More persistent criticism of Brown has come from those who say that he has become stagnant and the mainstream of pro football strategy has passed him by. Most of this talk has centered around Brown's use of Graham, who was the quarterback for the Browns during the summer of their glory. At Northwestern, before he came to the Browns, Graham had been an inventive signal-caller. For the first two or three years he played under Brown he called a few plays himself. Then Brown, who had analyzed the situation with his customary thoroughness, decided to send in his own plays. This was the beginning of the messenger system developed by Brown, who shuttled in a new guard before every offensive play.
"Brown," Graham said recently, "maintains that a quarterback gets stereotyped in his calls. And that's right. You don't even realize it. Why, when San Francisco had the ball down on our 20, we used to feel certain that Frankie Albert would call the bootleg run-or-pass option, and he usually did."
"Brown's reasoning was sound," Graham feels. "But he failed to realize that he himself could become stereotyped."
Although he disagreed with Brown, Graham did not contravene the calls. Graham now coaches at the Coast Guard Academy and himself sends in many plays to the quarterback. But he tries to do so without undermining the boy's position as a leader. "As to Paul Brown, or any other coach, calling plays," he says, "any quarterback appreciates all the help he can get, from the bench or from the men on the field. But I have always felt that a coach should not call each and every play, especially when he has an experienced quarterback."
Most bothersome to Graham was the fact that he was not permitted to call audibles. "In my years with the Browns," he says, "Brown could never be convinced that audibles were a good thing. So we never really used them."
Consequently, many of the plays sent in by Brown were run against defenses stacked to stop them. Graham admits, however, that the plays rarely lost yardage or were stopped for no gain. The well-oiled, carefully machined Brown offense made sure of that. "We were so well schooled that the plays usually didn't lose yards," says Graham.
But in recent years they didn't always gain much either. An ex-Brown, now on another team, who once played in the offensive line for the Browns, said, "Our quarterback could change a running play one hole to either direction. If you were going inside tackle, you could go outside. Of course, this was only on running plays. There were never any changes on passes. When we were playing the Giants we used to get a play from the messenger guard in the huddle, come out to the line of scrimmage and Andy Robustelli would tell me what the play was. I had a hell of a time blocking Andy when he didn't know the play. What chance did I have when he did?"
Aside from the audibles, Graham, along with many others, thinks that Brown's offense of the last few years could be easily read. "Quite frankly," he says, "this is not just my opinion. You hear others comment on it. And we've all heard those stories about fans sitting in the stands and calling all the plays in advance." (More important, for several years now the Giant defense has seemed to know before the next Brown guard rushed on the field what play he would be carrying.)
For all his criticism, Graham does not consider that Brown has fallen behind the course of football. "Actually, when I played, other teams were always making changes to keep up with us. We were the first to use the sideline pass as much as we did. (It was this play that beat Los Angeles in 1950.) When other coaches caught up with Brown, he would change. You're just stupid in pro football if you don't, and Brown is anything but stupid. That stuff about his being behind the times is just 'paper talk.' I don't think the other teams have passed him."
Graham may be closer to the truth than even he realizes. Brown, in his lean years, has not answered his critics or defended himself, but his team has had problems that no amount of strategy could overcome. Only with new players could he hope to better his won-and-lost record of the past five years which, after all, has been bad only by Brown's own high standards. Only the Giants have won more often.