation. Sure, he made a lot of championship games, but I don’t find that to be a particularly dispositive distinction in this particular comparison.
I also think it’s crazy to suggest that the Browns dynasty “collapsed” after Graham retired. Words mean things, and “collapsed” means something other than what happened to the Cleveland Browns after Graham retired. In the decade following Graham’s retirement, the Cleveland Browns had ONE losing season, posting a cumulative record of 84-41-5 (65.8%). They made three championship games during that decade and won one of them. Maybe we don’t still count that as part of the dynasty any more, but I can think of 32 NFL fanbases who DESPERATELY HOPE their franchise “collapses” to the tune of a decade of 11-5 seasons, three championship berths, and one title. I mean, this is essentially identical to arguing that the New England Patriots “collapsed” after 2004. It just doesn’t make sense under any meaningful definition of the word.
I also like how you add the “Well, then they got Jim Brown, so that’s why they were good again”. By that definition, (we must evaluate the Browns after Graham, but we can’t include the Jim Brown era because he was also great), we’re stuck with a sample size of N = 1.
Anyway, what it really boils down to for me is that Otto Graham was one of a handful of offensive Hall of Famers on a team with a better defense than offense coached by the greatest coach of all time. He never led his unit to the heights of the NVB Rams’ offenses. He made a lot of championship games, but see the first sentence of this paragraph again. His NFL averages were also essentially identical to NVB’s. I suspect that Otto Graham was no better of a QB from 1946-1949 than he was from 1950-1955, so if the Browns had been in the NFL, that would still likely remain the case. (If anything, I think that if Graham had spent his entire career in the NFL, his averages would have been worse than NVB’s.)
Given all of that, I think NVB was maybe a slightly better quarterback.
Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page.
I think you’ve misunderstood why I “keep bringing up Graham’s championships”. It’s part of my argument that Cleveland was substantially less successful following his retirement, which in turn is part of my argument that Graham may have played a larger role in the team’s success, and Paul Brown a smaller one, than you had previously believed.
When I say that the Browns dynasty collapsed, you’re focusing on the word “collapsed”, and I’m focusing on the word “dynasty”. If I re-phrase it, that the Browns were way less successful following Graham’s retirement, perhaps we could avoid any semantic disagreement. The stats are clear:
Browns, 1946-55: 105-17-4 (.849), 7 CS, 10 CS Appearances
Browns, 1950-55: 58-13-1 (.813), 3 CS, 6 CSA
Browns, 1956-62: 53-31-4 (.625), 0 CS, 1 CSA
I’ve used 1962 as the cutoff date, since that’s when Paul Brown was fired. As I understand it, you believe that Graham’s success was largely a function of Brown’s genius, and that belief is one of — if not the — main reasons you rate Graham lower than usual. I’ve presented objective evidence (Cleveland much more successful with Graham) and subjective evidence (Brown called Graham “my greatest player”, “the key to the whole team”, “the crux of how we got things done”) to support my position — that Graham was probably more critical to the team’s success than you had thought. The team’s results without Graham support Brown’s statements.
re: Jim Brown … Cleveland went 5-7 in the first season following Graham’s retirement, then rebounded when they added Jim Brown the following year. It seems almost certain that the team’s misfortunes would have been longer and worse had Brown not joined the team. This is not a critical element of my argument, but I think it’s obviously true.
You raise a good point about the greatness of the Browns’ defense, except that we’re getting
caught in a tangent. When I refer to Cleveland’s team success, it’s the success during the Graham Era as contrasted with the lesser success following his retirement — again, this is addressing your belief that Graham’s accomplishments were largely a product of Paul Brown’s coaching. The defense was still great in the late ’50s, but the team stopped winning championships. You note that Graham “never led his unit to the heights of the NVB Rams’ offenses”, but the Rams’ historic offensive seasons occurred while Van Brocklin was a part-time player, with Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin’s stats in those seasons are terrific, but so are Waterfield’s, and he didn’t make the top 25. Also — and this is one of the hardest things to sort out (in various eras) — Graham’s offense in 1950-51 didn’t need to do as much as the Rams’. It might be a bit like comparing the Saints’ offense in the Drew Brees era to Brady/Manning/Rodgers. Beyond Van Brocklin’s personal performance, I’m disinclined to regard the 1950-51 Ram offenses as an important data point in this discussion, though I could potentially be persuaded otherwise.
My evaluation of Graham is based on his excellent stats and a consensus in contemporary opinion. Beyond his outstanding numbers and impressive collection of awards and honors, Graham is also — from the standpoint of team results — the most successful individual player in history; that reinforces my belief in Graham, but does not form the basis for it. I consider team success in my evaluation of QBs, but it is not a major factor in my rankings (for this project, I rated Brady 8th, Aikman outside the top 25). I do think it’s to Graham’s credit that he generally played at a very high level in the team’s most important games. His impressive postseason performances don’t show up in the regular-season stats, but they’re certainly a mark in his favor.
I think it’s great you’re beating the drum for Van Brocklin; if you look at my original response to Chase, I was pretty horrified at Van Brocklin’s relative lack of respect in the voting on this project. But I believe if you re-consider your evaluation of Graham, he comes off even better than Van Brocklin.
Well, after all that, I’m not sure I have figured out which way I fall in this debate. But I do know I’m appreciative to Kibbles and Brad O. for their great discussion.