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Talking to Redskins great Sammy Baugh

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Sammy Baugh, the Hall of Fame quarterback who put pro football on the map in Washington as a rookie in the team’s first year here in 1937, passed away Wednesday at the age of 94, and one of those things that I will always value is the chance I had to interview Baugh for the Redskins book I did, “Hail Victory: An Oral History of the Washington Redskins.”

(Here’s Dick Heller’s obit in today’s Washington Times)

Here are excerpts of what Baugh had to say about playing for the Redskins and some stories from former teammates:

His initial contract negotiations with Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, while also being sought after by the St. Louis Cardinals for a baseball deal: “We( (Marshall and Baugh) talked contract, and I agreed that $5,000 sounded like a pretty reasonable figure. but I also had major league scouts after me. I was a right fair third baseman and shortstop at TCU and wanted to give professional baseball a try.”

Baugh’s Redskin teammate, Joe Tereshinski, told this story about Baugh’s flirtation with major league baseball: “He was a heck of a baseball player and almost didn’t sign with the Redskins because of baseball — not from playing it but because of an accident. Sam Breeden was the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, and he and his friend Tonto Coleman, who was the coach at Georgia Tech, went to see Sammy in Texas. Breeden was pulling this trailer, and the story goes that Sammy was in the trailer. Tonto and Breeden were driving down a hill, talking about what a good baseball player Sammy was, and they had to come to a sudden stop. The trailer came off the car and passed right by them with Sammy Baugh in it. It was a good thing he wasn’t killed.”

Baugh on the 73-0 beating the Redskins took from the Chicago Bears in the NFL title game in 1940, and how Marshall had basically trash-talked before the game: “There was a lot of stuff in the newspapers that Mr. Marshall had put in there about the Bears. I think any team would have beaten us that day. The team was mad at Mr. Marshall because he said some awful things about the Bears.”

Baugh on “Sammy Baugh Day” at Griffith Stadium in 1947, and the Redskins upsetting the Chicago Cardinals that day 45-21, with Baugh completing 25 of 33 passes for 355 yards and six touchdowns: “In 1947, we didn’t have what I would call one of our better teams. But the team got together and decided on that day I wasn’t going to get my pants dirty at all. I wasn’t even going to get knocked around. That was the easiest game I ever had. The Cardinals had the number one team in the league. We weren’t supposed to beat them but we did. I was so proud of them.”

Baugh received a car from the team on his day — a station wagon with the words “Slinging Sam — the Redskin Man” on the car. It nearly killed him. “My sister and her husband were down from Philadelphia to see me that day, and after the game I was going to take them home. On the way up there (to Philadelphia) I remembered that I was supposed to go to some school back in Washington the next morning. I had intended to spend the night up there and come back later. But I had this appearance the next morning and told them I couldn’t spend the night. I had to turn around and go back to Washington. At that time of night there were hardly any cars on the highway. I saw this car coming toward me. It was coming across the middle of the road a little too much, I thought. I slowed down a little bit. I thought he was straighten the car out. But he kept coming toward me, so I moved over to the right a little bit. He kept coming toward me, so I had to do something. I went on the gravel. I thought he was going to hit me head on. When I hit that gravel, I slid right into a concrete bridge. It destroyed one side of the car. That guy didn’t stop. He just kept going.”

Dick Alban was a rookie in Baugh’s final season in 1952, and talked about how the veteran quarterback befriended him. “When I got back to Washington after training camp and after playing exhibition games across the country on the way back from the West Coast, I didn’t have any place to stay. I had one suitcase full of stuff and that was it. Sammy said, ‘Come stay with me until your wife gets here and you get an apartment.’ Here he was, the biggest star in football, and I was a rookie defensive back that no one knew about, and he was willing to help me. We went to the Shoreham Hotel and went in the back entrance. I wondered why we didn’t go in the front door. We walked up two flights of stairs, down the hall, and into a suite of rooms that was huge. There had to be seven or eight rooms in that suite. Outside, in the front of the building, there was a big sign that said ‘Condemned.’ The hotel was closed. But Sammy still stayed there. He was friends with the manager. You wouldn’t think that a veteran and a star like that would help a rookie. But that was Sammy.”

Al DeMao was a center for Baugh in his later years: “Sammy was as cool as they come, but when he would come up behind me at center and put his hands under me to get the ball, his hands would be shaking. I don’t think he was nervous. It was just a habit he picked up.

“He could punt nearly as accurately as he could pass. I saw him put on a show once in a clinic for some high school coaches before we played an exhibition game in Denver. I’m snapping the ball back to him, and he put four punts right in the hands of four fellows lined up across the field. about 50 or 60 yards away. They were automatic, and those guys didn’t have to move a step to catch the ball.”

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