Samuel Adrian Baugh is an enduring folk hero, has been ever since his bullwhip passing arm brought him All-America acclaim at Texas Christian University in 1930s.
He is a giant figure in Washington Redskin lore, a triple-threat tailback in the single wing who later became an All-Pro quarterback when the team switched to the T-formation.
He still is considered by many people to be the greatest Redskin of all time; some say he may even be the greatest professional football player of all time.
The son of the owner of a small Texas farm, he now is landed gentry, proprietor of 22,000 acres of ranchland in Rotan, Tex., (population 2,404) in the rolling red plains of central Texas, hard by the Brazos River and Double Mountain.
He is 64 years old, the father of five children and grandfather of eight. He rides 6-foot-2 in the saddle, with thin legs, working his cattle, "cutting herds" on horseback like any young ranchhand.
He is very content with his role here - far from the nation's capital where he made his reputation nearly three decades ago.
He carries the macho image well, but is willing to disclose that he gets sick with every takeoff and descent as an airplane passenger; enjoys the outdoors, but is too faint of heart to hunt, nor does he smoke or drink.
Words stronger than "gol dang," and "cohabiting" and "shoot" tumble out in his candor, yet he cops no plea as a lifelong churchgoer. Long hours in the sun have burned lines in his features.
But he wore no Stetson hat or tooled boots, drove no gas guzzler, did not pose as laconic or tell tall tales. Secure in the satisfactions of his career, he was the uncommon senior citizen in a recent interview here, marveling at the skills of modern football and its artists, rather than jealously defending those of the past.
He came to town driving a pick-up truck, wearing a golf cap borrowed from a son, a rugby-striped shirt and bedroom slippers. He admitted to liking "shoot-'em-ups" on television and western music, but his only concession to "cowboy" accessories was a braided belt with a big buckle shield covered with leater and branded with the initials, "S.B."
Most of Baugh's football memories are pleasant. He led the Redskins to two world championship and four division titles in his 1937-52 stint in Washington.
He led the league in passing six times, led in punting four straight years, with a 51.4-yard average in 1940, and is the NFL's all-time career leader with a 45.1-yard average. He made 28 career interceptions and led the league with 11 in 1943, a season in which he was the leader in all three departments.
He was the master of the forgotten art of the quick kick, usually a third-down punt that surprised and therefore put the opposition in a hole with no chance of a runback. And he was a tackler who could stop the fabled Bronko Nagurski.
He was not as fortunate as a coach but recalls that things might have been different with the Houston Oilers if Joe Namath had not declared that he didn't want to play in the Southwest. Houston had the American Football League draft rights to pick Namath but dealt them to the New York Jets, just as the St. Louis Cardinals had the NFL draft rights to Namath and awarded them to the Giants, who finally dropped out of the bidding.
Baugh's passing records might have been even better if he had had a couple of wide receivers with 4.3 speed for 40 yards and a tight end of today's quality. He had one fast receiver, Hugh (Bones) Taylor. Wayne Millner made the Hall of Fame as a Redskin end, but he was more a sure-handed pass catcher rather than a speedster; a strong blocker and defensive end.
Baugh could drive himself. He said he ran himself into perfect condition before reporting to the College All-Stars' training camp, then led them to victory over the Green Bay Packers.
He still is robust in the upper body, if bowlegged with skimpy underpinning; bulky in the forearms and biceps, and above all, trigger-quick in perceiving with those highly active, clear, deep, blue eyes.
"All I ever wanted to do (as a youngster) was play football, baseball and basketball," he said. "I played football ever since third grade. In junior high we would keep playing (round-robin) two other junior high teams in Temple, where I was raised. I remember we were so good we played the "Big Dam Lobos" from up around Cisco for the state junior high championship, and lost. I thought 'Dam' was meant as a cuss word, but it referred to a river dam up there.
"My daddy had a small farm and during the Depression he was a railroad man. When layoffs came he was bumped by a fellow with more seniority. Then he bumped a fellow with less seniority near Rotan. I have lived in that area ever since, except during football seasons with the Redskins.
