We note with sadness the passing of legendary passer and punter Sammy Baugh, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and the first coach of the New York Titans, on Wednesday at the age of 94.
Baugh died at his beloved 7,600-acre Double Mountain Ranch in Rotan in West Texas, where he lived and didn’t stray far from shortly after leaving the Titans following the 1961 season and being inducted into the Hall’s inaugural class in 1962.
I had the honor of speaking with Sammy in 2001. I found him to be a crusty, profane and humorous fellow and I understood why, for example, Titans DB Fred Julian called Baugh "a very unique individual who was really a lot of fun to play for."
"I think I stayed there for two years," Baugh recalled of his Titans sojourn. "I enjoyed the boys more than any other damn thing.
"Harry Wismer was the owner and he had been with the Redskins when I was there — he announced the games [on radio]. I knew him real well. He moved on to the Titans and offered me the job. ‘There’ll be some happy days there’ — that’s exactly the way he worded it.
"I told him, ‘Hell, I don’t want to get that far away from home,’ " Baugh reflected. "We were in New York City and I was miserable. I didn’t like the big city at all — I still don’t. I just got some coaches, Dick Todd, [Hugh] ‘Bones’ Taylor and that bunch. We had a pretty good thing going."
That inaugural season of 1960, Baugh’s Titans became one of the poster teams for the wild, wide-open nature of the American Football League, leading the new league in scoring offense (27.3 points per game) while bringing up the rear in scoring defense (28.5 ppg).
After that first season, "Slingin’ Sammy" wasn’t sure he wanted to re-up.
"I told Harry I might not be able to come up for the second year. He told me to come up if I could," Baugh recalled. "My coaches were up there with me. If they weren’t going to go, I wasn’t going to go. But we made it up there."
One of the things that made it worth while was perhaps Baugh’s best personal move in his two seasons at the helm. As a one-time NFL champion quarterback, he knew that a QB’s best friend was a dynamic receiving duo. He had one half of such a tandem in Don Maynard, and he convinced the notoriously tight-fisted Wismer to spend a little bit to bring Art Powell in from the CFL.
"Harry asked me, ‘If we can do just one thing to help the ballclub, what would you say we needed?’ " he said. "I said we needed a damn end opposite Maynard or else other teams would double-team Maynard all the time. Art was a big, fast guy who made the difference in our ballclub. When we got him, we had two damn good pass receivers."
After ’61, Baugh left pro football for good. His legacy as Titans coach was a pair of 7-7 records and a handful of players who continued on to form a nucleus that helped carry the Jets of 1963 to the Super Bowl title five years later. He added that to his still-standing marks with the ‘Skins — team records for career TD passes (187), season completion percentage (70.3) — and his 51.4-yard gross punting average in 1940 that remains a league record to this day.
Up until his surgical right knee and other health problems reined him in, Baugh loved riding his horses and going to rodeos. And he loved golf.
"If I had my life to live over," he told me, "I would try to get someone to put me in golf from about 10 years of age. Hell, all these other sports, football, baseball, basketball, there comes a time when you know you’re through. But damned golf, you can play until you’re 100 years old."
Baugh nearly made it to three figures. But we’re glad he gave us 16 seasons as an NFL player and two years of guiding the Titans to viability before riding off into the sunset.
Tags: Don Maynard, New York Titans, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Washington Redskins
Posted in Randy Lange | 39 Comments »