March 17, 1914-December 17, 2008
Sweetwater, Texas, quarterback and punter Sammy Baugh spent hours throwing the ball through a swinging automobile tire, often doing so while on the run. He spent even more time punting the ball, perfecting a skill that greatly aided defensive football of his era.
Wanting to play professional baseball, Baugh enrolled at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1933 because football coach Dutch Meyer also agreed to let him play baseball and basketball. Sitting out his freshman year as required by NCAA rules, during three seasons as TCU’s starting quarterback he threw 587 passes for 39 touchdowns. He garnered All-American honors during TCU’s 12-1 season in 1935 and during the following 9-2-2 season in 1936; Baugh won the Most Valuable Player award in TCU’s 1937 16-6 victory over Marquette in the first Cotton Bowl Classic.
Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall offered Baugh $4,000 to play in the NFL; he ultimately signed an outrageous $8,000 a year contract. Unsure about playing football, Baugh spent the summer of 1937 playing baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals minor league team in Columbus, Ohio. While his powerful throwing arm had won for him the nickname “Sligging Sammy,” Baugh was converted to shortstop and sent down to Rochester, New York, where he played behind future major leaguer Marty Marion. Disappointed, Baugh turned to professional football.
The name “Sligging Sammy” Baugh is synonomous with the emergence of the modern NFL football. He proved that the forward pass could be more than just a surprise weapon or a desperation tactic. In fact, during Baugh’s sixteen year career (1937-52) he made the pass a routine scrimmage play. During his rookie season, the quarterback, punter, and defensive back set an NFL record for completions with 91 in 218 attempts and threw for a league-high 1,127 yards.
By the time he retired, Baugh had set 13 NFL records in three player positions: quarterback, punter, and defensive back. Considered one of the all-time great football players, he was inducted as a member of the inaugural 1963 Football Hall of Fame class. TCU retired Baugh’s jersey number 45 and the Washington Redskins retired his number 33 (team’s only retired number).
When comparing Baugh's athletic achievements with modern football greats, the football he threw then was rounder at the ends and fatter in the middle than the one used today, making it far more difficult to pass well or even to create a proper spiral.