record-setter Slingin' Sammy Baugh dies at 94
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) People never forgot Slingin' Sammy Baugh.
Every day as many as four letters arrived at the West Texas ranch the pioneering quarterback called home.
Baugh, whose use of the forward pass took him to the Hall of Fame after a career with the Washington Redskins, died Wednesday night. He was 94.
The letters came from young and old. Some asked for Baugh's autograph. But in the last several years of his life he couldn't oblige them.
His son David Baugh responded to each one, telling fans his father could no longer hold a pen.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett even wrote to Baugh, and like so many others "just talked about how he was an inspiration in their lives," David Baugh told The Associated Press. "He did a lot of things pretty good, not just as an athlete. He was a good rancher, roper. He was a pretty good man."
Baugh, hampered by numerous health issues, died at Fisher County Hospital in Rotan. David Baugh said his father had battled Alzheimer's disease and dementia for several years and recently had been ill with kidney problems, low blood pressure and double pneumonia.
"It wasn't the same Sam we all knew," he said. "He just finally wore out."
Sammy Baugh was the last surviving member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's inaugural class of 1963.
After starring at TCU, "Slingin' Sammy" played with the Redskins from 1937 to 1952, leading them to the NFL title in his rookie season and again in 1942.
Baugh was the best all-around player in an era when versatility was essential. In 1943, he led the league in passing, punting and interceptions. In one game, he threw four touchdowns and also intercepted four passes. He threw six touchdowns passes in a game twice. His 51.4-yard punting average in 1940 remains the NFL record.
"There's nobody any better than Sam Baugh was in pro football," Don Maynard, a fellow West Texas Hall of Famer who played for Baugh, said in a 2002 interview. "When I see somebody picking the greatest player around, to me, if they didn't go both ways, they don't really deserve to be nominated. I always ask, 'Well, how'd he do on defense? How was his punting?'"
When Baugh entered the NFL, the forward pass was so rare that it was unveiled mostly in desperate situations.
As a rookie in 1937, he completed a record 81 passes (about seven a game) and led the league with 1,127 yards passing. By contrast, only six quarterbacks averaged three completions a game that year. He went on to lead the league in passing six times.
Baugh still holds Redskins records for career touchdown passes (187) and completion percentage in a season (70.3). And his 31 interceptions on defense are third on the team's career list.
"He was amazing, just tremendously accurate," Eddie LeBaron, who took over as Washington's quarterback in Baugh's last season, said in a 2002 interview. "He could always find a way to throw it off balance. I've seen him throw the ball overarm, sidearm and underarm and complete them."
Baugh guided the Redskins to five title games and two championships, playing his entire career without a face mask. His No. 33 is the only jersey Washington has retired.
"Sammy Baugh embodied all we aspire to at the Washington Redskins," Redskins owner Dan Snyder said Wednesday night. "He was a competitor in everything he did and a winner. He was one of the greatest to ever play the game of football, and one of the greatest the Redskins ever had. My thoughts and prayers are with his family tonight."
Baugh's reputation blossomed as a star high school athlete in football, baseball and basketball in Sweetwater. It began to grow during his college days at TCU.
It was there that he picked up the nickname "Slingin' Sammy" but it wasn't for his passing. It was for the rockets he fired to first base as a shortstop and third baseman.
"Everybody thought I was a better baseball player growing up," he said in 2002. "I thought I was going to be a big league baseball player."
As an All-American football player, he led TCU to a 29-7-3 mark, including Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl victories. He masterfully executed an early ancestor of the West Coast offense at TCU, and he credits Horned Frogs coach Dutch Meyer with his NFL success.
"I was a little ahead of a lot of football players in those days because of Dutch," he said.
"Sam Baugh will always remain an integral part of TCU," athletic director Danny Morrison said in a statement. "His accomplishments have left an undeniable impact on our football program and the sport in general. TCU is extremely fortunate and honored to call Sam Baugh one of its own."
Baugh was known to make blunt, witty remarks.
After the Redskins' 73-0 loss to the Chicago Bears in the 1940 championship, a writer asked if the outcome would have been different had an end not dropped an early touchdown pass.
"Yeah," drawled Baugh. "It would have been 73-7."
He was also known for his reclusiveness.
After his NFL career, Baugh retreated to his 7,600-acre West Texas ranch about 95 miles southeast of Lubbock. The Hall of Fame and the Redskins tried to lure him east for ceremonies over the years, and he always turned them down.
For years he drove to Snyder three or four times a week to play golf, until sore knees and searing heat made the 100-mile round trip too difficult.
But he always enjoyed football season.
"I'll watch it all damn day long," Baugh, who often sprinkled his conversation with mild obscenities, told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. "I like the football they play. They got bigger boys, and they've also got these damn speed merchants that we didn't have in those days. I'd love to be quarterback this day and time."
David Baugh sees talent comparable to his father's in today's NFL players, citing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in particular.
"He's great, but he doesn't punt and he doesn't play safety on defense," David Baugh said. "In that regard, Sammy was pretty darned great."
Sammy Baugh bought the Double Mountain Ranch, named for two hills that jut out of the flat earth north of his house, in 1941. He and his wife, Edmonia, who died in 1990, raised five children on the arid expanse covered with mesquite trees, prickly pear cactus and about 500 cows.
He came to the ranch full time in the mid-1960s, after two years coaching the New York Titans and a year with the Houston Oilers.
David Baugh said his father didn't want to be remembered for "anything" to do with football, and hoped his epitaph reflected that wish.
"They ought to put down, 'I was a pretty good cowman,'" David Baugh recalled his father saying. "That's what he loved, being out on the ranch."
In addition to his son David, Baugh is survived by sons Todd Baugh, of Billings, Mont., and Stephen Baugh, of Midland; daughter Frances Baugh, of Lubbock; sister Nell Kindrick, of Garland; 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.