View Full Version : Sammy Baugh, NFL great, dies at age 94

12-18-2008, 06:20 AM
I saw in the Washington Post this a.m. that a member of the first class of the NFL Hall of Fame (the last of them), Sammy Baugh, died at age 94.

Here's the NY Times story, but I'd encourage you, if you have the time, to go the Washington Post's obit and read the extensive story there about this historical football figure.


Sammy Baugh, N.F.L. Great, Dies at 94

Sammy Baugh, the Washington Redskins quarterback who was one of football’s greatest passers and a pivotal figure in transforming the National Football League from a plodding affair into a high-scoring spectacle, died Wednesday in Rotan, Tex. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by the Weathersbee-Ray Funeral Home of Rotan.

In the fall of 1937, Baugh joined the Redskins, who were newly arrived in Washington from their former home in Boston. N.F.L. players of that era butted leather helmets in largely dull encounters, the single- and double-wing offenses almost always running the ball.

Baugh had displayed his passing prowess as an all-American at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. In his first season with the Redskins, Slingin’ Sammy, as he would be known, provided a preview of football’s modern era with his brilliant passing at tailback. He took Washington to the N.F.L. championship by throwing for three touchdowns in a 28-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in the title game on frozen turf at Wrigley Field.

Baugh played for 16 seasons with the Redskins, leading them to another N.F.L. championship — again over the Bears — in 1942, and five division titles. When he retired, he held all the major N.F.L. passing records. He was also a spectacular punter and an outstanding safety on defense.

In 1994, the N.F.L. named Baugh as one of four quarterbacks on its 75th-anniversary team. Baugh was among 17 inductees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1963, and he was the last survivor of that group.

A lean 6 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds, Baugh grew up in two Texas towns — Temple and Sweetwater — but the Redskins promoted him at first as a rough-hewn rustic, insisting he wear a Stetson and cowboy boots when he met the news media. Baugh obliged, and he was given to chomping on cigars, chewing tobacco and using salty language. But the foremost image he projected was that of a passing wizard, No. 33 thrilling the fans at Washington’s Griffith Stadium.

Baugh matched his finesse with toughness.

“One time there was a defensive lineman who was coming down on me with his fists closed,” he once told The San Antonio Express-News. “A couple of plays later, I found a play we could waste and I told our linemen to just let him come through.

“The guy got about five feet from me, and I hit him right in the forehead with the ball. He turned red and passed out. It scared the hell out of me.”

Samuel Adrian Baugh was born March 17, 1914, in Temple, but he completed high school in Sweetwater, where his father worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. Gaining renown for his passing, Baugh took Texas Christian to victories in the 1936 Sugar Bowl and the inaugural Cotton Bowl in 1937. He was also a strong-armed third baseman for T.C.U., prompting Flem Hall, sports editor of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, to call him Slingin’ Sammy, a takeoff on a radio performer named Singin’ Sam. Baugh later played in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system.

The Redskins’ owner, George Preston Marshall, picked Baugh in the first round of the 1936 N.F.L. draft, and Baugh soon became one of the biggest names in pro football history. He led the N.F.L. in average passing yards per game six times, and he threw 187 career touchdown passes and for 21,886 yards. He completed 70.33 percent of his passes in 1945, ranking second only to Ken Anderson’s 70.55 percent, with the 1982 Cincinnati Bengals.

When Baugh emerged as a pro star, football was gaining a niche in popular culture. As Michael Oriard wrote in “King Football,” many nonfootball films of the 1930s introduced the heroes “as football stars or former stars — football simply as shorthand to establish their masculine character.”

Baugh became a part of that trend in 1941 when he starred in Republic Pictures’ 12-episode serial “King of the Texas Rangers.” Playing a college football star named Tom King, who joins the rangers to avenge the death of his father, a ranger, at the hands of Nazi-like saboteurs with designs on the Texas oil fields, he pursued the villains on horseback, fought them with his fists and engaged in gun battles.

Although he had no acting experience, Baugh had been ranching in the off-season and knew his way around a saddle.

“Baugh is no threat to Olivier, but athletically he’s perfect for the role of the ever-charging lawman,” John Stanley wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle in 1992, recalling the Republic serial, Baugh’s only acting venture.

Baugh remained a presence in the football world after his playing days. He was head coach at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Tex., from 1955 to 1959, then coached the New York Titans, forerunners of the Jets, to 7-7 records in their first two seasons in the new American Football League. He coached the A.F.L.’s Houston Oilers to a 4-10 record in 1964 before retiring to his West Texas cattle ranch in Rotan.

For all of Baugh’s exploits, a tale from his rookie season endures. It is evidently apocryphal, but its telling reflects the awe in which Baugh was held for his uncanny passing skills and self-confidence.

Baugh was taking the field for his first practice session with the Redskins when his coach, Ray Flaherty, handed him the football.

“They tell me you’re quite a passer,” Flaherty is said to have remarked.

“I reckon I can throw a little,” Baugh replied.

“Show me,” Flaherty said. “Hit that receiver in the eye.

To which Baugh supposedly responded, “Which eye?”

12-19-2008, 06:41 PM
The Redskins got their name by being the Braves "sister" team. Baugh however was the first Washington redskin star, here's Boswell on him.


Baugh: The Texan Who Gave Birth to Redskins Fanaticism

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, December 18, 2008; 1:24 PM

Sammy Baugh, a man whose face is almost completely forgotten but whose legend is still vivid generations after he retired, is the single star that created the Redskins brand.

