Sammy Baugh Retires

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Sammy Baugh Retires
Jan 3, 2018

With all the fuss over the future of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, it should be noted regardless of Cousins’ future, the greatest Redskins’ quarterbacks of all-time remain Pro Football Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen.

Shirley Povich covered Jurgensen’s career, but his favorite all-time quarterback was always Sammy Baugh whose entire career (1938-1952) was spent in Washington.

The first time I saw Sammy Baugh, his feet were hurting and he was softly cussing his new boss, George Marshall. Baugh was deplaning from a tin crate that had flown him in from Sweetwater, Tex., for his contract-signing ceremonies with the Redskins, in 1937, dressed according to the Marshall plan.

In his zeal to introduce Baugh as a rootin’, tootin’ son of the Wild West, Marshall decreed the 1937 version of the Hopalong Cassidy outfit for him. The fact that Baugh was a citified Texan who didn’t know which side of a horse to mount was brushed aside. Sammy went for the fancy shirt, the flaring Stetson, the whipcord pants and, worse luck, those high-heeled boots.

Those narrow Texas boots were his undoing. He literally limped into the Occidental Hotel dining room for his welcome-to-Washington luncheon. In confidential asides, he admitted he was the phonyest cowboy to ever hit Washington, but Marshall was paying his expenses both ways and giving him a $500 bonus for signing, and “Ah guess Ah gotta dress to suit him, not me.”

The prettier story is, and a true one, that Tenderfoot Baugh of the literally tender feet, who started out to go cowboy as a gag, in later years became as genuine a cow-poke as any wild-riding sonofagun on the range. He would up with his own ranch, thanks to his pro football earnings, a passion for horses and enough ability with a rope to get him into some rodeo acts.

Sammy Baugh wasn’t the Redskins’ quarterback in those early days. He didn’t know enough about running a pro football team. The other halfback was Cliff Battles and the fullback, mostly, was Don Irwin. Sammy was supposed to do the team’s passing, but he was not above running the ball, either, and he did with a funny jack-rabbit stride that got him over the ground.

Unforgettable was that dressing room speech by Coach Ray Flaherty the night the Redskins were making their debut in 1937 as Washington’s own against the Giants in Griffith Stadium. Flaherty got right down to realism in his pregame oration, and it went something like this, as he addressed his Redskins:

“You’re in a new town,” he said. “Marshall is paying us good money. You’re getting paid for 60 minutes of football a week, so start giving it. Up in Boston, you kept moaning that we didn’t have any guy who could pass for us. Now we’ve brought you Sammy Baugh, the greatest passer in the world. I want you guys to give Sammy plenty of protection. The Giants will be out to get him, we know that. Don’t let them do it. Get them first.”

The Redskins beat the Giants that night, and the most fabulous career in pro football, Sammy Baugh’s, was launched. His passes became the most destructive weapon in the history of the game. Virtually every passing record in the book fell to his skill. As he comes up to his farewell game on Sunday against the Eagles, he still owns 16 all-time records to show for his 16 season in the league, including one for longevity.

Coach Ray Flaherty himself used to like to tell the story of his first briefing of Baugh when he was attempting to indoctrinate the slim Texan into the more rugged tactics of pro football. “And these receivers in the pro league expect their passers to be good,” he told Sammy. “None of those wild heaves you see the college boys throw.

“When they go down field, our eligible pass receivers want that ball where they can catch it,” he told Sammy. “They like to be hit right in the eye, understand?”

To which, Baugh, after hearing Flaherty out, was supposed to have replied, “Which eye, coach?”

Baugh was a 60-minute football player in those early years with the Redskins. He played safety man on defense, and was the team’s most valuable man on pass defense, not too surprising a skill on Sammy’s part. AFter all, he had been All-Texas in basketball at TCU.

I was Sammy’s ghost writer in those early days, batting out three articles a week under his byline. He gave me a blank check. “You write it, I’ll read it after it gets in the paper,” he said. Unwittingly, I put him in the grease with one article that acclaimed Tommy Thompson of Tulsa U. as “the finest forward passer now in college ranks.”

From Texas, where the Baugh articles were printed, Baugh was overwhelmed by telephone, telegrams and letters with complaints about the Thompson article under his signature. He called me, frantic. “I’m in trouble,” he said. “You didn’t mention Davey O’Brien of TCU, and all those Texans think I’m jealous because he’s threatening my record down there.”

So, the next day, we collaborated on a piece amending our esteem of Tommy Thompson. “Thompson is the greatest college passer in the United States,” we wrote, “and almost as good as Davey O’Brien of TCU, who is out of this world.” The Texans were appeased.

Along with the passing records Sammy put into the books he leaves also one immortal quote. That was following the disastrous 73-0 game with the Bears in 1940. The outcome might have been different, fans were saying, if Charlie Malone had held onto a Baugh pass in the end zone that would have made it 7-7 at that point and stopped the Bears stampede. “Yeah,” said Baugh, refusing to blame Malone. “It would have been different. It wouldn’t have ended 73-0. It would have been 73-7.

December 10, 1952

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