Slinging Sammy Passes at 94
All-time great Sammy Baugh passed away Wednesday night at Fisher County Hospital in Rotan, TX. Baugh was 94, and had reportedly been battling multiple ailments in an assisted-living home.
Baugh should be in consideration for the greatest quarterback ever. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the modern-day NFL passing game. Baugh was a key cog in the machine that began transforming the National Football League from a regionalized sport known for the violence and brutality that purveyed the game in the thirties. Certainly, this distinction alone should add Baugh to the "Greatest Quarterback Ever" conversation.
"Slinging Sammy" Baugh, a nickname a Texas sports writer bestowed upon Sammy for his ability to throw the baseball, brings more to the table in this conversation than just the way he changed the game forever. From 1937 to 1952, the 6'3" Texan was the face of the Washington Redskins - and the un-doing of many unsuspecting opponents.
Many things were changing for the Washington Redskins in 1937. The owner, George Preston Marshall, moved the team from Boston to Washington before that season. In the midst of all of the turmoil associated with moving the franchise, the team's first round pick decided that baseball was the way to go, and Sammy Baugh chose the St. Louis Cardinals. It did not take Sammy long, however, to figure out that his inability to hit a curve ball and the prospect of being stuck behind Marty Marion in the organization was a sign that Baugh should be playing football. After signing a $5000 contract with a whopping $500 signing bonus, Baugh wasted no time making a name for himself in the nation's capital.
As a tailback in the single-wing and double-wing formations, Baugh was responsible for passing and punting, while wingback Riley Smith handled the play calling duties. Baugh easily made the transition to the NFL as a tailback, having spent 1934-1936 leading the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs to prominence in the college ranks from the same position. In his first season with the Redskins, Baugh not only led the league in passing, but also lead the franchise to its first NFL championship, victimizing the Chicago Bears defense for 335 yards and three touchdown passes, en route to a 28-21 victory. Baugh set the tone early - on the first play from scrimmage as a matter of fact - when he dropped back into his own end zone and connected on a 42-yard strike to Cliff Battles.
In 1940, the Washington Redskins introduced the T-formation. In this new formation, the quarterback combined the play-calling responsibilities of the wingback, with the passing duties of the tailback. From this new position, Baugh was entrusted with full control of the offense, and Sammy took full advantage.
From 1940 to 1949, Sammy Baugh led the league in passing an astonishing five times. These five combined with his passing championship from his rookie campaign, brought his career total to six; a feat equaled only by Steve Young. In 162 games, Sammy Baugh went 1693 for 2995 (56.5%) for 21,886 yards and 187 touchdowns. At the time of Baugh's retirement, he held numerous records, some of which still stand to this day.
Baugh holds the highest yard-per-catch average for a single game, posting an 18.58 yards-per-catch average (446 yards on 24 completions) against the Boston Patriots on October 31 1948. In 1945, Baugh assembled the sixth best season ever by a quarterback, finishing with a 109.9-passer rating, including a phenomenal 73.3% completion percentage (a mark that went unchallenged until 1982). His five seasons with the lowest interception-per-pass attempt percentage is still the most among NFL quarterbacks.
Baugh brought the forward pass from its reputation as a desperation play to a bonafide weapon during his 16 years of professional football. His accuracy was uncanny, as was illustrated in his first practice in 1937. As the story goes, Coach Ray Flaherty told the rookie tailback that passing in the NFL required accuracy. Coach Flaherty told Baugh to "hit that receiver in the eye." The TCU grad replied, "Which eye?"
This story was widely believed to be a myth; an urban legend created to accentuate the great passing skills that Baugh possessed. It turned out to be true, with Baugh himself confirming the validity of the story to Shirley Povich of the Washington Post in the 90's.
In addition to his stellar quarterback play, Slinging Sammy is to this day, one of the greatest punters to ever step on the field. His 51.4 yard average in 1940 is still the highest yards-per-punt average for a season in the history of the NFL - and by the way, the 48.73 yards-per-punt in 1941 is still good for third all-time. Baugh led the league in punting from 1940-1943, the most seasons any one punter has ever led the league, and his career 45.1-yard average is second all-time.
Aside from passing and punting, Baugh was also one of the greatest defensive backs of his day, still tied for the most interceptions in a single game with 4, albeit with 18 other players. In 1943, Baugh etched his name in stone with an accomplishment unheard of in today's specialized game of professional football: Baugh led the league in passing (133-239, 1754 yards and 23 touchdowns), punting (50 for 2,295 yards; a 45.9 yard average) and interceptions (11 for 112 yards).
Baugh also still holds six records in Washington Redskin lore, including most career touchdown passes (187), highest season punting average (51.4) and most interceptions in a game (4). His famous number 33 is the only number officially retired by the Redskins, and his name has become synonymous with excellence and success around Washington.
Sammy Baugh was one of the greatest football players ever. His passing marks the end of an era. He was the last living member of the 1963 charter class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Washington Redskins fans -- and all football fans, for that matter -- should take this day to remember the legend and all of his contributions to the game that we all love. Without his legacy, the game would not be what it is today.
This article was released on 2008-12-18.
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