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NFL Network’s 14th best player ever – Sammy Baugh

One of many experimental iterations ...

Jim Gehman

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Even though I posted these excerpts about Sammy Baugh from my book, “Then Gibbs Said to Riggins…” three months ago, I hope you don’t mind that I’m doing so again in recognition of the Redskins legend being named 14th on the NFL Network’s list.

A Star from the Start

In a move that would come back to haunt them for years, when the still wet-behind-the-ears NFL held its draft on December 12, 1936, more than half of the teams in the league – Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cardinals, and the New York Giants – passed over Texas Christian University’s two-time All-American Sammy Baugh while making their first-round selections.

The Redskins selected the quarterback with the sixth pick. However, truth be told, he could not have cared any less. “I didn’t know a thing about pro football when I got out of TCU,” said Baugh. “I didn’t know how many teams they had and didn’t care too damn much about it. Just those east of the Mississippi River did, really.”

Had Baugh crossed the river and traveled to Washington before? “Oh, hell no!” With that little tidbit settled, when he did arrive, it was about the same time as the Redskins were unpacking after their move from Boston.

And as legend has it, during the early days of the team’s training camp to prepare for the 1937 season, Redskins head coach Ray Flaherty told the rookie quarterback that even though passes were not a common offensive game plan in the league, his throwing attempts would have to be accurate. Flaherty suggested that he aim the football toward the receiver’s eyes. To which Baugh simply replied, 'Which eye?’

Was it a sign of cockiness? Perhaps. But if he could back it up, it more likely demonstrated confidence. Baugh could back it up. And, quite frankly, he soon showed that he could pass the football unlike anyone else the league had ever witnessed.

During his first season, Baugh led the league by completing 81 of 171 passes for 1,127 yards – over 300 yards more than second-leading passer Pat Coffee of Chicago – and eight touchdowns. Washington outscored its opponents 195-120 and finished the season with an 8-3 record.

“I thought my first year up there we had a real good ballclub. We played both ways, so we had a good defensive ballclub and a good offensive ballclub, and that’s about all you can ask,” Baugh said. “We had a good bunch of boys. We had an All-Pro tackle [Turk Edwards], we had an All-Pro end [Wayne Millner], and we had an All-Pro running back [Cliff Battles].”

After winning the Eastern Division, the Redskins went on to meet the Bears at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on December 12 in the NFL Championship Game. Washington won, 28-21. However, Baugh remembers more about the title game than what was on the scoreboard.

“It was the worst field I ever played on,” said Baugh, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns in 15-degree weather. “An icy field, you couldn’t get very good footage. You were sliding all the time. It was as cold a day as I can ever remember. It was a bad day.”


Baugh Owned the '40s

Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh approached the decade of the 1940s just as he did as a rookie in 1937 – by scattering passes all over the field in a fashion that had been unseen before in the NFL. That season, he led the league with 1,127 passing yards, was named All-Pro, and guided Washington to the league’s championship game, where they beat the Chicago Bears, 28-21.

In 1940, behind Baugh, the Redskins began using the T formation on offense and opened the season with a seven-game winning streak. They closed the campaign with a 9-2 record and were back in the NFL Championship Game on December 8 against the Bears. Only this time Chicago captured its revenge and ripped the Redskins, 73-0.

In a 1999 Associated Press article, Baugh said that there was something more behind the lopsided score than Washington’s failures to find its own end zone or to keep the Bears out of theirs. He believed that some of his teammates were infuriated with Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and, because of that, did not play up to their potential.

“[Marshall] put things in the paper running the Bears down,” said Baugh. “You don’t want to help the other team. You shouldn’t say things like that. It made us so mad, they decided not to play. Look at the game! How many times do you beat a team in a real close game [7-3] and two [actually, three] weeks later you can’t do a thing?

“They turned on Mr. Marshall. They had been running him down for a year. I never talked to the league because I didn’t have any proof, and I still don’t. It doesn’t keep me from thinking, though.”

