A Feb. 4 Style article on former Redskin Sammy Baugh incorrectly stated that he held the record for the longest NFL punt. Steve O'Neal of the New York Jets holds that record, with a punt of 98 yards in 1969. The article also erred on the year "King of the Texas Rangers" was in theaters; it was 1941, not 1951.
A Redskin Forever Hailed
Saturday, February 4, 2006
In 1937, there was no Super Bowl. They played the game in leather helmets and, when the ground was too frozen for cleats, in rubber-soled basketball shoes. The forward pass, the graceful arcing spiral that defines the modern game, was almost as rare as a warm day in the Chicago winter.
It was a cold day that December in Chicago. But a 23-year-old rookie named Sammy Baugh was about to revolutionize the game of football, in the process becoming the most popular Redskin of his time, perhaps of all time.
The game was the NFL championship. With Baugh's help, the Redskins had made it there in their first season in Washington.
Minutes in, the Chicago Bears had the visitors from the District of Columbia precisely where they wanted them. With a stark wind off Lake Michigan knifing into Wrigley Field, the Redskins had the ball on their own five-yard line. On first down, they huddled in the end zone around Baugh, a tall, skinny kid who had performed miracles all year.
"Punt formation," Baugh told his teammates, "but we're gonna pass."
Years later, Baugh would tell a writer: "I sure got some weird looks on that one." Before Baugh, teams rarely passed, and certainly not from their own end zone.
On the snap the Bears' front line scratched, clawed and burrowed ahead to block the punt. The 6-foot-2 Baugh calmly flicked a pass to halfback Cliff Battles, who went for 42 yards. A few plays later the Redskins scored, on their way to a 28-21 victory and their first NFL championship.
The rookie quarterback was awesome, completing 17 of 34 passes for 352 yards, four yards more than the entire Chicago offense. He threw touchdowns of 35, 55 and 78 yards.
"Baugh was a one-man team," one of the Bears coaches told reporters. "He licked us by himself."
Fans came to expect such heroics from Slingin' Sammy Baugh. He led the team to five title games and two NFL championships in his 16 NFL seasons, all with the Redskins. Baugh led the league in passing six times, in punting four times and in interceptions once. His punting records still stand.
More than all that, he made the forward pass a strategic weapon, not a desperation heave. That change made pro quarterback into the glamour position later occupied by such luminaries as Bart Starr, John Elway and Dan Marino.
A sportswriter of the time described Baugh as "the brightest star of them all, the Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden and Bobby Jones of pro football."