George Solomon: Nobody Could Sling It Quite Like Sammy
Coach Ray Flaherty himself used to like to tell the story of his first briefing of (Sammy) Baugh when he was attempting to indoctrinate the slim Texan into the more rugged tactics of pro football. "And these receivers in the pro league expect their passers to be good," he told Sammy. "None of those wild heaves you see the college boys throw. When they go down field, our eligible pass receivers want that ball where they can catch it. They like to be hit right in the eye, understand?"
To which Baugh, after hearing Flaherty out, was supposed to have replied, "Which eye, coach?"
-- Shirley Povich, Dec. 10, 1952
The late Shirley Povich wrote those words in The Washington Post about Baugh the weekend Baugh retired from the Washington Redskins. He had a Hall of Fame career that spanned 16 NFL seasons and included two NFL championships, a multitude of passing records and the reputation as a great punter and defender.
Baugh, who died Wednesday in Rotan, Tex., at age 94, was among the greatest Redskins of them all. Maybe the greatest.
He was a member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 with Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, Curly Lambeau, Don Hutson, George Halas, Ernie Nevers and Mel Hein. As much as any player, Baugh brought professional football to the attention of an American sporting public that was far more interested in baseball, college football, boxing and horse racing.
Baugh was first hyped to Washingtonians in 1937 by the team's flamboyant owner, George Preston Marshall, as a pass-happy cowboy right out of TCU new to town and the NFL. But as Povich wrote, "Baugh was a citifed Texan who didn't know which side of a horse to mount."
No matter, the fans loved the Stetson-wearing Baugh, with his ill-fitting cowboy boots who, according to Povich, "limped into the Occidental Hotel (I mention this establishment in hopes of getting into its bar on Inauguration Day) for his welcome-to-Washington luncheon." But with Marshall "paying" Baugh's airfare to D.C. and "giving him a $500 bonus" for signing, Baugh told Povich: "Ah guess Ah gotta dress to suit him, not me."
On the field, though, Baugh was all business -- playing offense, defense and punting to lead the Redskins to their first NFL title in their (1937) inaugural season in Washington. That success begot four additional championship games, including another title in 1942, and set the tone for the Redskins to dominate the local sports scene for only the next seven decades despite 20 mostly forgettable years (1950s-1960s) followed by the George Allen resurrection (1971-77) and the Glory Years (1981-1992) of Joe Gibbs I, Riggo and George Michael.
If you're not out of breath, that brings us to today's Pre-Hanukkah-Christmas matchup involving the slumping locals against the surging Iggles at FedEx Field in Year X of Snyderworld.