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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns lost Harry Agganis to Red Sox in 1952

The Runner 1951 AGGANIS, HARRYThe Cleveland Browns hold two first-round draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.

While many expect the Browns to use one of those picks on a quarterback, history shows that drafting a quarterback – especially one in the first round – has been an exercise in futility for the Browns.

Since joining the NFL in 1950, the Browns have drafted six quarterbacks in the first round and none of them have worked out.

Today, in the first part of our series on those ill-fated six quarterbacks, we take a look at Harry Agganis, a first-round selection in 1952.

The Cleveland Browns finished the 1951 NFL season with a record of 11-1 and made their second consecutive appearance in the NFL Championship Game.

But a strange thing happen on the day of the title game – the Browns loss to the Los Angeles Rams, 24-17. It was the first time the Browns had lost a championship game in franchise history, breaking a streak of five consecutive titles that had begun in the All-American Football Conference in 1946.

Quarterback Otto Graham had a solid year in 1951, passing for 2,205 yards and 17 touchdowns, while being intercepted 16 times. Maybe not great numbers, but an improvement across the board from his 1950 season. And Graham was only 30; perhaps not exactly young, but certainly not ancient, either.

In any event, following the season Browns head coach Paul Brown decided it was a good time to start looking for the team’s next quarterback. That quest ultimately led Brown to Boston University and Harry Agganis, known as “The Golden Greek.”

Agganis was a heavily recruited player after being a three-sport star at Lynn (Mass.) Classical High School, with 75 colleges vying for his services. Wanting to stay close to his widowed mother, Agganis eventually decided to attend Boston University.

At BU, Agganis was a star on both the football and baseball teams during his first two years. During his sophomore season, Agganis set a school record with 15 touchdown passes, led the nation in punting and was a second team All-American selection at quarterback.

Following that season, Agganis was activated for the Korean War, spending 15 months with the Marine Corps at Camp LeJuene, N.C., from 1950-51.

When the NFL Draft was held on Jan. 17, 1952, the Browns were in possession of two first-round picks – their own at No. 12 and the No. 10 pick, acquired from Detroit in a trade. With their first pick the Browns selected Bert Rechichar out of Tennessee. (Rechichar would spend just one season with the Browns. The player selected right after him? Hall-of-Famer Frank Gifford by the Giants.)

Brown, perhaps seeing an opportunity to repeat his success from the 1940s when he signed several players while they were still in military service during World War II, used his second first-round draft pick to select Agganis.

While the Browns were offering a $25,000 signing bonus, Agganis was also drawing interest from the Boston Red Sox, who wanted the local icon to play first base for his hometown team. Agganis’ love of Boston led him to turn down the Browns and sign with the Red Sox instead.

In the fall of 1952, Agganis returned to Boston University to play his final season. He finished his college career with 15 school records and was the university’s first two-time selection as athlete of the year. He was inducted into Boston University’s Hall of Fame and had his number retired immediately after he graduated.

After spending a year in the minors, Agganis made the Red Sox for the 1954 season. He batted .251 in 434 at bats as a rookie, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 57 runs. His second season saw him improve his batting average to .313 as the cleanup hitter in the Red Sox lineup.

But in May of that year, he was hospitalized with viral pneumonia and spent almost two weeks in the hospital. He was able to rejoin the Red Sox while the team was on a road trip, but he fell ill once again and returned to Boston. On June 27, 1955, he died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 25.

Agganis’ legacy continues today as the athletic stadium at Camp LeJeune, a public square in his hometown of Lynn, a street on Boston University’s Charles River campus and a scholarship are all named in his honor. The school also holds events in the on-campus Agganis Arena.

The Agganis Foundation was founded in 1955 to provide college scholarships to deserving student-athletes.

As for the Browns, they rebounded from the disappointment of missing out on Agganis by returning to the NFL Championship Game five times over the next six seasons – winning twice. Graham would be the quarterback of four of those teams, finally retiring after the 1955 season having played in 10 championship games in his 10-year career, winning seven of them.

And while the Browns were set for a few more years with Graham, the quest for the next franchise quarterback was just getting started.

Next time: The First No. 1: Bobby Garrett

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5 thoughts on “Browns lost Harry Agganis to Red Sox in 1952

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