This Day in College Football History – December 6th

Otto Graham (December 6, 1921 – December 17, 2003) was a quarterback who played for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference and National Football League. Graham is regarded by critics as one of the most dominant players of his era, having taken the Browns to league championship games every year between 1946 and 1955, winning seven of them. With Graham at quarterback, the Browns posted a record of 114 wins, 20 losses and four ties, including a 9–3 win–loss record in the playoffs. While most of Graham’s statistical records have been surpassed in the modern era, he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt, with nine. He also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814.

Graham grew up in Waukegan, Illinois, the son of music teachers. He entered Northwestern University in 1940 on a basketball scholarship, but football soon became his main sport. After a brief stint in the military at the end of World War II, Graham played during the 1946 season for the National Basketball League’s Rochester Royals, who won the league championship that year. Paul Brown, Cleveland’s coach, signed Graham to play for the Browns, where he thrived. After he retired from playing football in 1955, Graham coached college teams in the College All-Star Game and became head football coach at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. After seven years at the academy, he spent three unsuccessful seasons as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Following his resignation, he returned to the Coast Guard Academy, where he served as athletic director until his retirement in 1984. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.

As America’s involvement in World War II intensified after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Graham signed up for service alongside many fellow student-athletes, entering the U.S. Navy Air Corps. He was able to stay at Northwestern as he waited to be called for active duty. The Wildcats struggled in 1942 as their players joined the war effort, winning only one game. Graham still had 89 completions, setting a single-season passing record in the Big Ten Conference, a division of major college teams from the Midwestern United States. The following year, Graham and some of his teammates enlisted in the military but continued to play for Northwestern. Enlistees from other schools also enrolled at Northwestern, where the U.S. Navy had a training station. The 1943 season was a strong one for Northwestern. The team beat Ohio State, the defending national champions, and a good military team at Great Lakes Naval Station. The Wildcats lost to Notre Dame and Michigan, however, and finished the season with an 8–2 record and a ninth-place ranking in the AP Poll. Graham set another Big Ten passing record, was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player, received All-American honors and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting. By the end of his college career, he held a Big Ten Conference record for passing yards with 2,132.  Graham’s career at Northwestern officially ended in February 1944, when he moved to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, in the Navy’s V-5 cadet program, a pilot training course. He played basketball for Colgate before moving to North Carolina Pre-Flight later in 1944, where he played on the Cloudbusters football team under coaches Glenn Killinger and Bear Bryant.

 

Impressed by Graham’s performances in Northwestern’s wins over Ohio State in 1941 and 1943, Paul Brown came and offered him a contract worth $7,500 per year ($98,249 in 2014 dollars) in 1945 to play for a professional team he was coaching in Cleveland in the new All-America Football Conference (AAFC). By the time Graham was discharged from the Navy late in the summer of 1946, training camp for Brown’s new team, the Cleveland Browns, had already begun. Concerned that Graham was not ready to start, Brown put in Cliff Lewis at quarterback in the first game of the season. Graham, however, soon replaced Lewis in Brown’s T formation offense. Handing the ball to fullback Marion Motley and throwing to ends Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, Graham led the team to a 12–2 regular-season record and a spot in the championship game against the AAFC’s New York Yankees. The Browns won that game, touching off a period of dominance. The team won each of the AAFC’s four championships between 1946 and 1949, and had professional football’s first perfect season in 1948 by finishing undefeated and untied. Graham’s play was crucial to Cleveland’s success. He averaged 10.5 yards per pass and had a quarterback rating of 112.1 in 1946, a professional football record until Joe Montana surpassed it in 1989. Graham was named the AAFC’s Most Valuable Player in 1947 and shared the Most Valuable Player award with Frankie Albert of the San Francisco 49ers in 1948. He led the league in passing yards between 1947 and 1949. The AAFC dissolved after the 1949 season, and three of its teams, including the Browns, merged into the more established National Football League. Graham was the AAFC’s all-time leading passer, throwing for 10,085 yards and 86 touchdowns.

The Browns’ record with Graham as starting quarterback was 114–20–4, including a 9–3 record in the playoffs. He still holds the NFL career record for yards per pass attempt, averaging nine. He also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, with 0.814. Graham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. Having won seven championships in 10 seasons and reached the championship game in every year he played, Graham is regarded by sportswriters as one of the greatest winners of all time and one of the best professional quarterbacks ever to play the game. He never missed a game in his career. Graham wore number 60 for much of his career, but he was forced to change it to 14 in 1952 after the NFL passed a rule requiring offensive linemen to wear jersey numbers 50–79 so referees could more easily identify ineligible receivers. The Browns retired his number 14, while 60 remains in circulation. While at Northwestern, Graham wore number 48.