"Jobs were so important during the Depression that I remember we were sitting around at TCU talking about that and someone said, 'If you could all get jobs for $150 a month, would you quit college?' We all said we would. We were lucky to have scholarships. I had a campus job, waiting on training table, and we had to agree to pay part of the tuition back after we graduated.
"I appreciated what TCU did for me and as soon as I got my first Redskins' salary I paid back what I owed.
"I did a lot of running with the ball as a tailback at TCU. I could always throw well, but I learned how to punt by working by the hour with the coach, Dutch Meyer.
"Football is a great game today," he continued. "The big difference from my time is the overall speed and the specialists. We had to look for a fellow who could do several things. A lot of better offensive players were let go because the coaches leaned toward a player being able to play defense better than offense.
"I like the college game more, too. The colleges used to be dull years ago, hammering away with that split-T formation. They relied too much on defense. I like all the new formations, like the wishborne-T formation. Of course the pros couldn't use it with all those big, fast linemen; the quarterbacks would get killed running the ball. You'd need 10 quarterbacks on a team."
Baugh dispelled the lingering notion that he didn't like the Redskins' switch from the single-wing formation, in which he was the tailback, to the T formation.
"Sure, I was uncomfortable making the change," he said. "Everybody on the team was, because no one had played it, except, I think, Frank Filchock a little. You can learn something quicker if you copy somebody who is doing it.
"I wouldn't have lasted more than another year with the battering I took in the single wing. The T formation must have added eight years to my career. I should have paid the Redskins to play the T formation instead of them paying me.
"I had to block in the single wing and when I went up against those big linemen (at 175-180 pounds) my shoulders would shake afterward.
"I had to run the ball once in a while, too, or the opposition would key on the other runner (the fullback in the single wing).
"You also played both ways in those days, so you didn't get a rest. I played safety on defense and had to take on either the end or wingback coming down field. Both of my shoulders had been knocked out and both my knees were banged up before we went to the T. I was never seriously hurt in football, but once I got a broken rib from a young steer's horn."
In view of current players occasionally complaining about the length of practices, Baugh was asked how long the Redskins worked out.
"About two hours, but I wouldn't care how long if I were making the money the players are today. When I'd get dead tired from being battered and playing both ways, with a squad of only 23 players, I would remember picking cotton as a 12-year-old boy on my uncle's farm and I wouldn't feel so bad about football. Dragging that bag of cotton under a hot sun was something.
"When I was first with the Redskins the defenders were allowed to keep hitting the passer until the whistle blew the play dead. They didn't have to stop when you released the ball, the way it is now. And our defenders were told to be sure to put the other quarterback on the ground, too.
"I remember George Marshall (founder of the Redskins) calling me in one day and asking me what I thought about a rule that would stop the defenders from hitting the passer once he let the ball go.
"I told him I probably would live longer if we got a rule like that. He said he was going to talk to George Halas (owner of the Chicago Bears) and some other owners about voting a change, and they passed it."
Most older fans prefer to remember Baugh rifling the ball for long distances, but he says, "You had to pass often to the backs or get killed waiting for a guy to run a deep pattern. I tried to teach Harry Gilmer that when he first came up. He wanted to throw the long ball. Poor Harry missed his first season with a leg injury."
Baugh recalled that although he would continue to coach the New York Titans until the then-owner, Harry Wismer, paid him for the remainder of his contract, despite the fact that the Titans' owner had hired a new coach, Baugh never collected his full salary.
"I was goldanged mad at the time." Baugh said, "but later I felt sorry for Harry. He lost a lot of money in that team (which became the New York Jets under Sonny Werblin). He began to drink and you couldn't talk to him and make sense unless you caught him in the morning.
"I liked George Marshall, too. He was very fair with me.He was what I call a 'showman.' He called me up when the Redskins drafted me and said, 'Sam, do you have some cowboy boots?' When I told him I did, he said, 'Wear them to Washington.'
"He told me the game needed to be opened up for the fans' entertainment and that I should keep passing the ball, whether we were winning or losing. 'Don't pay any attention to the coach'," he said.
