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Lone Star to Superstar
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 • Posted December 24, 2013

He was surprised at how many Redskin fans answered, “Sammy Baugh,” when asked, “Which Redskin would you like still playing?”

Joe Holley, then of the Washington Post, now an editorial columnist for the Houston Chronicle, was the man talking with the football folks. That answer, and maybe another reason or two, inspired Holley to write, Slingin’ Sam. It is a superb work about the Texan who was born in Temple but was “the Pride of Sweetwater,” and who is, without question, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League.

“I met him around 1954 {as a child}, at Holt’s Sporting Goods in Waco,” Holley told a book-club audience at the Marble Falls Library. “I had no idea who he was.”

Here’s who he was: Baugh led Texas Christian University to the 1935 national championship and a stirring 3-2 win over LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

The modest signal caller gave much credit to the gifted and highly-regarded TCU mentor, Dutch Meyer, for the game plan he followed during his days in Fort Worth. “We would just move the ball right down the field hitting short passes, and nobody could figure out how to stop it.”

In 1936, Texas Christian won at Santa Clara (California), 13-0. The Broncos aren’t well-known today, but they were in that era. Holley quotes the legendary writer, Grantland Rice: “Baugh did it almost single-handedly. Baugh gave one of the finest exhibitions of offensive and defensive play any gridiron has seen.”

On New Year’s Day, 1937, he led the Frogs to a 16-6 decision over Marquette in the inaugural Cotton Bowl.

No, he did not get his nickname from football! Fort Worth Star-Telegram sportswriter, Amos Melton, gave it to him, because of “how he rifled the ball across the diamond from third to first.”

This talented baseball player, quarterback, and defensive back could also punt the heck out of the ball: 60 and 65 yards at Santa Clara.

Punting, passing, running when he had to, and playing DB would follow in Washington, where Baugh earned Hall of Fame honors from 1937 to 1952.

In the 1942 NFL title game, he would get off an 85-yard kick. Corinne Griffith, the knowledgeable wife of the Redskins’ owner, George Preston Marshall, called it, “the greatest play I ever saw.”

“He enjoyed himself,” Holley told us, concerning Baugh’s life outside of football, “and people enjoyed being around him.”

I don’t know how much he enjoyed the ’37 championship match with the Bears. Because of an ice storm and 15 degrees, in Chicago, Sam chilled us with this: “Every time you hit that icy field, you’d slide, and everybody was bleeding. You’d hit…pebbles, and they’d just slice you.”

If you’re looking for that Dolphin duel: Incognito vs. Martin, this is a book to avoid. If you want to read about some great college and NFL games and plays, and learn what the players, coaches, and owners thought, you will love this. It’s a sports fan’s page-turner.

Sam Boyd, a wide receiver for the Steelers and Baylor’s head coach, 1956-‘58: “From the first time he stepped on the field, Sam was the best quarterback in the league.”

You’ll enjoy finding out if Baugh won a ring or two or more in the NFL, but I’ll tell you he did not win one in the 1940 title contest. The Bears, led by league founder-coach-owner, George Halas, walloped Washington, 73-0. Sam did deliver quite a quote. He was asked if a sure touchdown pass, dropped by receiver, Charlie Malone, would have made a difference? “Yeah,” he replied, “it wouldn’t have ended 73-0. It would have been, 73-7.”

1940 was still some season for Baugh: completion rate: 61.7%, unheard of then. Punting average: 51 yards. Just about unheard of today.

Washington Post, November 15, 1943: “Another of Sammy Baugh’s untouchable one-man shows, in which the torrid Texan smashed two more National Football League records.” Hyperbole? An 81-yard punt and four interceptions of Detroit’s Heisman Trophy winner, Frankie Sinkwich.

We close with that all-time quote from the quarterback. His coach in Washington in 1937, Ray Flaherty, told him during practice: “Look, Sammy, Wayne Milner is going to run a buttonhook, and I want you to hit him in the eye with that football.”

Yessir, but one question, coach.”

“Yeah?”

“Which eye?”

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