By George Solomon
Sunday, December 21, 2008
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.
In the spirit of the holiday, we'll not dwell on the 7-7 Redskins losing five of their last six games and their coach, the likable Jim Zorn, providing the owner and His Cousin Vinny a "free drop" with that foolish "mea culpa" last Monday. (Note to Zorn: The first rule of NFL coaching longevity is never take the blame, unless you own multiple NASCAR teams.)Holiday Greetings
So, Merry Christmas to Jason Campbell, Santana ("What's the big deal"?) Moss, The Three Amigo Draftees, Clinton Portis, Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen, Jason Taylor, Shawn Springs, Fred Smoot, Carlos ("What did I do?") Rogers and London Fletcher, who would have received my vote for the Pro Bowl, if I voted.
Of course, salutations to my favorite NFL broadcasters Sonny and Sam, with nods to Bubba Tyer, Jimmy Farris, Buges, Don Breaux, Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor, Art Monk and Darrell Green. And guys in My Football Hall: Ray Schoenke, Larry Brown, Pat Fischer, Brig Owens, Joe Theismann, Joe Jacoby, Billy Kilmer, Dexter, Ron McDole, Calvin Hill, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Art Modell, Pepper Rodgers, Paul Tagliabue and Joe Browne.
Holiday greetings to basketball people begin with Abe Pollin, who at 85 fights the disease corticobasal degeneration with courage while his Wizards attempt to overcome their worst start in decades. Ed Tapscott tries to find answers that eluded Eddie Jordan while Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood heal in hopes of helping Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler before May. Ernie Grunfeld can't be happy, but at least four consecutive playoff appearances entitle you to have a bad year.
Where can I watch those Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes tapes? At Grevey's? Should we suit up Gheorghe Muresan before dusting off those Susan O'Malley ads hyping visiting NBA stars?
At least Coach John Thompson III and his Georgetown Hoyas make a compelling reason to watch hoops at Verizon Center while Maryland's Gary Williams and Brenda Frese have difficult roads to travel in the tough ACC. GW's Karl Hobbs and American's Jeff Jones field competitive teams and Jim Larranaga always puts a good team on the floor at George Mason. Maryland and Navy footballers go bowling and that's good, I guess. But they should have met in the EagleBank Bowl.
What can you say about the Capitals? In one year, under Coach Bruce Boudreau, the Caps have gone from cellar-dwellers to the top of the NHL's Southeast Division, led by Alex Ovechkin, the most exciting player in hockey. The Caps, put together by GM George McPhee under the watchful eye of owner Ted Leonsis, are playing to sellout, excited home crowds. What a turnaround.
The Nationals' management knows it must put a better team on the field in 2009, which is why a serious offer was made to superstar free agent Mark Teixeira. Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzmán and Lastings Milledge make nights interesting at Nationals Park. But the team can't lose 102 games again.
D.C. United needs a new stadium and a "side" equal to Sasho Cirovski and Graham Zusi's NCAA champion Maryland Terrapins.
Never miss Christmas greetings for Good Counsel's Bob Milloy and his rival Bill McGregor at DeMatha, or Anacostia's Willie Stewart and Sherwood's Al Thomas. And, of course, retired Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten (DeMatha) and his son Joe of O'Connell.
And paralympian Josh George, Cecilia Rodriguez filling the coffee mug, Veronica in the health club, soccer guru Demitris Spanou, tennis folks Paulene Betz Addie, Charlie Brotman, Donald Dell and Mark Ein; Donna Wilkinson of the D.C. Divas, Bob Ferry, Maryland's NCAA field hockey champs, Hershey defenseman Bryan Helmer, boxers Jimmy Lange and Gary Russell Jr.
Or the weekly lunch crowd that still meets in memory of Red Auerbach and Hymie Perlo: Chris "I am Sunday mornings" Wallace, Arnold Heft, Reid Collins, Stanley Copeland, Rob Ades, Jack Kvancz, Aubrey Jones, Murray Leiberman, Bob Campbell, Geoff Kaplan and Feinstein.
A final column next Sunday, if you want to bid farewell to firstname.lastname@example.org. No weeping; it's not like Shirley Povich or Red Smith is giving up this space.