On March 31, just four days after Easter, Catherine Huff visited Huff Farm, the sprawling Middleburg estate with fields fit for horses and rooms filled with football memorabilia, home to one of the most famous men ever to play for the Washington Redskins. She picked up her father, Sam Huff, the legendary linebacker, to take him to a dentist appointment. Nothing seemed amiss to Carol Holden, Huff’s live-in domestic and business partner of nearly three decades.
“Ms. Holden had no idea that [Huff’s daughter] had no plans of bringing Mr. Huff back to Middleburg or returning him to Huff Farm,” according to court records.
Five months later, Huff still has not returned. The 81-year-old member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame suffers from dementia, according to court papers, related to either Alzheimer’s or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease researchers link to playing football. He now finds himself caught in the middle of a family dispute over who should be making medical and financial decisions on his behalf.
Holden filed a petition in May for Huff to be returned to her care, asking the court to grant an emergency appeal and appoint her as Huff’s guardian.
“It appears that [Huff’s daughter] is not concerned at all with Mr. Huff’s best interests,” one court filing read, “but rather in advancing her own needs and interests over those of her father or exacting revenge against Ms. Holden.”
There is a hearing on Holden’s emergency motion scheduled for Sept. 16 in Loudoun County Circuit Court. Catherine Huff has recently changed lawyers, and her new attorney, Eric Schell, said he will be seeking to postpone that date. He would not comment further on the case and said his client was unavailable to comment.
In Catherine Huff’s filings, she said her father was evaluated in July and “is incapacitated and is unable to make his own medical and financial decisions.” She alleged that under Holden’s care, her father was “seen wearing the same clothes day to day,” would walk outside in the winter without appropriate attire and was allowed to drive his car on the road, putting himself and others at risk.
Holden’s attorney, Kimberley Murphy, declined to comment.
Huff was known as his generation’s most bruising, hard-nosed player, personifying toughness in a hard-scrabble era of football. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982 after 13 seasons, eight with the New York Giants and his last five in Washington. His final season was 1969.
He began broadcasting Redskins games in 1975 and stayed behind the mic until finally stepping away in 2013. For most of that time, he offered color commentary alongside his friend and former teammate Sonny Jurgensen, their folksy banter helping to draw together a region of football fans every fall.
When Huff left Middleburg in March, his daughter did not take any of his medications, clothing or belongings with her, according to Holden’s petition. He apparently has been living in Alexandria with Catherine Huff and has had little contact with friends, neighbors and associates he had known for years in his old town.
In court filings, Holden describes herself as Huff’s “life partner “of nearly 29 years, a characterization that Huff’s daughter calls inaccurate in her legal response.
The dispute does not appear to be a matter of money but rather a disagreement over who can make decisions on Huff’s behalf. Both sides agree that the former football great is in no condition to do so on his own.
Holden explained that Huff first had a diagnosis of dementia in 2013 and is partially incapacitated. “While Mr. Huff can dress and undress himself and eat without assistance, he requires assistance with certain personal affairs and management of his financial affairs,” Holden stated.
While Holden has requested an emergency change of guardianship, Huff’s current condition is not clear. According to his daughter’s filings, Huff is receiving care from a “geriatric care manager” and could soon relocate to West Virginia, where Huff was born, raised and became a college football star. The court appointed a guardian ad litem in May to represent Huff’s interests.
His absence around the Redskins and Middleburg has not gone without notice. For several years, longtime friend Franklin Payne met Huff for breakfast at the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg. Eight o’clock, every single morning.
“I have not been in touch with Sam since he was kidnapped and taken away from Middleburg,” Payne said. “I would like to see Sam back here. He has so many friends here, and everybody knew him. We just don’t know how he’s doing.”
In her filings, Holden makes the argument that Huff didn’t willingly leave his home of nearly three decades — “his comfort zone, routine, friends and everything he knows and loves,” she said.
In 2011, Huff granted his daughter durable power of attorney, giving Catherine Huff control over his finances in the event he became incapacitated. That same day, he executed an Advance Medical Directive naming Holden his agent responsible for health-care decisions, court filings show.
Five years later, on April 16, barely two weeks after Huff left Middleburg, he signed another AMD, this time appointing his daughter as chief agent in charge of medical decisions and naming his ex-wife as successor agent.
In a court response, Holden said that Huff was not of sound mind to make such a decision and that Huff’s divorce was “contentious.” She said he would never appoint his ex-wife to have any role in his affairs. Holden paints Huff’s daughter as someone unfit to care for him properly, noting an April 21 incident in which she alleges that Catherine Huff arrived at Huff Farm unannounced.
“She told Ms. Holden to pick which magazines by the kitchen table she wanted because [Huff’s daughter] was going to burn the rest,” the petition asserts.
The document claims that Catherine Huff called Loudoun County Fire and Rescue herself to warn that she was “going to start a fire” and then did just that, setting aflame two of Huff’s books, his slippers and some magazines and pictures. Photos of what Holden says are the burned items are included in the court filing as exhibits.
“During the entire incident [Huff’s daughter] was screaming incessantly, acting belligerent and accused Ms. Holden of stealing from Mr. Huff,” according to Holden’s petition.
In her response to the court, Huff denied the incident but offered no other details. A spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that deputies responded to a call over a civil matter at Huff’s address on that date, but because it was a civil matter, there was no criminal incident report.
There are no indications that either party is seeking to amend Huff’s trust or will. Holden’s petition says Huff’s estate has a value of approximately $4 million. In addition to Catherine Huff, the football great has two sons, neither of whom could be reached to comment. Along with Huff’s three children, Holden stands to inherit a sizable portion of that. The former linebacker’s will stipulates that Holden and Huff must be “living together at the time of my death” but later points out that if the two are living apart because he required health or custodial care, “we shall nevertheless, for purposes of this Restatement, be deemed to have been living together,” according to his trust agreement.
After decades in the spotlight — first as a star with the Giants and later as the familiar face and voice of the Redskins — Huff had spent the past couple of years in quiet retirement in Middleburg. With his memory and observation skills slipping, Huff took on a lighter broadcasting schedule in 2012 before leaving the booth entirely a year later.
Even then, he and Holden still ran the West Virginia Breeders Classics, the October thoroughbred races in Charles Town, W.Va., and broadcasted their weekly horse-racing radio show from the second-floor studio of their home. The two are both longtime horse connoisseurs and bought and sold many horses together over the years. They began the Trackside radio show in 1989 and broadcast their final show in January.