Washington Redskins great Sammy Baugh, not surprisingly, made the list of finalists of all-time top quarterbacks announced by the NFL Network as part of the league’s 100th anniversary. And when the finalists are whittled down to a Top 10 on Friday, he should be on that list as well.
Baugh was not just one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but one of the best players, period.
Arriving as a heralded rookie out of Texas Christian University, a two-time All-American, he led the team to one of two NFL championships the first year the franchise came to Washington from Boston in 1937.
He was such a good athlete that he had offers to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, and initially turned down owner George Preston Marshall’s offer to play for the Redskins, choosing to play baseball that summer.
Baugh would go on to become a seven-time first-team All-Pro quarterback. He was a two-time NFL Player of the Year who led the league in passing yards four times and touchdowns twice. He was also a defensive back who led the league in interceptions with 11 one season, and the best punter of his time as well, leading the league five times, and his yard-per-punt average of 51.4 in 1940 remains an NFL record. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1963 and named to the NFL 75th anniversary team in 1994.
His number 33 is the only official retired number of the Redskins.
Baugh was also a star off the field. He starred in a Saturday matinee movie serial as a Texas Ranger named Tom King. He was such a charismatic figure that Robert Duvall, preparing for his iconic role as Gus McCrae in “Lonesome Dove,” visited Baugh at his Texas ranch and spent time with the football legend.
“Sammy Baugh was a dynamic personality on the football field,” Bernie Nordlinger, who was Marshall’s attorney, told me. “He was a great leader and an exciting ballplayer.”
One of the gifts I have been given in this business was the privilege of interviewing Baugh, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 94. With the NFL Network spotlight on the great quarterback legend, here are parts of that interview:
On his rookie championship season: “Those fans were great that first year we were in Washington. We won the championship that year, and I think there were about 10,000 people waiting for us when we got back to Washington (from Chicago, where they beat the Bears 28-21). I never thought we would have anything that big.”
On Ray Flaherty, who took the team to four NFL title games, winning two championships, from 1936 to 1942: “I think Ray Flaherty was one of the better coaches we had in Washington. Everybody respected him as a coach, and I was hoping he would have stayed longer than he did.”
On the 73-0 loss to the Bears in the 1940 championship game: “There was a lot of stuff in the newspaper that Mr. Marshall had put in there about the Bears, and it made everybody mad. I think any team would have beaten us that day. The team was mad at Marshall, because he said some awful things about the Bears.”
On the mercurial Marshall as Redskins owner: “Mr. Marshall was awfully tough on coaches. But we got along fine. We never had a cross word that I could remember.”
On the game on Sammy Baugh Day against the Chicago Cardinals: “We didn’t have what I would call one of our better teams (4-8 that season). But the team got together on decided on that day I wasn’t going to get knocked around. I wasn’t going to get my pants dirty at all. That was the easiest game I ever had. We were playing the Chicago Cardinals and they had the number one team in the league. We weren’t supposed to beat them, but we did 45-21. Our team really played a great game. I was proud of them.”
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