Sammy Baugh, early Redskins great, dies

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Sammy Baugh, the greatest player in Washington Redskins history and one of the National Football League’s earliest superstars, died Wednesday night. He was 94.

Mr. Baugh died at Fisher County Hospital in Rotan, Texas, after struggling with Alzheimer’s and dementia for several years, his son David Baugh told the Associated Press. He said his father had been ill recently with kidney problems, low blood pressure and double pneumonia.

“It wasn’t the same Sam we all knew,” David Baugh told AP. “He just finally wore out.”

Redskins owner Dan Snyder said: “Sammy Baugh embodied all we aspire to at the Washington Redskins. He was a competitor in everything he did and a winner. He was one of the greatest to ever play the game of football and one of the greatest the Redskins ever had. My thoughts and prayers are with his family tonight.”

Mr. Baugh, a superb passer who played for the Redskins from 1937 to 1952 and helped revolutionize the quarterback position, shared a distinction as the greatest professional athlete in D.C. history with Walter Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the original Senators.

After retiring as a player, Mr. Baugh visited the District only occasionally, preferring to stay on his 7,600-acre ranch in Rotan, about 95 miles south of Lubbock.

“Most of the people I knew in Washington are probably dead,” Mr. Baugh told biographer Dennis Tuttle some years ago.

During his Redskins career, Mr. Baugh was widely known as “Slingin’ Sam,” but the nickname actually came from his baseball skills. He was a hard-throwing infielder at Texas Christian University and in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system, and at one time, Mr. Baugh said, “Everybody thought I was better at baseball than football.”

Mr. Baugh was the last surviving member of the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and he was also a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind. Before being drafted by the Redskins in 1937, he led TCU to a share of the national title in 1935, a record of 29-7-3 over three seasons and victories in the Sugar and Cotton bowls.

In college as well as his first seven seasons with the Redskins, Mr. Baugh was a tailback in the old single-wing offensive formation, as well as playing defensive back and punting in those days of limited substitutions.

When the Redskins changed in 1944 to the T formation now used by virtually all teams, Mr. Baugh switched to quarterback, where he continued to set the standard for today’s passers. The move eased the wear and tear on Mr. Baugh, who never wore a face mask, and contributed to his lasting 16 seasons in the NFL, then a record. His No. 33 uniform was the first retired by the team.

The Redskins, then playing in Boston, won the NFL’s Eastern Division title in 1936 but lost the league championship game. After drafting Mr. Baugh, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall paid the rookie $8,000 — then the league’s top salary — during the team’s first season in the District.

At an early practice session in the summer of 1937, coach Ray Flaherty ordered receiver Wayne Millner to go far downfield and instructed Mr. Baugh to “hit him in the eye” with a pass.

According to legend, Mr. Baugh replied, “Which eye, coach?”

That story might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Although the NFL then used a chunky ball that was difficult to throw accurately, Mr. Baugh completed a league-record 81 passes for 1,127 yards in 11 regular-season games while leading the Redskins to the Eastern title and a 28-21 victory over the powerhouse Chicago Bears in the NFL championship game.

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