In the long history of the NFL, superstars, legends, and champions have all come and gone. They have dominated their time and have had an allure of reputations as the best of the best.
Every position in football is carefully analyzed and statistics have been saved from past decades, allowing us to compare pasts players to present players. People continually debated on who was and is the best at their position.
Other debates are of who is the best overall football players. In my mind there is no doubt that the greatest overall football player of all time is Sammy Baugh.
Samuel Adrian Baugh was a very talented athlete. He played his college football career for the Texas Christian University (TCU) Horn Frogs. He had a outstanding collegiate career. He was named All-American in 1935 and 1936.
Sammy Baugh was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round, sixth overall, in the 1937 NFL Draft.
In the long and illustrious history of the NFL there hasn’t been a more versatile player than Sammy Baugh. According to Steve Sabol of NFL Films Sammy Baugh played quarterback, tailback, cornerback, defensive tackle, he made punt and kickoff returns, and was a punter.
Sammy Baugh, the Quarterback
When Sammy Baugh entered the National Football League he created an offensive revolution that changed the nature of how football was played for eternity.
Football, back then, was a very primitive sport, compared to the football we know today. It was a pound for pound running game. Teams ran the ball mostly every play. Teams would only pass the ball as a form of desperation. Even if they passed the ball it was thrown within 30 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Sammy Baugh was the stimulus that brought about the forward pass and changed how teams game planned and involved the forward pass in their play calling.
The NFL had never seen such a prolific passer when Baugh came into the league. His accuracy was unheralded for his time.
Sammy Baugh’s career passing statistics: 1693/2995 (56.5%), 21886, 187 TD, 203 INT, 72.2 QB rating
From a first glance these stats may seem pedestrian. But you have to realize the era that he played in. Nobody had come close to achieving these stats.
He lead the league in passing yards four times, his rookie year 1937, 1940, 1947, and 1948.
He lead the league in passing yards-per-game six times, in 1937, 1938, 1940, 1945, 1947, and 1948.
He lead the league in completion percentage nine times during his career.
He lead the league in passing touchdowns in 1940 and 1947.
He lead the league in passer rating four times, 1937, 1940, 1945, and 1947.
Sammy Baugh only started 83 games on offense and defense. In comparison, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and John Elway have double if not triple the amount of starts Sammy Baugh has while only playing on offense.
Sammy Baugh accomplished all of his passing statistics while also playing other positions such as cornerback, running back, punter, and defensive tackle.
Sammy Baugh, the Running Back
As a running back Sammy Baugh scored nine career rushing touchdowns, including one that went for 41 yards.
Sammy Baugh, the Defensive Back
As a defensive back Sammy Baugh had 31 career interceptions for 491 yards. In 1943, he lead the league in interceptions with 11 interceptions for 112 yards. Sammy Baugh is the only player in NFL history to throw four touchdowns passes and make four interceptions in the same game. The four interceptions he made in that game is still tied for the record of most interceptions in a game.
He also may have had many sacks and tackles as a defensive tackle and defensive back, unfortunately we can never know because sacks started to officially be recorded in 1969, and tackles started being recorded consistently in 1994 and weren’t official until 2001.
Sammy Baugh, the Kickoff and Punt Returner
In his punt and kickoff returns Baugh had 99 return yards in 11 receptions. Not phenomenal but pretty good for a quarterback.
Sammy Baugh, the Punter
Sammy Baugh was a phenomenal punter and was one of the best punters to ever play the game.
Sammy Baugh’s career punting Stats: 338 punts, 15245 yards, and averages 45.1 for punt
His longest career punts went for 85, 81, 75, 74, 75, and 76 yards.
His 45.1 average yards-per-punt is second all-time.
He led the league in punting yards in 1943.
He also lead the league in yards per punt from 1940-1943, the most seasons that a punter has ever lead the league.
His 51.4 average yards per punt in 1940 still stands today as the highest yards-per-punt in a season in NFL history.
His 48.73 average yards-per-punt in 1941 stands as third best in NFL history.
Lets look at the manner in which he achieved these statistics.
Sammy Baugh was one of the toughest players in NFL history. He played in an era where they had little protection, which was very dangerous. A game, back then, was very tough to go through. Even if you were injured you still had to play
“If you got hurt, many times your team wouldn’t take you out because, if they did, you couldn’t come back until the next quarter. They let you recover on the field,” Baugh said, reflecting on the rules used back then. Back then they were no rules to protect the quarterback.
He also play in era when the Mel Blount rule wasn’t created. This made it very difficult for his receivers to get up.
He also had these statistics with a sub-par supporting case.
Sammy Baugh retired after the 1952 season. By the time he retired he owned 13 NFL records. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the 17-member charter class of 1963.
Sammy Baugh’s Championship
In his rookie season Sammy Baugh lead the Washington Redskins to a victory NFL Championship game. He also lead the Redskins to a victory in the 1942 NFL Championship game.
In 1943 Baugh had the most impressive season in NFL history and accomplished something nobody will ever come close to accomplishing. He lead the league in passing, punting, and pass interceptions as defensive back.
Sammy Baugh was voted to the Pro Bowl six times.
Sammy Baugh retired after the 1952 season. By the time he retired he owned 13 NFL records. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the 17-member Charter Class of 1963.
In my opinion Sammy Baugh is without a question the greatest overall football player in NFL history. He was the most versatile player the league ever witnessed. Some doubters might say that he didn’t play with competition but he also didn’t play with the luxury that toady’s players have. He didn’t have the protection, rules, and training equipment today’s players have at their disposal.