CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A half-century ago, Sam Huff’s jaw-jarring hits on NFL running backs earned him his own network television special and the cover of Time magazine.
Those collisions had their roots in Huff’s career at West Virginia.
On Saturday, the 77-year-old will be honored during the ninth-ranked Mountaineers’ game against James Madison at FedEx Field in Landover.
Huff will be West Virginia’s honorary captain and be recognized before the game and at halftime. It’s being billed as “Sam Huff Day.”
“I think that’s going to get us motivated because we’re playing for somebody,” West Virginia linebacker Doug Rigg said. “So it should be fun.”
“I was a hitter. I was a big hitter,” Huff said. “Even in baseball, you have guys that hit the long ball. Mickey Mantle taught me that. I shared a locker with Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium. He hit the ball out of sight. He hit the ball, and I hit the ballplayers.”
Those images aren’t easy to recall, unless you’re a baby boomer or beyond. West Virginia’s players and much of its coaching staff weren’t born when Huff retired following the 1969 season.
“They don’t remember the footage of it or anything, but understand who is he and how much he means to the program here at West Virginia,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen, who met Huff at an event over the summer.
While today’s West Virginia offense behind quarterback Geno Smith is one of the most prolific in the nation, Huff said he would put his teams up against any others in school history. Huff played alongside fellow defensive stars Bruce Bosley and Chuck Howley, and the quarterback was Fred Wyant, who would become a longtime NFL referee.
“I still think we had the best team probably ever there,” Huff said.
Huff, who grew up in a northern West Virginia coal mining camp, helped the Mountaineers post a 31-7 record from 1952-55.
A lineman, Huff didn’t start playing linebacker until joining Tom Landry’s defense in New York.
Huff played on both sides of the ball and on special teams at WVU. In many games he was on the field for all 60 minutes.