Baugh, Samuel Adrian ("Sammy")

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BAUGH, Samuel Adrian ("Sammy")

(b. 17 March 1914 in Temple, Texas), football player generally credited with popularizing the forward pass in pro football who led the Washington Redskins to the National Football League (NFL) championship as a rookie in 1937 and only added to this reputation for the next fifteen seasons.

Baugh was born to James Baugh and Katherine Baugh, who were farmers. Baugh's father gave up farming and moved the family to Sweetwater, Texas, where the elder Baugh became a checker for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad that ran through the town. Like many Texas youngsters before and since, Baugh began playing football early, in fourth grade to be precise. Because he was tall and lanky, eventually reaching six feet, two inches and weighing 180 pounds, he began his career as an end. By the time Baugh got to Sweetwater High School, he played in the backfield as an end. Before long the coach noticed that Baugh could throw better than those who threw to him.

Baugh was a fine all-around athlete in high school and was an outstanding pro baseball prospect. In football he led Sweetwater to the quarterfinals and semifinals in the Texas state high school playoffs as a junior and as a senior (he graduated in 1933). Baugh developed his uncanny passing skills by spending long hours throwing a football through an old tire, swinging pendulum-like, suspended by a rope from a tree branch in his backyard. He enrolled at the University of Texas but could not find a job in Austin to finance his tuition. The Texas baseball coach "Uncle Billy" Disch, who did not think the lanky Baugh was sturdy enough to play Southwest Conference (SWC) football, lent him money to enroll at the rival Texas Christian University (TCU). Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition at that time, so not until his sophomore season did the rest of the Southwest Conference notice Baugh.

Baugh was good in 1934 with nearly a thousand yards of total offense (997), but his next two seasons were exponentially better. He was an All-American in 1935 and consensus All-American in 1936. Baugh and his TCU Horned Frogs, coached by Leo R. "Dutch" Meyer, are credited with promoting the SWC as an "aerial circus," throwing the ball close to twenty times a game when the rest of the country was plodding and plunging into the middle of the line. While leading TCU to bowl games after his junior and senior seasons, Baugh also took part in some memorable games. The 1935 loss to the nearby rival Southern Methodist University (SMU) is considered a college classic. Although the SMU Mustangs won 20–14, Baugh's passes were eating up chunks of yardage deep in SMU territory when the game ended. That game drew a huge crowd of 42,000 fans and was the focus of the national press. Another storied game was the 1936 Sugar Bowl, a 3–2 victory over Louisiana State University (LSU). The field and the ball were wet, which limited Baugh's passing, but his punting (44.6-yard average) and defensive work (many key tackles and 2 interceptions) allowed TCU to stay in the game and win on a late field goal. At the end of his senior season Baugh led the Horned Frogs to a Cotton Bowl victory (16–6) over Marquette University. When Baugh left Fort Worth, his marks for most passes (587), most completions (270), most touchdown passes (39), and most passing yards (3,384) set SWC records.

When the NFL owners met after the 1936 season to draft for the next year, the Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was in the process of moving his franchise from Boston to Washington, D.C. Even though his team won the NFL Eastern Division in 1936, Marshall felt the city of Boston and its fans did not appreciate him or his team. He felt insulted when the Boston newspapers crowded his Red-skins off the sports pages to write up a girls' high school field hockey game. Marshall, ever the promoter, thought that, if he drafted a player from Texas to lead his new-kid-in-town Redskins, the player should look like a Texan or at least like the easterner's perception of a Texan. Marshall told Baugh that when he arrived in Washington he should be wearing a ten-gallon hat and high-heeled boots. Baugh replied that not only did he not own that gear, he had never worn such garb. Marshall said, "Well, buy some and send me the bill." Baugh did as he was told, and surviving photos prove his dutiful acceptance of Marshall's request. Less than thrilled about the photo op, he said, "Those damn pointy-toed boots cramped my feet."

Before playing for the Redskins, Baugh was voted to the College All-Star team that played the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers in the Chicago Tribune Charities Game on 1 September 1937. Baugh entered the game on the second play and promptly threw a forty-seven-yard scoring pass to Gaynell Tinsley of LSU. It was the game's only score, and the collegians shocked the pro champs 6–0. Baugh had also played a summer of minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals' system. A confident Baugh reported to the Redskins training camp and showed his confidence to Coach Ray Flaherty. Explaining a pass pattern, the coach said, "And I want you to hit him in the eye with the ball. OK?" Baugh replied, "Which eye?"

