Having long-since made his decision to retire from the game he so thoroughly dominated, Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham found himself lured to a crossroad when his “former” suitors struggled mightily throughout the 1955 training camp as they prepared to defend their NFL title. Summoned back to the Cleveland Browns with limited time in which to prepare for a 10th and final professional season, Graham complied and led the club to an unprecedented 10th successive championship game appearance and seventh title. Agreeing to terms in that eleventh-hour transaction, Graham signed this National Football League Standard Players Contract. An incredibly appealing relic as the document that secured Graham’s services for one last glorious campaign, this contract is also endorsed by Hall of Fame Commissioner Bert Bell (d.1959) and iconic owner Paul Brown (d.1991).
Drawn up in the realization that the team did not have an able successor to Graham, the standard form is a crisp survivor measuring 8 x 19-5/8”. Legal details are printed in 14 sections. Typewritten and handwritten specifics include the parties, date and Graham’s $25,000 annual stipend. At the conclusion, one is fair awestruck beholding the black-ink endorsements of Otto Graham (“10” strength), Paul Brown (“9” strength) and Bert Bell (“9” strength). Additionally, in Bell’s hand, the binding agreement is dated “9/12/55.” Long-time Cleveland Browns Business Manager Russ Gestner (d.1968) has signed twice (blue ink, both “9” strength) and inscribed “9/9/55.” Of monumental importance, this document is (appropriately) incredibly preserved. Normal compacting folds do not affect the prized scriptings.
As for the ’55 season, Graham did show the ill effects of limited preparation, dropping the season opener, 27-17 to Washington. But Graham quickly regained his form, led the club to a 9-2-1 mark and a seventh title in 10 years. In retrospect, the offered contract was wisely composed as it secured the services of Graham, who to this day holds the records for highest career winning percentage (.814, 114-20-4) and most yards (9) per passing attempt. Full photo LOA from JSA; COA/sticker from SGC.