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Team Report: Letters from Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh and owner George Marshall reveal the Redskins' early struggles on -- and off -- the field
As Marshall's wife, former silent movie actress Corinne Griffith, tells it in her 1947 book "My Life With the Redskins," it was her idea to move the team to Washington. She relates the story of dining with her friend Damon Runyon, sportswriter and author of "Guys and Dolls," his wife, Patrice, and Marshall at a restaurant in New York in the fall of 1936, and explaining why the team would be welcomed in Washington: "You see, Damon, there are so many displaced citizens in Washington, from places such as Muleshoe, Texas; Ekalaka, Montana; and even Beverly Hills, California. Most of these are alone in Washington with nothing to do on Sunday afternoon other than sit in parks and feed the squirrels and pigeons. I am convinced that if the team should move to Washington, it would give these same an opportunity to expend some of their surplus energy."
NFL approval of the team's move to Washington came in February 1937. In the spring of 1937, Marshall recruited Texas Christian University quarterback Sammy Baugh. Marshall orchestrated Baugh's arrival in Washington later that summer; he insisted that Baugh dress the part of a cowboy to meet reporters, emphasizing the cowboy addition to his Indians. Nearly 25,000 fans attended the Redskins' opening game in Washington on Thursday night, Sept. 16, 1937, against the New York Giants at Griffith Stadium.
Baugh and the Redskins performed beautifully, creating a loyal following for the team. Known for his forward-passing game, Baugh completed a pass downfield to set up teammate Riley Smith for a field goal. Smith was the hero of the day with a second field goal and an interception that he ran back for a touchdown, resulting in a 13-3 victory over the Giants.
The Redskins' final game of the 1937 season also came against the Giants, but this time the Eastern Division title was on the line in New York. Baugh came through once again, along with halfback Cliff Battles, and led the team to a 49-14 victory that put the Redskins in contention for their first NFL title. The following week, in the 1937 championship game against the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field, an injured Baugh threw three touchdown passes for 78 yards, 55 yards and 35 yards to help beat the Bears, 28-21. Baugh led the Redskins to the NFL title game four more times: In 1940 and '43, they lost to the Bears; beat the Bears in 1942; and lost to the Cleveland Rams in 1945.
Baugh was exempted from service in World War II; however, the Redskins lost their future Hall of Fame coach Ray Flaherty, who joined the Navy after the Redskins' 1942 season. The Redskins sent 18 men to the armed services, some of whom did not return. Baugh divided his time during the 1944 season between Washington and his ranch in Texas, supplying the armed forces with beef. Baugh missed out on learning the team's new offense, the T-formation, but played in eight of 10 games that year.
Following the 1945 season, during which the team went 8-2, Baugh would see only one more winning season in his time as a Redskin, and the Redskins would not play for a championship again until 1972. In Baugh's remaining seven seasons on the team, 1946 through 1952, Marshall went through five head coaches, three of whom were fired or resigned in season.
Upon the team's return from training camp in Los Angeles (which was followed by a series of preseason exhibition games en route back to Washington) in 1948, Baugh wrote the following letter on Sept. 13:
We arrived in Wash. 8:30 A.M. today, and you never saw such a crippled group get off a train. Hope everyone can get right by Sept. 26 when we open against Pitt.
Dick Todd is O.K. but he still has headaches if he moves too much. Hope he can play by the 26th.
The Touchdown Club gave the team a luncheon today at the Statler -- it was a nice affair and I hope we can reciprocate by playing some good ball here this year. We took quite a drubbing from Green Bay 43-0. Guess the Bears will do the same to us Sept. 19 in Baltimore.
It's nice to get back to Washington -- seems we have been riding a train for ages ...