The passing of a legend

The passing of a legend

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Updated Dec. 18, 2008, 7:45 a.m. ET

Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh passed away on Wednesday at the age of 94. He was the last surviving member of the Hall of Fame’s charter Class of 1963.

“We are saddened to learn of the death of Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh, one of the game’s true pioneers and most versatile players,” commented Pro Football Hall of Fame President/Executive Director Steve Perry. “Sammy’s rare athletic talents changed the way the game was played.  It is no exaggeration to say that his tremendous passing skills were a major factor in the evolution of the game from the grind-it-out days of old to the exciting passing game of today.” 

Baugh entered the NFL scene in 1937 as the first round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. Over the next decade and a half, he revolutionized pro football’s passing game. His six NFL passing titles, while tied by fellow Hall of Famer Steve Young, have never been surpassed. He also excelled as a punter and defensive back.

Baugh still ranks second in numerous other statistical marks such as most seasons leading the league in pass attempts, most  seasons leading in completions, most seasons leading the league in completion percentage and is tied for second for most seasons leading the league in passing yardage.

The pro football scene changed dramatically when Baugh joined the NFL in 1937. That year is also when the Redskins relocated from Boston to the nation's capital. The team could not make a go of it in Boston so they packed their bags and headed to Washington.

One of the first orders of business for owner George Preston Marshall was signing Baugh, a star from Texas Christian University, to a contract. The All-America back was the Redskins' first round choice, sixth overall, in the annual player draft held in December of 1936.

Marshall realized he had more than just a football player; he had a personality that could sell football. And that they did as "Slingin' Sammy" woke up the football world with his passing skills as he revolutionized the NFL during his 16 years with the Redskins. An astute businessman with a keen sense for the promotion of his product, Marshall signed Baugh to a personal services contract. Clause (3) of Baugh's 1938 contract read:

(3) In addition to the compensation hereinbefore set forth, each of the parties hereto shall receive fifty per centum (50%) of all moneys paid for endorsements, personal appearances, performances in theaters and movies, etc. by party of the second part during the term of this contract. It is herby understood and agreed between the parties hereto that the party of the first part shall have the right to make engagements for the party of the second part for such endorsements, personal appearances, performances in theaters and movies, etc.; and the part of the second part hereby aggress to fulfill such engagements upon the terms and condition set forth in this paragraph (3).

Marshall's intuition was right on the mark and Baugh wasted little time in proving his value on and off the football field. Before he ever threw a football at the pro level, Baugh had already been one of the most publicized players of his time. 

In his very first season, Sammy led the Redskins to the NFL title. In the 1937 NFL Championship Game, he led the way by throwing for 335 yards and tossing three touchdown strikes in guiding the Redskins past the Chicago Bears, 28-21.

Baugh helped Washington to five division titles in his first 10 seasons and a second world championship in 1942. A simply outstanding all-around performer, Baugh excelled in passing, punting, and as a defensive back. In 1943, he recorded a rare "triple crown" when he led the National Football League in passing (133 completions, 1,754 yards, and 23 touchdowns), punting (50 punts for 45.9-yard average), and interceptions (11 interceptions returned for 112 yards).

Baugh's career achievements are numerous. His statistics were of the like never seen before and they became the measuring stick for all quarterbacks who have followed. He was a six-time individual passing champion, a marked tied by Young in 1997. In 1945, Baugh recorded an incredible 70.33 pass completion percentage, a record that stood for 37 years. 

One of Baugh’s finest performances of his illustrious career came on November 23, 1947. That day, the Redskins paid tribute to their star quarterback by celebrating “Sammy Baugh Day.” Sammy entertained the home crowd by throwing for 355 yards and firing 6 touchdowns against the Chicago Cardinals.

Baugh, who split his career between tailback and T-quarterback, passed for 21,886 yards and 187 touchdowns. A seven-time All-NFL pick, Baugh also had a 45.1-yard per punt average and intercepted 31 passes as a defensive halfback. He was one of 17 football legends enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s charter class on September 7, 1963.

In all, Baugh threw for 21,866 yards and 186 touchdowns - figures that were astounding for his day. He also still ranks as the game's all-time leading punter with a career average of 45.10 yards.

 Sammy Baugh's HOF Bio>>>
 Sammy Baugh's enshrinement speech transcript>>>
 1953 NFL Record Manual - Records Held By Sammy Baugh>>>
 Sammy Baugh's 1940 Contract>>>
 Photo Gallery: Sammy Baugh, Class of 1963
 Photo Gallery: Hall of Famers by Class>>>
 Washington Redskins history>>> 
 NFL's "Triple Crown" leaders
 Video: Remembering Sammy Baugh


 See last week's Throwback Game of the Week (Was at Cin) for more on Baugh such as pages from the game program celebrating "Sammy Baugh Day" in 1947.

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