Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sammy Baugh (1914-2008)

The sports world lost one of its legends Wednesday when former Washington Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh died at the age of 94. "Slingin' Sammy" revolutionized the quarterback position with his uncanny accuracy, making the forward pass not just routine part of the game, but a weapon.

Baugh was a two-time All-American at Texas Christian University, leading the Horned Frogs to victories in the 1936 Sugar Bowl and the 1937 Cotton Bowl. College football ruled in 1930s, so when Baugh joined the National Football league in 1937, it was considered a step down. When told that he had been drafted by the Washington Redskins to play professional football, Baugh recalls "I didn't know what they were talking about, because frankly, I had never heard of either the draft or the Washington Redskins."

But it didn't take long for Slingin' Sammy to make an impression. In his rookie season, Baugh played quarterback, defensive back and punter while leading them to a 28-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFL Championship game. He led the Redskins to another championship in 1942, and in 1943 he became the only player in NFL history to lead the league in passing, punting (45.9 yard avg.) and interceptions (11). That same year, Baugh threw four touchdown passes and intercepted four passes in a 42-20 victory over Detroit.

In 1945 the Redskins changed their offense to take advantage of Baugh's skills. He responded by completing a then record 70.33% of his passes for the season, (second today only to Ken Anderson's 70.55% in 1982) with 11 TD passes and only four interceptions. Two years later, Baugh had his best year ever, completing 210 of 354 passes for 2,938 yards and 28 touchdowns. These kind of numbers were unheard in NFL history and placed Baugh in a class by himself. He retired in 1952 after sixteen seasons and was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. He still holds the NFL record for punting average in a season with 51.4 yards in 1940.

As much as any other single person, Sammny Baugh was responsible for bringing professional football out of obscurity and onto the national landscape in the 1940s. By the time he retired, the NFL was on the road to becoming the most popular sport in America.

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