An avid golfer and tennis player, Graham partnered with New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio in numerous golf tournaments later in life. He retired to a house on a golf course in Florida. Graham overcame colon cancer in 1977, but was later plagued by heart ailments and other health problems. He was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001, and died of a heart aneurysm in Sarasota, Florida, on December 17, 2003. He had two sons and a daughter with his wife Beverly. In 2013, Northwestern’s fundraising department created The Otto Graham Society to honor his achievements at the school and support its athletics programs.

 

Benjamin Lee Boynton (December 6, 1898 – January 23, 1963), aka “The Purple Streak”, was a professional football player who played during the early years of the National Football League. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962. He played in the NFL for the Washington Senators, Rochester Jeffersons and Buffalo Bisons. Benny was born in Waco, Texas, in 1898, to Charles and Laura Boynton. He began his football career at Waco High School in 1912. During his sophomore year, Boynton became the team’s starting quarterback, and kept the job until he graduated in 1916. While playing for Waco, he had a reputation as an accomplished halfback, an accurate and strong passer, a strong punter, and an aggressive tackler on defense. After high school, Boynton attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In his freshman year, Boynton led the school’s football team to a 7–0–1 season, for their first undefeated season in school history. At the end of the season, he was honored with his first All-American selection. It was then that Ephs fan started referring to Boynton as “the Purple Streak”, a play on his quick ability and the school’s colors, purple and gold.

He sat out his sophomore season of football, instead serving in World War I as a gunnery sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He returned to college in 1919 and was named captain of the football team, as well as the basketball and baseball teams. During his senior year, Boynton led the nation in scoring, compiling 141 points on 22 touchdowns and 9 extra points. In one game, he scored six touchdowns during a 62–0 win over Trinity College. After that season, Boynton was chosen to Walter Camp’s All-America team. After graduating from college in 1921, Boynton took a job at Bethlehem Steel, located in Steelton, Pennsylvania. While working there, he was recruited by Leo Lyons, manager of the NFL’s Rochester Jeffersons. Boynton accepted Lyons offer to play for the Jeffs. Boynton played just three games for the Jeffs that season but still scored two touchdowns, eight extra points and a field goal. He also threw for three more scores.

With NFL contacts not being what they are today, Boynton also played with the NFL’s Washington Senators during the 1921 season, scoring a touchdown and three more extra points. Also in 1921, the independent Holmesburg Athletic Club, of Philadelphia, signed Boynton for Thanksgiving Day game against the Union Quakers of Philadelphia. During the 1922 season Benny only played in one game with the Jeffs. Instead he decided to play semi-pro baseball in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1923, the independent, pre-NFL version of the Pottsville Maroons added Benny to their roster. However he made his return to the NFL in 1924. His return though sparked a dispute between Lyons and the new owners of the Buffalo Bisons, both parties claimed to have signed Boynton for the 1924 season. An NFL executive committee was formed to settle the issue. The committee awarded Boynton’s services to the Bisons.

1924 marked Boynton’s last season of professional football. He started an insurance business in 1925. In 1926 he returned to Texas, and helped form the Southwest Officials Association and served as the organization first president. Over the next 14 years, he officiated the many college football games. Some of his most notable games include the first Cotton Bowl Classic (then called “the Dixie Classic”) and the second Sugar Bowl. After retiring from officiating, Boynton began a broadcasting career, where he provided radio commentary for several years.

During World War II, Boynton served as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy Reserve. He was appointed the Physical Training and Welfare Officer at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where he established streamlined operating programs on several naval bases throughout the southern United States. Rochester manager, Leo Lyons, called Boynton the second greatest football player of the era, second only to Jim Thorpe. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in December 1962. A month later he died from cancer at the age of 64.

 

Johnny Manziel born December 6, 1992, also known by his nickname “Johnny Football”, is a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Browns with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was nationally recruited out of high school as a dual-threat quarterback. In 2012, Manziel debuted for the Texas A&M Aggies as a redshirt freshman in Kevin Sumlin’s Air Raid offense during A&M’s first season in the SEC. He broke numerous NCAA Division I FBS and SEC records, which include becoming the first freshman and fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. At the end of the regular season, he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. Manziel capitalized on his redshirt freshman season by leading Texas A&M to a 41–13 victory over Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl Classic.

Manziel was given the nickname “Johnny Football” by fans and students at Texas A&M University before the start of the 2012 season. The nickname is a registered trademark. He was also drafted as a baseball player in the 28th round of the 2014 MLB Draft (837th overall) by the San Diego Padres, officially listed as a shortstop.

 

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