Thursday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. ET

Remembering Sammy 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.
Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Joe Holley was online Thursday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the life of Redskins quarterback "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh, who passed away Wednesday.

The transcript follows.

Holley co-wrote, Baugh's obituary, The First of the Gunslingers (Post, Dec. 18) and is writing a biography about the Hall of Fame football player.


Washington, D.C.: He was a great multi-faceted player -- passer, defensive back, and punter. I believe they did more drop and quick kicks back then, correct? Will the Skins have a tribute or something coming up? RIP Sammy...

Skins Fan

Joe Holley: Sammy was, indeed, a superb athlete -- big hands, strong arm, mobile. Quick kicks on third down were a weapon a lot of teams used to back an opponent up close to their own goal line. Sammy once got off an 85-yarder.


Washington, D.C.: Do you know anything about Sammy's allegation that the 1940 championship game was lost on purpose to get back at Marshall, and what did Marshall do?

Joe Holley: I don't know about the allegation, although it's hard to believe he or any of his teammates would throw a game -- to get back at marshall or for any other reason. And seems like if they were trying to lose, they'd put on a bit better show, the way the Black Sox did in baseball or some of the point-shavers in basketball. 73-0 was just flat embarrassing.


Laurel, Md.: Baugh's career coincided with the years in which the Washington Senators baseball team began being perennial doormats (they had been a good team most of the 1920s-1933).

Was Washington among the first major cities to become primarily a football town during this period?

Joe Holley: Afternoon everybody. Washington became a football town in the late 1930s and into the 40s because of the flamboyant George Preston Marshall, who was apparently the consummate showman and publicist. And, of course, Baugh had a lot to do with it. He made football fun to watch by propelling the game out of its rugby past.


Catonsville, Md.: I dated a man many years ago who was proud to be related to Revoultionary War General Francis Marion. His mom, however, told me that they were cousins of Sammy Baugh, which I found much more impressive. As a testament to how big of a deal this was in Washington, in a crowded barbershop, all eyes looked at me when my boyfriend said to me across the room, "How am I related to Sammy Baugh?" It was at that moment that I understood what a true legend he is.

Joe Holley: I discovered the same thing a couple of years ago when I was doing "Redskins Journal" and asked tailgating fans at FedEx who they wished still played for the Redskins. I was surprised at how many mentioned Baugh, more than a half century after he played.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: I may be mistaken, but isn't Drew Brees Sammy Baugh's grandson? If he is, what are his plans for this weekend's game. Thanks.

Joe Holley: Drew Brees is a Texan -- from Austin -- but I'm pretty sure he's not a grandson. I talked to David Baugh last night, Sammy's son, and got the family rundown; none of Sammy's children live in Austin.


Washington, D.C.: Sammy still holds the NFL record for punting average in a season (more than 51 yards) and is second in career average. I find this amazing given this era of punting specialists, indoor stadiums, better practice facilities and year round training. I also imagine today's balls are easier to kick too. Any explanation as to how he could still hold this record, other than freakish talent? Were there fewer punt returns back in the day and therefore he benefited from the ball bouncing for extra yards?

Joe Holley: I'm wondering if part of the reason is his penchant for quick kicks, which, by taking the defense by surprise on third down, say, the ball would likely roll a long way. Also, he worked on his kicking as assiduously as he did his passing. Numerous people have told me about how, even after he quit playing, he could place his punts as accurately as he could place a pass where he wanted it.


Chantilly, Va.: Joe: While I have long been a Sammy Baugh fan, I have heard that his single-season punting average record of 51.1 yds per kick is somewhat bogus because it includes quick kicks that often rolled for many yards since there was no one back to catch them. True or false?

Takes nothing away from Sammy's greatness, of course.

Joe Holley: There's probably something to that, but he was, indeed, a tremendous kicker -- long legs, a lot of leverage and good technique.


Bethany Beach, Del.: Will they do anything for Sammy Baugh at the game Sunday.

Joe Holley: I haven't heard, although they should.


