Jurgensen Conducted Legendary Interview With Baugh

Legendary Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh, 94, died Wednesday night. He was the last surviving member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's inaugural class.
By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 23, 2008; 4:34 PM

Sonny Jurgensen had just signed up to join the news team at Channel 4 in 1994 when sports director George Michael asked him if there was anyone he'd always wanted to sit down with and interview on camera.

"Yes there is," Jurgensen said immediately. "Sammy Baugh."

"Well then go to it," Michael answered.

Not long thereafter, Jurgensen and former Channel 4 sports producer Joel Schreiber were on an airplane heading toward Baugh's sprawling West Texas ranch, landing in Dallas, hopping on another puddle jumper, then driving two more hours to tiny Rotan before arriving on the doorstep of the greatest player in Washington Redskins history.

Jurgensen, arguably the second all-time greatest player in team history, was not exactly certain what to expect. He wondered how much Baugh, then 80, would remember about his days in Washington when he was the face of the franchise from his much ballyhooed arrival in 1937 to his final season in 1952.

He did not have to wonder for long.

"It was the neatest trip in the world, one of the best things I've ever done," Jurgensen recalled earlier this week, adding that he had been "deeply saddened" when he learned that Baugh had died last week at the age of 94.

"He looked like this crusty old guy, but then you started talking and it was so enjoyable," Jurgensen said. "Not only could he talk about football in the 1930s and '40s, but he was still such a huge fan of the game. He would also talk about the modern game. He would go on about Michael Irvin (the Hall of Fame receiver then playing for the Dallas Cowboys) and how he was always pushing off to get open."

Over the course of three hours, Jurgensen said he was mesmerized sitting there with this living legend, but also just a tad concerned about how much of the tape he actually might be able to get on the air.

"Yeah, we had three hours of tape and we could use about thirty minutes of it," Jurgensen recalled. "He'd be saying 'gawdammit' or 'what the (expletive deleted)' all the time. We had a lot of bleeps in there when we finally got it on the air. He was just a hoot, and he didn't want us to leave. He wanted us to stay over and kept telling us 'I've got a bunch of meals in the freezer.'"

Baugh knew all about his interviewer's own brilliant career, but Jurgensen was far more fascinated talking with him about how the game was played in an era of no platoon football, when Baugh not only dominated at quarterback, but also manned a safety position on defense and handled much of the punting.

Baugh, in fact, still holds the NFL's single season NFL record for highest punting average, 50.1 yards for his 35 punts in 1940, and is second all-time in career average, at 45.1 yards, a record only recently eclipsed by Oakland's Shane Lechler (46.47).

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