The Magic of Number 33
By Shirley Povich
An event occurred in Washington in 1937. A skinny young Texan named Sammy Baugh arrived that year, and pro football would never be the same. Baugh became the biggest name in the game and took the Redskins to four NFL titles in the next seven years. His special magic was the forward pass, as it had never been thrown before.
Rookie Baugh scoffed at pro-football's view that the forward pass was a no-no on first down, that it was to be used as the basic third-down desperation play. He startled the league by passing from any spot, on any down, and he immediately led the league in passing. Ultimately, he collected more passing and punting records than any man who ever played the game.
In the 1937 title game, when his golden arm was the undoing of the monster Chicago Bears, Baugh confounded the Bears on the first play from scrimmage. From behind his own goal line, he suggested a pass to signal-caller Riley Smith and launched the ball to Cliff Battles for 42 yards, a daring move at the time.
For 16 years his accuracy shredded defenses. "The only place I had trouble was in Cleveland," he said. "Out there they pumped up the ball to make it round and hard to throw. The league didn't have a regulation ball when I broke in."
The Sammy Baugh story with the Redskins began when the team sweated out the first round of the 1937 college draft. After Baugh hadn't been picked by other teams, the Redskins grabbed as fast as they could for the tailback who had been an All American for two years at Texas Christian University.
Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, a man who rarely bumped into a promotional gimmick he didn't like, immediately sought to exploit the Texas angle. He wanted to introduce Baugh as an exciting, rootin', tootin', 6-foot, 3-inch cowboy type despite the fact that city-boy Sammy at that time had never seen a cow except from the other side of the fence.