Bowie, Md.: There's recently been an apparent spate of early deaths among NFL players from the '60s-'80s. Obviously, any player from that era who died must have been young, but the death rate has drawn some attention to the possible ill health effects of playing professional football.

Among players from Baugh's era, was 94 as common as it is in the general population?

Joe Holley: Keep in mind that these early guys didn't play year-round. Sammy went back to the ranch and worked cattle. Others were beer distributors or whatever they could find to do to make a living. So maybe they weren't subjected to the health hazards to the extent that more recent players are. Just a guess.


Lexington, Ky.: Did the shape of the football change about the time period that Sammy entered the league? Could this also be one reason why players like Sammy and Sid Luckman were able to exploit the pass.

Joe Holley: It certainly did. It got narrower and pebbled, which, of course, made it easier to hold. That being said, Sammy had large hands, a great advantaage, of course.


Silver Spring, Md.: Did Sammy Baugh ever comment on the Redskins' ban on black players? This wasn't much of a factor early in career, but by the end of his career most other NFL teams had added blacks to their rosters. I was wondering if he ever had anything to say about this horrible situation, which probably kept the Redskins from competing in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Joe Holley: I've been trying to find an answer to that question for the last couple of years. Our great sports guy, Shirley Povich, doesn't seem to have written about Sammy in particular re Marshall's ban on black players. Sammy's son David told me that Sammy went to Marshall and told him he ought to be signing black players -- because the team needed them. I can't confirm that.


Burke, Va.: Great article today. Thanks. I was quite ignorant about Sammy until reading it this morning. Seems to me that with the protections afforded QBs today, Sammy Baugh would be very successful. It amazes me that defenders would still be chasing him after the whistle blew! He obviously was one tough dude. Incredible.

Joe Holley: He also was relatively small, maybe 175 lbs., at 6-foot-2. He was a roper in later years, so he was tough after football as well.


Arlington, Va.: Why was Mr. Baugh so reluctant to travel far from home, such as to events here in D.C.? I know he certainly owed nothing to Dan Snyder or to the modern Redskins organization, but there are many people here (including me) who would have liked to show him their appreciation.

Joe Holley: From talking to his son and to old friends of his, I have the impression that he got sick of train and later plane travel when he was playing and coaching. And if you've ever been out to West Texas, where his Double Mountain Ranch is, you know how quiet and peaceful it is out there. After awhile, I suspect, city life just didn't seem all that appealing to him.


San Francisco: Thanks, that was a great article. If I were at the game Sunday I'd definitely try to wear #33 in his honor.

Joe Holley: Thanks for the kind words. I've seen fans of a certain age wearing leather helmets in his honor.


Anonymous: From the reading, it seems that Baugh never returned to DC after he finished playing. I find that very odd, especially with all the affection the community apparently had for Baugh. What's behind that?

Joe Holley: He hated to travel, didn't like city life.


Seattle: The great writer Dan Jenkins has a daughter, Sally, who is a colleague of yours at the Post. Have you ever discussed Baugh with her given that her father was well-acquainted with him?

Joe Holley: I haven't, although I should. She's a wonderful writer.


Arlington, Va.: Did Sammy enjoy coaching? He doesn't seem to have compiled a particularly good record at it. But I suppose playing talent doesn't always translate to coaching ability.

Joe Holley: I talked to Jerry Rhome the other day, who was a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1964 at Tulsa. Sammy was Tulsa's quarterbacks coach for a season. Rhome said Sammy was a fine coach, who had a real knowledge of the game. I have the feeling that he missed the ranch too much to really focus on football during his years as a coach -- plus, what he had to work with at Hardin Simmons, the New York Titans and the Houston Oilers wasn't all that great.


Joe Holley: Thanks for the questions everybody -- and for your interest in my fellow Texan, Sammy Baugh.


Warrenton, VA: I still don't understand how, with the great Sammy Baugh playing, the Redskins lost 73-0 against the Bears in 1940, especially when they beat the Bears in other NFL title games.

Joe Holley: It's a mystery to me, as well. Shirley Povich, our legendary sportswriter, said it was just one of those days when everything went wrong. I suppose that could be the case.


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