ABILENE, TEX. -- The name is Sam, not Sammy. A Fort Worth sportswriter made a cartoon of his solid, forthright name long ago, perhaps to balance the word "Slingin' " in front of it. The version he signs on footballs and pictures, 38 years after he retired, however, is the original. And, when a caller asked for him by nickname, he slowly, deliberately, answered, "This is Sam Baugh."

The difference might not seem like much. But he is called Sam on his 22,000-acre ranch just north of Rotan in west Texas, and it fits better than the other names. He was Buddy when growing up outside Temple, Tex., and Slingin' Sammy as a calf roper, minor league shortstop and, ultimately, a quarterback for the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs and Washington Redskins. And, of course, there were those six weeks in the summer of 1941, when he was Tom King in "King of the Texas Rangers," a cowboy movie serial.

But he rarely was interested in owning any of those titles for long, particularly Tom King.

"Hell, no," he said. "I wasn't interested in anything but that ranch and those cows and horses."

The admission might merely be considered a slip. On the whole, he allows himself to be remembered as the quarterback who made the passing game a viable, every-down concept in the NFL for the Redskins from 1937 to 1952. He was a great punter and defensive back and a charter member of the college and professional football halls of fame.

Fans remember the peculiar passing pose in which he often was caught, his right arm cocked high behind his head. He would do nothing to injure those memories, just as he would say nothing directly to correct those who insist on calling him Sammy. But, in a conversation last month about growing up, playing and coaching, he accidentally put football in perspective.

He did it in a comment about that ranch and those cows and horses.

"That was the only thing I cared about," he said.

Clear, blue eyes peer from underneath his cap, which hid a dome traversed by a few stray hairs. His skin has aged and wrinkled, especially at the base of his throat. But he looks good at 76, especially for someone who played pro football without a facemask for the better part of 16 seasons.

The only physical reminder of his former profession is a slight limp, the remnants of a knee injury.

One recent morning, Baugh was driving to town to see his wife, Edmonia, who was recovering in the hospital after a slight stroke. He figured the hospital coffee shop would be as good a place as any to talk to a reporter. But, at first, his answers were the nearly inaudible mutterings of a tight-lipped old man. He appeared bored, or at least distracted.

He duly recited the particulars though. Reporters often have called Sweetwater his home town because he played high school football and met Edmonia there. But he actually grew up outside Temple. He lived and played sports there until his father was transferred to Sweetwater after Sam's freshman year in high school.

A reporter asked if Baugh's coach at Temple ever regretted losing such a talent to Sweetwater.

"Aw, no," he said, laughing, his head tilted back. "We had the sorriest {expletive} team Temple ever had."

Once lighted, Baugh's conversation crackles with expletives. The intent apparently is for pace, not as an expression of anger or crudeness. He lingers on the not-for-newspaper words, using them effectively to punch up his favorite stories. His laugh is an infectious, breathy arch from one word to the next, and it makes him seem years younger.

The most vivid memory of his youth in central Texas was a decision made with four other junior high football teammates. They had overheard their coach say that if only he could have the quintet for another season, they surely would win the state grammar school title.

To accommodate their coach, the five purposefully flunked a class.

"I thought my mother was gonna kill me," Baugh said.

Sam has been married to the same woman for 52 years. He has lived on the same ranch for 49. He was coach of the New York Titans and Houston Oilers and an assistant with the Detroit Lions, as well as Tulsa and Oklahoma State. But he says the best job he ever had was in 1953-60, when he was an assistant and head coach at Hardin-Simmons in Abilene. He liked it for two reasons: the people with whom he worked and he could drive home every night.

As a Redskin, he led the team to two NFL championships and was considered the game's top quarterback, punter and, arguably, defensive back. In 1943, he led the NFL in passing with 1,953 yards, topped all punters and led the league with 11 interceptions. At one point he held 17 NFL passing records. His 51.4-yard punting average in 1940 still is a league record.

The 1966 season as an assistant with the Lions was his last in football. His primary reason for quitting each of his coaching jobs was to go home. He got out, he said, because owners and head coaches were beginning to require the staff remain in town in the offseason.

He rarely makes trips outside Abilene these days. He hasn't been to Washington in 25 years, he said. He declines invitations for reunions because he doesn't like to fly and "I sure ain't going to drive it."