When 90,000 people gather in FedEx Field on Sunday to see Washington play the Eagles, please think of Baugh, who died yesterday at 94, as the founder, the inspiration and the symbol of everything that is burgundy-and-gold.

The five world championship games, and two world titles, in '37 and '42, to which he led the Redskins began the NFL epidemic in Washington. Baugh is the root, everything else is branch, or more recently perhaps, twig.

For the current Redskins, who think they get the most out of themselves, this is perhaps all they need to know about Slingin' Sammy and what was meant by the word "work" in the 1930s when he emerged: Baugh would not leave practice until he had completed 100 passes in a row. Now the Redskins nag "stars" to come to practice at all.

My father arrived in Washington in Baugh's rookie season and caught the Redskins fever. To me, he embodied the local mania, the way one star athlete and the teams he led can define the habits of a family for decades. My dad cared for no other sport, yet was a Redskins fan 57 seasons. I never heard him curse except when he hit his thumb with a hammer or a Redskins quarterback, some Jurgensen or Rypien, someone not named Baugh, threw an interception.

Whenever anybody tells me that Vince Lombardi's one-year arrival in 1969 or George Allen's one Super Bowl team or Joe Gibbs's dynasty gave birth to this city's Redskins fanaticism, I know better. The late Shirley Povich didn't have to tell me (though he did). It was Baugh. He brought not just victories but thrills and ignited Washington with a passion even the worst Redskins periods can barely diminish.

In my father's house, all Redskins quarterbacks had a place of respect, yet none were ever compared to Baugh -- this unseen but vividly imagined man who wore No. 33, averaged 49 yards a punt for years, passed more accurately than any human and once intercepted more than a pass-a-game for a full season.

To this day Baugh remains, even in Washington, that purest of legends, the player who exists only in the retelling of his deeds from parents to children. How many have even seen him in the flesh? Compared to Baugh, Joe DiMaggio was a publicity hound. Better, perhaps, that he retired quietly to his 7,600-acre ranch in Texas, to his five children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren, and almost never showed up back here in his "second home" to take bows.

Still, Baugh's enormous stature, as the last living member of the NFL's first Hall of Fame class, contrasts with his near invisibility in a celebrity age. Every decade or so, reporters would seek him out for an update-on-Sam story. They always found him a gentleman, a fellow with an anecdote punctuated by a single "hell" or "damn" and a delicious demonstration of restraint.

In my basement, I have 20 sports pictures. My friends recognize Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and the rest. But one face is a complete mystery to everyone. The black-and-white photo is of a football bench with four players in uniform intently watching the action. Behind them is a packed grandstand. Sitting on the bench among the players, dressed in a classy camel's hair coat, wearing a string tie and an elegant white cowboy hat, sits a man with a lean chiseled face and a big cigar in the center of his mouth.

"Who's that?" I ask. There's never even a guess. "He's the greatest football player of the first half of the 20th century," I hint. Silence. "He's the greatest Redskin ever."

Oh, Sammy Baugh! They all say instantly. Everybody still knows the man who did not invent but unleashed the potential of the forward pass, transforming the National Football League.

Yet few, at least these days, understand how completely Baugh modernized the NFL, turning the forward pass from an ugly oblong oddity into the soaring signature of the sport. What Babe Ruth's home runs did for baseball in the early 1920s, Baugh's bombs did for the NFL in the late '30s. Ruth was more Bunyanesque, more outside the parameters of previous imagination. But Baugh wasn't too far behind.

In 1936, the season before Baugh arrived, the average NFL team scored 11.9 points a game and completed 5.6 passes. The NFL completion percentage: 36.5. The entire sport threw only 67 scoring passes to 216 interceptions. A team passed out of third-down necessity or for trickery.

Then came Baugh.

Into this thudding world, where someone named Arnie Herber held such passing records as there were, the 6-foot-2 Texan, who could throw from all angles and drolly asked "which eye" he should hit his receivers in, was a revelation.

As a rookie, starting only five games, he broke the NFL completion record with 81. By 1940, he was accomplishing the inconceivable, completing 62.7 percent of his passes.

For accuracy, Baugh was two generations ahead of his time. His career completion percentage of 56.5, much of it done with a round-ended ball that Eli Manning might have trouble forcing into a spiral, is comparable to Sonny Jurgensen's career mark of 57.1. And it's better than individual seasons, within the last 10 years, of such Redskins starters as Trent Green, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell and, as a rookie, Jason Campbell.

Before Baugh came, only one man ever passed for 1,000 yards in a season. By 1947, Baugh completed 210 passes for 2,938 yards -- both then records by miles. If Ruth quadrupled the prevailing view of how many home runs were possible in a season, then Baugh tripled the notion of how much yardage a team could gain through the air. Just as important, others followed or imitated him, especially Sid Luckman in 1942 and Otto Graham in 1946.

The range of Baugh's skill is almost incomprehensible now. His career punting average was more than 45 yards, but from 1940 through 1942 it was almost 50 yards (49.5). Yes, they liked to quick kick then. But 50 yards is still 50 yards.

In 1940, he intercepted 11 passes in just 10 games. How good is that? No NFL player has intercepted 11 passes since 1981 and the last man to have more than an interception per game was Night Train Lane in 1952.

Those who saw Baugh in his prime have dwindled to a precious few. We must take the word, across time, of relatives and elders, as well as a few old newsreels where his passes look long, sweet and straight over the shoulder.

We may not know his face when we see it in a photo: ears and nose prominent, cheeks slightly sunken, deep lines in his face before 40 and a middle-distance gaze in his dark eyes as focused as any hawk.

But, as long as people know the Redskins, they will know Sammy Baugh. He's the Texan who branded them.