Remembering Sammy Baugh

December, 18, 2008
12/18/08
9:11
AM ET
If you come straight to the baseball page, you might have missed the news: Sammy Baugh died. A few snippets of his obituary:

    Baugh was the best all-around player in an era when such versatility was essential. In 1943, he led the league in passing, punting and defensive interceptions. In one game, he threw four touchdown passes and intercepted four as well. He threw six touchdowns passes in a game twice. His 51.4-yard punting average in 1940 is still the NFL record.

    "There's nobody any better than Sam Baugh was in pro football," Don Maynard, a fellow West Texas Hall of Famer who played for Baugh, said in a 2002 interview. "When I see somebody picking the greatest player around, to me, if they didn't go both ways, they don't really deserve to be nominated. I always ask, 'Well, how'd he do on defense? How was his punting?'"

    --snip--

    Baugh's reputation blossomed as a star high school football, baseball and basketball player in Sweetwater. It began to grow during his college days at TCU.

    It was there that he picked up the nickname "Slingin' Sammy" -- but it wasn't for his passing. It was for the rockets he fired to first base as a shortstop and third baseman.

    "Everybody thought I was a better baseball player growing up," he said in 2002. "I thought I was going to be a big league baseball player."

For my first 27 years, all I knew about football history was that my Vikings lost every Super Bowl in which they played. But then I went to work for Stats, Inc. We did football, so I jumped into football history with both feet. I learned a great deal of interesting things about the old days, but the one thing that has stuck with me in the years since was Sammy Baugh's 1943. Granted, some of the best football players were by then serving their country, but he led the NFL in passing yards. And punting average. And defensive interceptions. In the 1940s, giants walked among us.

Of course, Baugh was a baseball player, too. I don't know how good a baseball player he was, but I suspect he would have been pretty good if he had really applied himself. Baugh played just a little bit of professional baseball, and didn't play well. But he was fresh out of college, and got his brief shot in two Double-A leagues (at that time, Class AA was the highest in the minors).

I wasn't around in the 1930s. Not quite. And I'm sure I wouldn't particularly enjoy going back for long. Painful dentistry. Everybody smoking. Segregation in much of the country. But there's something appealing about a time when the greatest athletes did everything, if only because nobody told them they couldn't.

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