TODAY THE REDSKINs begin another season, but it's doubtful that the occasion will become quite as historic as their opener 40 years ago. The 1937 season not only was the team's first in Washington, but it was the year a much-celebrated passer named Sammy Baugh began his professional career.
Baugh promptly led the Redskins to the National Football League championship and went on to play for 16 seasons, becoming one of the game's most acclaimed players and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If the Redskin fans of 1937 - a slender following compared to now - were anxious to see what the lean Texan known as "Slingin' Sammy" could do, so was his first coach, Ray Flaherty. The probably apocryphal story goes that on Baugh's first day as a rookie Flaherty said, "Look, Sammy, Wayne Millner here is going to run a buttonhook and I want you to hit him in the eye with that football. Right in the eye, understand?"
"Yessir," said Baugh, answering slowly, "but one question, coach." "Yeah?"
The thing about Baugh was that he did the work of three of today's players. He was a master of the forward pass, but more than that he was an outstanding defensive back and probably the best punter ever. He set long lists of records in each category, and some endure.
Now 63, Baugh lives on the ranch he's run for the last 40 years near the West Texas town of Rotan. He says he has 22,000 acres, most of it leased, and that he doesn't spend evey sunup to sundown on the ranch anymore as he did for years. Now he says he plays golf "not quite" every day and, probably modestly, adds that he's "not very damn good."
He's also an armchair quarterback.
"I kind of pull for the Cowboys," he admits. Mr. Redskin a Cowboy fan? Which team does he root for when the two meet? "I kind of let them take their course, either on of 'em," he says. Then he adds, sounding as if he thought it the proper thing to say to a Washington reporter, "But I kind of pull for the Redskins."
He should have some allegiance, after all, for he was the highest paid Redskin of his time - made all of $5,000 that first season. "I think the big difference today," he says, "is that the playeres are a little money crazy, most of 'em. You take a quarterback, they want him to kick, he won't tick unless they pay him more money. That don't sound right to me. You know what I mean? It wouldn't have gone in those days."
For Baugh, it was a pleasure doing all those extra duties. "Hell," he says, "I thought it was fun. I played 'cause I liked it." On that first opening da for example, "I was just interested in the football. Just so I was playing, whether it was Washington ar any other place."
Baugh is hard pressed to come up with the identity of a coach who gave him any pertinent advice - "Can't say anybody did" - but he had two favorites. One was Flaherty because "he was the boss of the whole damn thing. We only had two coaches, a line coach and Flaherty, and I thought he did a hell of a job keeping everybody under control." The other was Dutch Bergman, apparently for his laissez faire policy, at least toward Baugh. "We had a little thing going," Baugh says. "He let our offense do about like we wanted."
Baugh also has his opinions about this season's outcome, which will not come as pleasant news to Redskins fans. He predicts that the Super Bowl participants will be Oakland and Dallas. And the winner? "I'll go with Dallas," he says.