"I don't think I've ever told this story. One day I heard Mister Marshall giving Coach Billick Whelchel hell and Whelchel had come to the Redskins from the Naval Academy as a high-ranking officer. Mister Marshall - I always think of him as Mister - was telling Welchel that he had players on defense who were better offense players and vice versa. Whelchel didn't seem to be taking him serious, and didn't obey.
"Well, one day Mister Marshall came out to practice in a big black car, got out, and began to give Whelchel hell for not making the changes he suggested. Whelchel walked right off the field. Mister Marshall called off practice right there and beckoned to Dick Todd, Wilbur Moore and me. He told us we should run the team. And he had just hired Whelchel to be a disciplinarian!
"Funny thing, as it often happens in something like that, we sympathized with Whechel, pulled together, and won the next game. But Mister Marshall eventually fired him."
Baugh discounted a story that he offered to take pay cuts when he wasn't playing well with the Redskins.
"No, this is what happened," Baugh explained. "I was home in Texas (after he had decided to retire) and the Redskins lost a game because of a missed point after touchdown. Mister Marshall blamed the ball holder and called me up and asked me if I would fly in on the day of a game, hold the ball for kicks, and fly back home the same day.
"Well, I agreed, but pretty soon they had me playing a lot of defense, too. Mister Marshall at first asked me how much I thought he should pay me and I said it was up to him. I knew I shouldn't be paid as much as when I was playing both ways. But I think he eventually paid me as much as he usually did.
"Money did not mean that much to me. I had fun playing football. I think he offered me $5,000 for my first season but then made it $8,000. I remember he called me in after he drafted Gilmer and asked me if I minded that he had to pay Gilmer more as a rookie than he was paying me, because salaries were being forced up by the war with the old All-American Conference.
"I told him if I minded, I'd tell him. He called me another time on the field and pointed to a running back and said he was paying him $10,000, but that he was not worth it. He pointed out that Cliff Battles made only $2,750 after leading the league in rushing for two straight years and let him go rather than meet Battles' demand for $3,000 a year. Yet, Mister Marshall told me he always made money with the club.
Baugh initially had preferred baseball to football and arranged with the Redskins, after his rookie season, to try out as a third baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals. But he stayed with football. Baugh says of his 175 pounds, "That was my playing wight; I never went higher than 180 with the Redskins. I went down to 160 a while ago from losing so much blood with an ulcer. I don't know what it was from but I drank enough Maalox to float this bed (where his feet were resting).
"Otherwise, I've never been to a doctor outside of injuries. I stopped wearing glasses about 10 years ago. I think my eyes were affected from looking at so much film when I was coaching. It got so my arms weren't long enough for me to read something."
He says of his abstention from hard liquor, "I didn't need it to enjoy myself. I never smoked except for an occasional cigarette. I'd go out with the players and have fun sitting around and listening to stories. Oh, I might have a beer or a Coke when I'm terribly thirsty."
Baugh disclosed that he got sick for the first four of five years traveling on airplanes to football games, taking off and landing. He still dislikes air travel and that is why he does not visit old friends in the Washington area.
He was tempted to buy a gun after seeing about 12 deer grazing on a ridge on his spread. "But I couldn't shoot it at any creature. I don't like to kill," he said.
"I spent half my life away from home playing football and I said that when I was finished I would never leave here.
"I'm happy here and I wouldn't want to be any other place. I was in Detroit once and wanted to walk to a place rather than take a cab and asked the hotel man for directions. He said, 'You can't walk there; it's too dangerous.' I couldn't live like that.
"I've got about 7,000 acres where my home is and I have leased two other spreads for a total of about 22,000 acres.
"I work the cattle myself, with two other fellows about my own age. You can't get help, and if you do and it's not experienced they can get hurt. We neighbors pool our labor on one another's place in the busier seasons."
His operating philosophy: "I never want to hurt anyone. Sometimes a harsh word might. When I say something I expect to be believed by the other fellow. When he say something I expect to believe him.
"If he agrees to pay me so much a pound for cattle, that's good enough for me. The fellow doesn't need a contract. But if he wants one, that's all right, too.
"I didn't find it that way with some people in New York and other places up that way. That's why I couldn't live there.
"I don't care about money - although it's nice to have when you need it - if I can just earn a living and do what I wanted to do. And I do."