From our files: Sammy Baugh: In Passing
'Slingin' Sammy Baugh, who died yesterday, revolutionized the forward pass as a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Washington Redskins from 1937-1952.
From the October 14, 1948 issue of The Christian Science Monitor.
For years, forward passing was regarded as daring football. Fans usually liked passing because it was exciting to watch, and because danger rode with every attempt at it - danger of interception for the home team, and of completion for the opposition. Either way, passing was spectacular.
While the fans cheered it, however, fundamentalists insisted that it was not sound football. They regarded it as desparation play. Victories won on passes were sometimes termed "fluke" wins. Now the picture is different. The fellow who changed it is a drawling Texan, who proved that passing could be a science instead of a gamble.
Sammy Baugh did not aspire to football greatness as a boy. He wanted to be a baseball player. Just as the baseball major leagues are dotted with frustrated footballers, the football big time is sprinkled with fellows who wanted to play baseball. Sammy probably is the outstanding example.
When he was growing up on a Texas farm, heliked the sandlot game. Texas had good baseball weather, and Sam was determined to make the most of it. Football was not just something to try for the sake of variety, fun to dabble in but lacking in the solid virtues of baseball.
When he was of high school age, Sam retained much the same opinion of the two sports. At this time, the Baughs moved to Sweetwater, Texas, where Sammy went to high school. Tall and slim, Sam did not look much like a football player, but he went out for the team, anyway. He liked sports, and he watend to keep his hand in. If he had not subsequently achieved fame, it is unlikely that anyone who saw Sammy in high school football uniform would remember it now. He was unimpressive. At the time, he apparent lack of outstanding ability did not worry the young fellow, because everyone agreed he was a fine infielder on the high school baseball team.
After graduation, Sam had high hopes of making the major leagues. He joined an Abilene, Texas team as a third baseman, and sports fans continued to point him out as a fine prospect for organized baseball. Among the people who watched him and admired his work on the diamond was Dutch Meyer, baseball coach for Texas Christian University. Meyer thought that Baugh had natural ability as a hitter, and after some time he interested Sammy in going to Texas Christian. Meyer also was freshman football coach at TCU, but he is the first to confess now that he had no suspicions that Sammy Baugh might become a great football player. He knew Sam had played football, and figured he might fill in as a substitute on the freshman team in the baseball off-season.
Sammy went out for football as a freshman, but he failed to establish a reputation as a good football player. Francis Schmidt, head football coach, attributed Sammy's so-so play to the fact that he was too slim for football, anyway. For the first time, however, the easygoing Baugh was unwilling to ride along on that excuse. That freshman year he developed something more important than a reputation, he developed a determiniation to become more than a mediocre football player. He was beginning to get football fever, to feel that the autumn game was more than a change of pace from baseball.
It became obvious to Sammy that he did have a natural ability to pass. He watned to develop it, but he realized that he would have to become a better all-around player in order to make the passing count.
During his sophmore year, Sam studied the game of football. He spent hours on the fundamentals of the game, trying to imagine himself in every position on the team(he played quarterback) and in every conceivable situation. The team as a whole, and how it should operate - this was what Sammy had to know in order to do a good job of quarterbacking. He assimilated facts, and he began, gradually, to put his knowledge to work on the field. At first his play was marred by extreme nervousness. But he stuck to it and, as he saw theory work out on the field, developed self-confidence.
Sammy Baugh was a fine, workmanlike quarterback when he reported to his coach at the beginning of junior year. As serious practice got under way, he proved that he could punt well too, and he gave every indication of being a calm player, sure of what should be done in every situation.
Having painstakingly built the groundwork, Sammy was ready to reap the rewards. His passing, always his strong point but worthless without all-around basic ability, came into its own. It seemed to unhappy rivals of TCU that Baugh just couldn't miss. While fans screamed themselves hoarse, Baugh passed TCU into the Sugar Bowl. Even then he had no idea of how good he really was, and few other people guessed it.
After graduation from TCU, Same figured still that he might find a steadier, more dependable job in baseball. He played a season in the minor leagues. The next year he returned to football, hoping that his passing arm would enable him to make good with the professional Washington Redskins.
Since then, football fans have had occasion to be very thankful for Sammy's decision. His amazing marksmanship changed passing from a desparation measure to good, sound football. In 11 years of professional play, he has netted 15,000 yards for the Redskins on passing alone. Again and again his passes have been touchdown throws. As he himself admits, he is getting a little old now for the rugged game of football, being 34. There is talk of replacing him with a recent graduate of college football. But in a sense, Sammy cannot be replaced. He was a trail blazer, a pioneer, and the fellow who comes after will be treading a well-marked path.