Otto Graham is exulting at the renaissance of his Cleveland Browns, needling their owner ever so subtly, thankful that the Redskins' problems are not his, and finally seeing the coaching philosophy he espoused being justified with inflated scoring in the National Football League.
"I sent a note to Art Modell after they (Cleveland) beat the New York Jets," Graham said recently. "I told him, 'You are doing a good job; you are letting the coach do the coaching. Sam Rutigliano is doing a good job. Brian Sipe is going to replace me in the minds of Cleveland fans, but don't let it happen too soon.'"
Capt. Graham, athletic director at the U.S. Coach Guard Academy, remains as the "winningest" quarterback of all time and the frankest of fellows. Asked if his old team will make it to the Super Bowl, he said, "You mean the 'Siper Bowl;' that's what they are calling it in Cleveland. I have no idea of whether the Browns are going to make it, but I'm rooting for them.
"To me, Rutigliano is a fine coach, not so much because of his techniques . . . the Xs and Os, but because of his personality; the kids (Graham was 59 on Saturday) believe in him. He does not get overly excited. Neither did I, most of the time. He coaches the way I did."
Graham recalled, "When I first arrived in Washington to coach the Redskins I was ridiculed when I said I would rather lose some games by, say, 38-35, than win by, say, 3-0.
"I think pro football now has taken an attitude like my philosophy -- that people come to see long plays . . . excitement. The rules have been changed to encourage more offense, passing, scoring . . . excitement. Football should be fun for the players and the fans."
Rutigliano has violated one of the oldest tenets of coaching by saying, "We establish our passing game so we can run the ball," instead of the other way around. Going into Sunday's game against the Jets the Browns were No. 2 in the American Football Conference in passing, but last in rushing.
Sipe is leading the league with a 61.4 pass completion percentage and the Browns are leading the Central Division with a 10-4 record, one game ahead of the Houston Oilers and two games ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, defending Super Bowl champions.
Graham said about Sipe, a 13th-round draft choice in 1972 who spent two years on the taxi squad, "He can throw well, he has all the confidence in the world, he gets good protection and he has good receivers; he has all the parts."
When Graham was voted the Browns' all-time quarterback, he said, "If the fans vote again five years from now, I think Sipe will be the quarterback, not me, the way he is playing."
Rutigliano, voted AFC coach of the year in 1979 by United Press International, says, "He might be the best ever at standing in there and concentrating in the face of a pass rush. The only guy I ever saw who came close was Joe Namath." Rutigliano was defensive backfield coach for the Jets in 1974.
Sipe accounts for that by saying, "I get rid of the ball and go limp."
He also has four pass catchers among the leaders in the AFC -- running back Mike Pruitt, wide receivers Dave Logan and Reggie Rucker, and tight end Ozzie Newsome.
The Browns' rushing game has been handicapped by injuries, particularly to halfback Greg Pruitt. There are three onetime 1,000-yard club members on the squad, Calvin Hill -- 1,036 in 1972 and 1,142 in 1973 with Dallas -- fullback Mike Pruitt -- 1,294 in 1979 -- and Greg Pruitt -- 1,067 in 1975, 1,000 in 1976, and 1,086 in 1977.
Hill may be over the hill at age 33, but in 1979 he was invaluable as a receiver on obvious passing plays, gaining 381 yards with 38 receptions.
The quarterback until now has been pretty much "What's his name?" Playoff participation would end his identity crisis.
The Dallas Cowboys became known as "America's team." The Browns have been adopted ad "Brooklyn's team." Rutigliano, outspoken defensive end Lyle Alzado, owner Modell, executive vice president Peter Hadhazy, and receivers coach Rich Kotite are from that New York borough, and running backs coach Jim Garret is from across the Hudson River in Rutherford, N.J.
Graham is a charter member of the organization who led them to 10 championships. He now has nine grandchildren, three of them by foster children he and wife Beverly raised. He has been battling cancer and is encouraged.
"I had my last examination three months ago and I was O.K.," he said.