NFL Legends: Sammy Baugh

James WilliamsonSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2008

What can I say about Slingin' Sammy Baugh? What can I say that would be fit to commemorate such a great man? Not just a great man, but a great player, and a great person.

If you do not know of Sammy Baugh, or only know him as the 94-year-old man who died recently, then clean your glasses, and prepare to learn something. Because Sammy Baugh created modern football.

If I could use only one word to describe Sammy Baugh, I would have to choose "versatile." It describes him as a person, as a player, and as a football god.

This man was not only loved by the Washington Redskins, but by the entire state of Texas (Which is also the state that holds the Redskins' most hated enemy, the Dallas Cowboys).

To be able to be revered by the two members of arguably the fiercest rivalry in football defines versatile. Many Redskins hate Texas just as much as they hate Dallas, and yet their best player of all time is a Texan.

Don't think that Sammy Baugh's versatility ends there. He was not just a quarterback. He was also a punter and a defensive back, because in his time, players played on both sides of the ball.

He not only learned how to play three positions, he was the best at all three of those positions. This was a man who could have gone to the Hall of Fame at any one of the positions he played.

Sammy Baugh had 31 interceptions in the five years he played defensive back. His highest total was 11 in the 1943 season. That is an average of six interceptions a season, which is already hard to do today with 16 games, and he played in only 10 games (He also only played defensive back for 59 games in total, so he averaged an interception every two games he played in).

To me, Sammy Baugh is easily one of the top three punters of all time. He even said, "I worked on punting more than I ever did passing, to tell you the truth." His greatest year as a punter came in 1940, when he had an average of 51.4 yards per punt and his longest punt of 85 yards.

In his career as a punter, he had 338 punts with 15,245 yards with only nine punts blocked, and an average of 45.1 yards per kick. To me, that is a Hall of Fame punter, no question.

Finally, we have to hear about Baugh's passing. Of course we have to hear about his passing. He had six passing titles in his NFL career.

Before Sammy Baugh, the passing game of football was in its most rudimentary form. The pass was only used in major downfield issues. Baugh came in and started the evolution of short passes, the act of using the pass not only in times of desperation, but as a tool for success.

This man threw for 187 touchdowns in an era where the run game was the game. This was also the time where a defensive back could do almost anything to a receiver.

Back then, football would be viewed as barbaric compared to today's game. Quarterbacks had no protection at all; there wasn't a penalty for roughing the passer, and there wasn't even the body equipment we have now.

The absence of pass interference fouls accounts for Baugh's 203 interceptions. If you think about what he could have done in today's game with the rules now, he might have been better than the greats we look up to today.

When you look at how he reacts after the snap, and how he has his right arm high in the sky, almost like a stretch, you know it is going to be a good pass.

The way he held his arm is the reason he was called "Slingin' Sammy Baugh." He looked like he used his arm as the hammer of the gun.

Baugh also had incredible accuracy because he practiced so much. He would take a swinging tire and would fire the ball through for hours. A lot of times he even did it on the run.

Sammy Baugh's best season was the 1943 season when he led the league in interceptions, punting, and passing. It was one of the greatest single-season performances of all time.

People I've met are amazed at how Ben Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl by his second year. Well, not to take anything away from Big Ben, but he had Hines Ward catching his passes, and a top five defense.

Sammy Baugh did not have a number one receiver. Yet, in his first season, he took the Redskins to the 1937 NFL Championship game and beat the Chicago Bears 28-21. He even passed for 335 yards on Chicago's ice-covered field.

However, Sammy Baugh's greatest game came against the Detroit Lions on November 14, 1943. Baugh threw four touchdowns and intercepted four passes in a 42-21 victory. That is an accomplishment that will never be repeated.

The thing about Baugh that led him to victory was the confidence he had in himself. "When you're on the field, you got to feel like you're the best son of a ##### out there."

He was not only a great quarterback, but he was a great provider. He and his wife, Edmonia, were high school sweethearts and stayed together until her death in 1990. They had been married 52 years, and had four sons and a daughter. If she had died with her husband, they would have reached the 70 year mark.

After his career, he bought a ranch in Texas and stayed there until his death. Numerous times, the Redskins and the Hall of Fame program have tried to get him to do something, and every time he refused. His life was spent peacefully, without hassle.

His number 33 is retired by the Redskins, and he still holds the second-best single season completion percentage with 70.3 percent. He led the Redskins to two championship titles in 1937 and 1942.

Baugh was one of the Hall of Fame's charter inductees in 1963, and was the last one alive until he died on December 17, 2008. He is on the NFL's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams and on the 1940s All-Decade team.

Many sportswriters will say that they believe he is the greatest football player of all time.

Sammy, I hope you can read this from your place with God. You changed the game of football the way the Constitution changed the United States. We will miss you, dear friend.

To Sammy Baugh. He made football a better sport.

March 17, 1914 to December 17, 2008.


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