Dec. 18, 2003
Having lived in Sarasota, Florida for a decade now, I was blessed to have the chance to spend time with NFL Hall of Fame superstar Otto Graham. Graham died in Sarasota on Wednesday at the age of 82.
Let me tell you, Graham had the heart of a champion.
I remember watching Graham's brilliant talents as the Cleveland Browns' quarterback when I first got involved with sports. I also remember when my son-in-law, former Notre Dame quarterback Thomas Krug, saw footage of Graham when we attended the Dick Vitale Sports Night in Sarasota to induct Graham into the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame.
Graham didn't really need the honor, but he was willing to do it to help raise dollars to benefit youngsters in Sarasota. That's what he was all about, having his name utilized to help others.
Otto Graham originally went to Northwestern on a basketball scholarship.
On that special evening, my son-in-law was amazed watching Graham's technique as a passer, observing that Graham could have played in any era. I told Thomas that he was absolutely correct.
Graham was a definite winner who originally went to Northwestern on a basketball scholarship. At the banquet that night, he reminded me of the scholarship and said that most people didn't realize his hoop talents.
The people of Sarasota and football fans everywhere will miss the legendary Graham. Those who had the thrill to see him perform were fortunate. Those were great teams under Browns coach Paul Brown -- and Graham was the catalyst, the heart and soul.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune writer Doug Fernandes wrote about the toughness, the personality and the greatness of Graham. Fernandes was really on target in his column.
No. 14 was a genuine champion on the field and off of it, and he never forgot his roots. He always was there for people who needed a helping hand. Graham told so many great stories and hosted the Otto Graham Celebrity Golf Classic in Florida, where he brought in so many great players to raise money for people in need.
I wish more athletes would have the same attitude and remember where they came from. So many of today's players simply don't remember their roots and help others enough. And I wonder what Graham would have done if one of his contemporaries pulled a stunt like the one Saints WR Joe Horn pulled Sunday, when Horn hid a cell phone in the goal-post padding and made a call on it after scoring a touchdown.
Graham could take coaching and criticism and be the star of stars. He was a genuine PTPer. I will always be indebted for the way he allowed us at the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club to honor him to raise money. He was a wonderful man, and he will be missed.