In his first official pro game, Baugh was sensational against the New York Giants, completing 11 of 16 passes in a 13–3 victory. Later he clinched a spot in the NFL title game for his team by going 11 for 15 in a 49–14 rout of the Giants at New York City's Polo Grounds. In the championship game Baugh propelled the Redskins to a 28–21 triumph over the Chicago Bears on the frozen turf of Wrigley Field. He threw 3 touchdown passes, 2 to Wayne Millner (55 and 78 yards) and 1 to Ed Justice (35 yards). Baugh opened the game by throwing from his end zone, which was nearly unheard of at the time, for a 42-yard gain. His record 354 yards passing (18 of 36 passes) was astounding considering the weather conditions in the Windy City. For his year-long stellar performance Baugh was named to the official All-League team. On 12 April 1938 Baugh married Edmonia Gary Smith, who also attended TCU. They had two sons, Todd and Davey, both named after Baugh's teammates—Dick Todd of the Redskins and Davey O'Brien of TCU.

For the next eight years Baugh directed the Redskins to winning records, usually a first-or second-place finish. He appeared in four more championship games, winning again in 1942. Baugh almost had another NFL title to his credit in 1945, playing on frozen turf in Cleveland, when a pass from his end zone struck a goal post. Under the rules of the day it was a safety and two points for Cleveland, giving Cleveland the championship game at 15–14.

Baugh is most often called a quarterback, but in truth his sixteen-year career was split evenly as a single-wing tailback and as a T-formation quarterback. The tall, lean Texan was an extremely versatile performer. He was the acknowledged pass master of his time or any other time according to many observers. One historian said, "Baugh was to passing what Babe Ruth was to home run hitting." He could also run, kick (especially quick kick), block, tackle, and defend against opponents' passes.

A half-century after he retired he was still the NFL's all-time career punt leader, averaging 45.10 yards per punt over 16 seasons. In 1940 he averaged 51.40 yards per kick. He set a record for leading the league four times in punting average and four years consecutively. Only Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers equaled Baugh at becoming the league's leading passer six times. Only Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins led the league more often in pass completions, six to Baugh's five. Only the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson bettered Baugh for the most years leading in pass completion percentage, eight to Baugh's seven. Only Ken Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals bettered Baugh for a season's pass completion percentage, 70.55 percent to Baugh's 70.33 percent (128 of 182 in 1945).

Slingin' Sammy was also part of an unprecedented rout in NFL championship game history when the machinelike Bears soundly thrashed the Redskins 73–0 in 1940. Baugh showed a realistic sense of humor after the lopsided loss. When the game was still scoreless, the usually reliable Charley Malone dropped a sure touchdown pass from Baugh. After the game a sportswriter asked Baugh if he thought the final score would have been different if Malone had made the catch. "Yeah," replied Baugh, "seventy-three to six."

Baugh was truly "Mr. Redskin" and, many thought, "Mr. NFL." For most of his sixteen-year career he was the NFL's brightest star. He was also the highest-paid player of his time. His teammates did not mind, though; they knew he was their meal ticket. Baugh, who used his salary to buy a large ranch near Rotan, Texas, showed his wit again when he said, "Half my salary goes to taxes and half goes to Texas." Perhaps the best way to illustrate Baugh's versatility is to cite his 1945 performance. Baugh led the NFL in passing, interceptions, and punting, representing all three phases of the game—offense, defense, and special teams. When Baugh left the Redskins after the 1952 season, much like when he left TCU, he held a host of passing records.

Baugh coached on the college and pro levels after retiring but spent most of his time at his ranch. His weathered face and salty-but-not-offensive language is on various NFL films and videos. He is a charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

When Dick McCann, the Redskins' general manager for much of Baugh's tenure, was asked to prepare a profile of Baugh for an anthology of quarterbacks, he began: "Pay no attention to anything else you'll read in this book. Slingin' Sammy Baugh was the best. Never mind what other fellows have written about other quarterbacks. Sam Baugh, by any test, in any tense, was the best, is the best, and will still be the best, long after the last pass has been thrown by some yet unborn boy in some distant decade." Baugh's teammate and fellow Texan Hugh "Bones" Taylor, perhaps with less of a literary flair, echoed McCann, saying, "There are passers, and there are throwers, and then there's Sammy Baugh." It has been said Baugh's impact on the pro game is felt every time a quarterback throws downfield, and few who saw him play would argue.

There is no biography of Baugh, but his life and career are discussed in Arthur Daley, Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963); Don Smith, The Quarterbacks (1963); George Sullivan, Pro Football's All-Time Greats (1968); Myron Cope, The Game That Was (1970); and George Allen with Ben Olan, Pro Football's 100 Greatest Players (1982).

Jim Campbell