Dunkirk-Fredonia Evening-Observer

Overshadowed By Peers In High School Graf Made His Mark In College And Pros

"He was quiet and unassuming, just a very polite, nice person," commented Al Stuhlmiller, Dunkirk High School Athletic Director, talking about Dave Graf.

Maybe that's why, leafing through 100 years of Evening-Observer sports history, his accomplishments don't jump out and hit you in the face.

But they're there. Accomplishments like six years in the National Football League (the only Dunkirk High gridder to ever play in the NFL). Graf was a final round draft choice who made the Cleveland Browns and had a year with the Washington Redskins because of a personal letter writing campaign.

Accomplishments like 34 consecutive starting assignments at Penn State, including three different bowl games.

Accomplishments like being a standout in three varsity sports at Dunkirk High during the Golden Years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was All-WNY in football.

Everywhere you look Dave Graf is overshadowed.

In track and field, Dave was an outstanding distance jumper, but when people think back to the teams he was on, they only remember Bob Bartlette's WNY sprinting accomplishment, 9.6 seconds, set in Dave's sophomore year.

He was an outstanding basketball player, but they recall only his junior year of 1969-70, a team that sandwiched 19 victories between a pair of losses, and included Steve Borowski (St. Lawrence, now playing in England), Fred Warmbrodt (now teaching in Ohio) and Steve Zielinski (now teaching in New York's North Country).

The football team, in his senior year, had a championship record of 7-1, but nearly half the team played college ball someplace, and the guy that got all the write-ups? That was Lonnie "Lemon Juice" Kinsey. "He was supposed to go to the U.S. Military Academy," recalls Stuhlmiller. "I don't know what happened."

Meanwhile Graf did go to Penn State where he was an honor student in accounting and started every varsity game at defensive tackle or end.

In his senior year, 10 PSU seniors were drafted into the pro ranks. Who was the last one taken in the 17th round by the Browns? You guessed it.

He had to crack a roster of 12 linebackers - a position he never played at Penn State, nicknamed "Linebacker U." He did and made the squad playing on special teams.

An unsung hero, Dave hung his hat in the Browns locker room for five seasons. After he was cut in 1980, he wrote to every other team in the league for a tryout and finally earned a chance with the Redskins, playing one more season and six more games. But he never started in the NFL.

Through it all, his staunchest supporters - the people who had seen the entire Dave Graf story - were his parents, David and Arlene Graf of Washington Avenue, Dunkirk.

"My wife and I saw every game, including the freshman games," recalls David Graf, Sr., now a custodian at Dunkirk High, talking about his son's college days.

They never missed a Browns home game and attended ¾ of the road games. "We always seemed to find a pretty good deal," recalls the elder Graf, discussing travel arrangements that took them across the country.

Even Cleveland Browns press guides noted, "Biggest booster is his dad, who sees just about all Browns games, at home or on the road."

They saw the full story unfold of one of the top athletes in the 100 years of Evening-Observer sports history.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.