New York had Joe Dimaggio. Boston had Ted Williams
And Washington, D.C.? Well, we had Sammy Baugh, the greatest football player ever to pull on a jersey.
In 1943, Baugh led the NFL in pass completions, punting and interceptions as a defensive back with 11, calling forth the tribute of legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, "Sammy Baugh is just about the most valuable player of all time, according to most pro coaches I've talked to."
To those of us in grade school in Washington in the 1940s, Sammy Baugh was already a living legend.
A first-string all-American at Texas Christian, the lanky 6 foot, 2 inch Texan had led his team to a national championship and back-to-back victories in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls, then led the College-All Stars to a 6-0 victory over the Green Bay Packers in that time when the best of the college boys could beat the pros.
In 1937, George Preston Marshall, who had moved his team from Boston and renamed it the Redskins, picked Baugh as his first-round draft choice. As Washington Post writers Joe Holley and Bart Barnes relate in their splendid eulogy, when Baugh arrived at his first practice, coach Ray Flaherty said to him, "They tell me you're quite a passer."
"I reckon I can throw," said Baugh.
"Lets see it," said Flaherty, pointing to a player running down the field, "Hit that receiver in the eye."
"Which eye?" Baugh replied.
In his rookie year, Baugh led the Redskins to an 8-3 record, the division title and the NFL championship game against George Halas' Chicago Bears, the "Monsters of the Midway."
So icy and frozen was the turf in Wrigley Field, with a wind chill of 6 below, both teams wore rubber-soled shoes and only 15,000 fans, 3,000 of whom had taken the train out from Washington, showed up in the stands.
Led by "Bronco" Nagurski, fullback and linebacker, who would be one of only a dozen players inducted into Football's Hall of Fame charter class in 1963, the Bears were bigger, faster, stronger, more experienced and heavily favored.
Baugh took over the Redskin offense on his own five-yard line. In those days, when the ground game was the game, it was expected that Baugh would punt it out from his end zone.
Baugh went into punt formation, but, from deep in his end zone, he threw a completion to Cliff Battles, who carried the ball to midfield. Baugh then fired a short pass to Notre Dame All American and future Hall of Famer Wayne Milner, who carried it all the way for the score.
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