Washington’s rivalry with Chicago continued with another showdown in the 1942 championship game. This time the Redskins came out on top, 14-6.

The 1943 season could have been written in bold print and capital letters on the multi-position star’s résumé. Not only did Baugh lead the NFL in passing for a third time with 1,754 yards and 23 touchdowns, as a defensive back, he led the league with 11 interceptions and was the top punter for the fourth consecutive year with a 45.9 average.

“I guess that was probably the best year I had as far as that goes,” Baugh said. “Hell, you just played. If you’re a football player, you go play football. You don’t give a damn who you’re playing, you go do your best every time you get out there. I had a little too much pride to look bad.”

Baugh looked anything but bad on November 23, 1947, when the Redskins hosted the Chicago Cardinals on appropriately enough “Sammy Baugh Day.” Washington had lost its last five games and was on its way to a dismal 4-8 record. The Cardinals, meanwhile, came into the game winning seven of their eight games en route to a 9-3 mark and the NFL championship.

But that afternoon, the only record that football fans would be talking about belonged to Baugh. He was, in a word, incredible. With 355 yards and six touchdown passes, he led the Redskins to a 45-21 upset victory.

“[Prior to the game] they were already on the field, all those [offensive] linemen, [and] they told me, 'You’re not even going to get your uniform dirty today.’ And it was already a little muddy out there,” said Baugh. “They said, 'We’re going to beat them!’ And by God, we didn’t have that good a ballclub that year and we beat them. That was the biggest surprise that I had back then because that team played a great ballgame.”

Baugh, enshrined as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, wrapped up his 16-year Redskins career following the 1952 season with 21,886 passing yards and 187 touchdowns, a team record he still holds. He also picked off 31 passes and averaged 45.1 yards on 338 punts.
 

Lanky Livingston

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Florida Atlantic

14th is a travishamockery. Any all-time list that doesn't have him top 10 or even top 5 is ridiculous.
 

Henry

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I could see Rice being #1.

To illustrate why, let's look at the career of Jake Reed. Jake Reed played for 11 seasons and had a very respectable career. He put up four 1000 yard seasons and was part of one of the greatest receiving corps in NFL history with the Vikings in the late 90s. I think it's safe to say that he had an above average career.

And if you take Reed's career numbers, and subtract them from Jerry Rice's career numbers, you'll get the second best WR in the history of the NFL. Rice was just that much better than everyone else. 450 catches more than Harrison. 7000 more yards than Owens. 44 more TDs than Moss. That's total, complete and utter dominance at every aspect of your position for a long, long time.

I had him at #1 on my list, just edging out Jim Brown.

Sammy at 14 is a joke though. No way he's not in the top ten.
 

Hog Fever

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I think Sammy being in the top 15 seeing as how most people alive today never saw him play is actually quite remarkable. Anyone here ever see him play? I think his last year was 1952.

I wasn’t alive to see Jim Brown play so I can only go on stats and some of the things the people who played with and against him say. His stats are very impressive. It’s a lot tougher to rank his position all time for me. My frame of reference starts about 1975-76 when I can first remember actually paying attention to football. It was a few years after that before I actually started to understand enough of it to form reasonable opinions.

I can say this; Walter Payton was the best RB I’ve even seen play the game, although my hero as a kid was Riggo. Payton had the perfect combination of speed, elusiveness and toughness you want in a RB (he’d block too). He played on some downright terrible teams in Chicago before Ditka and Ryan arrived and the team around him finally got better. I guess #5 is no insult. The guys in the top 4 slots are hard to argue with.
 

riggins44

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We live in a 'sports center highlight' society. Most people remember the ones they see in highlight reels. I agree Baugh should be higher, for one he played both ways.

To me the biggest disgrace is the Ravens have more on the list than the Redskins. Thing is we've been around a lot longer, but people don't remember some of the old time greats.
 

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