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Sammy Baugh: Slingin' Sammy


photo by Harris & Ewing, 1937, CC Public Domain

Sammy Baugh was a pivotal player in NFL history. The Hall of Fame quarterback was not only instrumental in developing the modern passing game, he was also the game’s first great punter and one of its best defensive backs.


After a successful college career at Texas Christian University, where he was a 2-time All-American, Baugh was drafted by the Washington Redskins with the sixth overall pick of the 1937 NFL Draft.


Baugh immediately became the face of the franchise for the transplanted Redskins, who were entering their first year in Washington after spending their first five seasons in Boston.


Even though Baugh was the Redskins’ primary passer, he was technically a single-wing tailback his first seven seasons in Washington. It wouldn’t be until 1944 when the Redskins switched to the T-formation that Baugh would assume the position of quarterback as we know it today.


 

“Slingin’ Sammy” was a star from the start, leading the NFL with 1,127 passing yards and rushing for 240 more in his rookie season. More importantly, he led the Redskins to an 8-3 record and their first NFL title.


In the 1937 NFL Championship Game, Baugh completed 18 of 33 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and a 107.5 passer rating in Washington’s 28-21 road win over the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field.


The Redskins returned to the NFL Championship Game in 1940, as Baugh led the NFL with 1,367 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and an 85.6 passer rating. He also set an NFL record by averaging 51.4 yards on 35 punts, the first of four straight seasons leading the league in punting.


While Washington cruised through the regular season with a 9-3 record, the title game would be a different story, as the Redskins suffered the worst defeat in NFL history with a 73-0 home loss to the Chicago Bears in Washington’s Griffith Stadium.


The easygoing Baugh took the loss in stride, even joking with reporters afterward. The quarterback’s quiet confidence calmed his teammates, and the Redskins remained a title contender for the next five years.


 

In 1942, Washington was back in the NFL Championship Game after posting a 10-1 mark in the regular season. Baugh had another outstanding year with 1,524 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and an 82.5 passer rating. The All-Pro led the NFL in completion percentage (58.7), punting average (48.2), and intercepted five passes on defense.


The Redskins avenged their earlier NFL Championship Game loss to the Bears with a hard-fought 14-6 win in the 1942 title game in Griffith Stadium. Baugh showcased his all-around skills in the defensive battle, throwing a touchdown pass, intercepting a pass on defense, and averaging 52.5 yards on six punts.


In 1943, Baugh had what many consider the signature season of the two-way era. The All-Pro led the league in completion percentage (55.6), defensive interceptions (11) and punting average (45.9), while also setting career highs in passing yards (1,754) and touchdowns (23).


The Redskins advanced to the NFL Championship Game for the second straight year after winning a divisional tiebreaker playoff against the rival New York Giants at New York’s Polo Grounds. Baugh was outstanding on both sides of the ball, completing 16 of 21 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown, and intercepting two passes on defense in Washington’s dominating 28-0 win.


Unfortunately, the Redskins were unable to repeat as champions, as they lost to the Bears 41-21 in the NFL title game. Baugh had another strong showing, though, completing 8 of 12 passes for 123 yards, two touchdowns and a 105.2 passer rating.


 

After Washington switched to the T-formation in 1944, Baugh started a historic run the following season. He set NFL records with a 109.9 passer rating and a 70.3 completion percentage in 1945. The latter mark would stand for 37 seasons.


From 1947-49, Baugh had arguably the greatest three-year stretch by a passer in NFL history up to that point. In 1947, he led the league with 210 completions, 354 attempts, 2,938 yards, 25 touchdowns, a 59.3 completion percentage and a 92.0 passer rating.


On November 23, 1947 on “Sammy Baugh Day” in Washington, the 33-year-old quarterback had the best single-game performance of his career, throwing for 355 yards and six touchdowns in the Redskins’ 45-21 win over the Chicago Cardinals.


In 1948, Baugh led the NFL in completions (185), attempts (315), yards (2,599) and completion percentage (58.7), and finished second with 22 touchdowns. In 1949, he threw for 1,903 yards and 18 touchdowns, and led the NFL in completion percentage (56.9) for the fifth straight season and eighth time in his career.


 

As Baugh entered the 1950s, his numbers declined but his legend only increased. Even though Baugh relinquished his starting job to rookie Eddie LeBaron early in the 1952 season, he remained a fan favorite in Washington. When “Slinging Sammy” played his last game for the Redskins on December 14, 1952, he received a long standing ovation from the adoring fans in Griffith Stadium.


Baugh finished his career as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards (21,886), touchdowns (187), completions (1,693), attempts (2,995) and completion percentage (56.5). He also retired as the career leader in punting average (45.1). On defense, he intercepted 31 passes in six seasons from 1940-45.


Baugh was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural Class of 1963.

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