The Way We Were
Sammy Baugh versus... well, no one.
I compared Baugh -- who died last week at 93 in his native Texas -- to Brett Favre early this season, as charismatic quarterbacks from the south who loved to work the land in the offseason and took teams on their backs in-season. But in all ways football, Baugh is an incomparable player in NFL history.
A lean 6-2 and 180 pounds, Baugh played quarterback, safety and punter for the Redskins spanning the late thirties, forties and early fifties. For the first seven years he played single-wing tailback, which was that offense's version of the quarterback. He'd run and block and throw. In 1944, owner George Preston Marshall imported Clark Shaughnessy to coach the T formation, installing Baugh as a pure quarterback.
It's amazing he lasted 16 years in the NFL. (That's the longest any player played in the first 35 years of the NFL.) When World War II was at its peak in 1943, the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation ordered that pro football teams reduce rosters from 33 to 28. So there was a premium placed on versatile players, and no one was more versatile than Baugh. For the first five years of his career, quarterbacks could be hit after they released a pass, so it's even more surprising Baugh lasted so long. He took some kill shots from defenders trying to knock him out of the game.
In 1969, Baugh hosted Myron Cope -- yes, the late Steeler announcer, but also a great sportswriter in his day -- on his Texas ranch, and told him what it was like to be a football player in his early years. "Your ballplayers were playing both ways, so if you lost two good ones, you were dead,'' Baugh said. "Every now and then, they'd run what they called a 'bootsie' play, and everybody'd hit one man and just try to tear him to pieces. The object was to get him out of there. If they came up against a guy who was giving them a lot of trouble, along would come the 'bootsie.' ''
In 1940, Baugh and his Redskins suffered the worst loss in any NFL title game -- a 73-0 shutout by the Chicago Bears. In 1942, Washington and unbeaten Chicago, led by coach George Halas and quarterback Sid Luckman, met for a championship rematch. Baugh threw for the winning touchdown, averaged 52.5 yards per punt, and intercepted Luckman in a 14-6 Redskins victory. "That game,'' Halas said after his career ended, "was my disappointment of a lifetime.''
Much later in life, Luckman said Baugh was the greatest player of all time. I don't think versatility makes one the best who ever lived, but I do believe this: He's in the argument.
What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
Leon Washington fools defenses with his eyes when he runs.
Washington, the explosive Jets' multi-purpose back, has this interesting way of making defenders miss. Instead of looking at the hole where he intends to run, or looking at the man he intends to try to run over, he looks elsewhere and spies his hole through peripheral vision only.
"So you'll never want to wear one of those tinted visors on your helmet?'' I asked him the other day.
"Noooooo,'' he said. "I want them to see my eyes. I played [defensive back] as well as running back in high school in Florida, and I know how important it was to see a running back's eyes. A lot of times that tells you where he's going.''
This dates back to growing up in Jacksonville and playing a game in the neighborhood called Hotball. Up to 20 kids would play. One kid would take a football and try to avoid every other tackler, all trying to tackle and pummel him on a wide field. "When you try to make 20 people miss,'' Washington said, "you really work on your peripheral vision. I use that today-- I make guys miss by not looking at him.
"It happened last week against Buffalo. The safety was running straight at me when I got past the line of scrimmage, and I'm looking off to the side but I see him coming, and then I cut upfield to miss him. When I cut upfield, he had no idea I was cutting, because he hadn't seen me looking there.''
I'm sure other backs must do variations of this, but it's amazing to me that a man could have such good peripheral vision that he can make people miss by seeing them solely out of the corner of his eyes.
Good Guy of the Week
Mike Holmgren, coach, Seattle.
Holmgren coached his last game in Seattle Sunday, capping a 10-year coaching career there, and he used the occasion to do two things -- to take a lap around the stadium after the game, to shake hands and say thanks to the loyal fans there, and to help Medical Teams International raise money for medical care for thousands of refugees in the Congo and Rwanda.
Holmgren asked owner Paul Allen and club president Tod Leiweke if, at his final home game, the Seahawks would allow 100 volunteers of the medical group to collect money. Holmgren's wife, Kathy, and their daughter, Calla, are Medical Teams International volunteers who have worked in Africa, and were there three years ago while the Seahawks were playing Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
"It's a subject dear to their hearts," Holmgren said Friday. "There's a problem in eastern Congo that has created thousands of refugees who really need help. Medical Teams International sends medical-aid supplies, as well as people. I want to thank Mr. Allen and Tod for letting me do this. A lot of us have way more than we need, and there's a lot of people in the world who have nothing. The people of Seattle and our fans have been so generous for any number of things over the years, and in my final game here, I'm glad we can do this.''
On Friday, the Seahawk players voted for The Steve Largent Award, presented annually to the player who embodies the "spirit, dedication and integrity'' of the team. Only this time, the players didn't vote for a player. They voted for Holmgren. "For everything he's meant to the organization,'' wideout Bobby Engram said.
"Ahhhh, don't get me choked up,'' Holmgren said after the players gave it to him.
Then, on Sunday, the team won his last home game, and Holmgren was so touched by the response and the respect from the fans that it was hard for him to talk without choking up afterward. "I am one of the lucky ones,'' he said after the game. "I will never forget this day, a very special day for me.''
Cornerback Josh Wilson might have been speaking for his team after his two interceptions helped beat the Jets. "This guy is the greatest coach I've ever had, and life coach,'' Wilson said. "He always cares about everything you do.''