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The First of the Gunslingers
"Let's see it. Hit that receiver in the eye," said Flaherty, pointing to a man running down the field.
"Which eye?" said Baugh.
He led the Redskins to a second NFL championship with a 14-6 victory over the Chicago Bears in 1942, coming from behind after the Bears scored first on a 50-yard runback of a Redskins fumble. In that contest, Baugh stunned the Bears with an 85-yard quick kick on a third-down play, tossed a 38-yard touchdown pass to halfback Wilbur Moore and orchestrated an 80-yard drive for the final score that ended when Andy Farkas ran the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
That game was sweet revenge for a 73-0 humiliation of the Redskins by the Bears in the 1940 NFL championship game. Playing at Griffith Stadium, 10 Bears players scored a total of 11 touchdowns. The Redskins, who had defeated the Bears, 7-3, on the same field three weeks earlier, botched a scoring opportunity early in the title game when the usually reliable receiver Charlie Malone dropped a Baugh pass on the goal line. At the time, the Bears had scored only seven points, and the outcome of the game was still in doubt.
Someone later asked Baugh if the result would have been different had Malone not dropped the pass.
"Sure," Baugh said. "The final score would have been 73-6."
Like any world-class athlete, Baugh hated losing, and his image on the field of play was that of a tough-hided, no-nonsense competitor. But in the huddle he could also be compassionate and forgiving of a missed block or a dropped pass, and he won the support and loyalty of erring teammates with simple admonitions such as, "Get it next time."
On the practice field, he was not so forgiving of his own performance. He liked to complete 100 consecutive passes before leaving for the day, and if he missed one, he'd often start all over again. "He could throw a pass standing on his head," Marshall once observed.
Samuel Adrian Baugh was born March 17, 1914, in Temple, Tex., and moved to Sweetwater in high school. He played on his eighth-grade elementary school football team and four years of high school football, but his main sport was baseball, and he was recruited to play third base at TCU. He did, but he also joined the football team, and he was an all-American as TCU won the 1935 national championship. In 1935, he also was the star of the College All-Star Game, which was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, throwing a touchdown pass to beat the Green Bay Packers, 6-0.
He played minor league baseball briefly in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization as a shortstop, but he had difficulty hitting a curveball and was playing behind future major leaguer Marty Marion. Football seemed a better option. Two days after his 23rd birthday, he signed with the Redskins.
In Washington, his greatest success came during his early years. In 1948, when the Redskins had a 7-5 record, Baugh had his last winning season. He took the team to its fourth Eastern Division title in 1945, the last one of his career. That year's NFL championship game was played in Cleveland, where the Rams were playing their final year before moving to Los Angeles. At the kickoff, the temperature on the field had dropped to zero and there were gale-force winds. Cleveland won, 15-14, in part because of a Baugh pass from the Redskins end zone that hit the goal post and was scored a safety for the Rams. Under NFL rules of that era, the goal posts were on the goal line, and hitting the goal posts with an offensive forward pass meant two points for the opposing team.
During his final year with the Redskins, Baugh injured his hand in the fourth game of the season, and he was unable to grip the football for a month. He saw only limited action thereafter. In December 1952, he retired with a minimum of fanfare after the Redskins' last game and drove home to Texas, where he operated a cattle ranch in the offseason.
"The Redskins will always be my team and Washington will always be my second home. I'll never forget these most wonderful 16 years of my life, and I'll never be able to thank the fans enough," he said.
For five years after leaving the Redskins, Baugh coached football at Hardin-Simmons College, now university, in Texas, compiling a record of 23-28. He also was a coach of freshman football at Oklahoma State University, a backfield coach at the University of Tulsa and head coach for two years of the New York Titans, later the New York Jets, of the fledgling American Football League.
He was head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1964 and had a record of 4-10. But the job interfered with his cattle operations in West Texas, and he left after one year to return to his 6,300-acre ranch near Rotan, where by then he had become the Texas cowboy that Marshall had envisioned back in 1937.
In 1938, Baugh married his college sweetheart, Edmonia Smith, in Sweetwater; she died in 1990.
A son, Bruce Baugh, died in 2006.
Survivors include four children, Tod Baugh of Billings, Mont., David Baugh of Rotan, Stephen Baugh of Midland, Tex., and Frances White of Lubbock, Tex.; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.