The biggest mistake I've made was that although I understood the football business as well as anybody in the league, I didn't pay the attention to it that some of the other owners did. I let my coaches have a free hand, and it didn't work. The year we signed White, our coach was John Blood. I still believe that John Blood could have been a tremendous coach if he would have just paid attention. We once played a game in Los Angeles and John missed the train home. John was known to enjoy a good time, of course, so we didn't see him the whole week. On Sunday he stopped off in Chicago to see his old team, the Green Bay Packers, play the Bears. The newspaper guys asked him, "How come you're not with your team?" And John said, "Oh, we're not playing this week." Well, no sooner did he get those words out of his mouth than the guy on the loudspeaker announced a score. Philadelphia 14, Pittsburgh 7. You really couldn't depend on John a whole lot.
It's an entirely different life today. The atmosphere used to be more enjoyable among the owners. Although they fought a lot, they were a lot closer to one another than they are now. The league meetings to set a schedule were really something, day and night for maybe a whole week. Everybody tried to get the best schedule. You'd want the teams that drew the biggest crowds. But early in the season you'd want the teams you could beat, so you could start off winning. The owners who had staying power, who were willing to stick in that room day and night arguing, they wound up with the best schedules. The guys who got tired and went home, they got murdered. One time we worked two or three days getting a schedule up there on the blackboard, but when it was just about done, George Marshall got sore. He went up to the board and wiped it all out. We had to go back to work for two more days, because nobody had copied down the schedule.
Even when you got a schedule set it might change a little. Back in 1938 a fellow named Tom Lipscomb owned the Cleveland club. Cleveland was supposed to play us in Pittsburgh, but we canceled the game because of bad weather. Well, we really canceled it because there weren't going to be any customers there. This fellow Lipscomb hollered and screamed and yelled that I had to play the game. So then I had to find a place to play where we could draw a crowd. Lipscomb said, "Play it in Knoxville, Tennessee. That's my home town." I told him, "People are not going to come out to see you play."
So I'm looking around when a friend of mine named Joe Engle, who was a big shot in minor league baseball, mentions a guy by the name of Walmsley to me. Knowing something about politics, I knew who Walmsley was. He had been mayor of New Orleans until Huey Long knocked him out of the box. I also knew that a guy named Maestri was now mayor of New Orleans and was a fantastic political leader. As soon as Joe Engle brought up Walmsley's name and gave me his phone number, I got on the phone. I said to Walmsley, "If we bring this big professional football game to New Orleans, will Maestri get behind it?" I knew that if Maestri told the people, "Go!" they went. "Oh, positively. Maestri will positively get behind the game," Walmsley said.
So I gave Cleveland the extra expenses to go to New Orleans, and we took the game there. Well, when I got down to New Orleans I accidentally ran into a couple of priests who were teaching at Loyola, and I asked if they were going to the game. They said, "What game?" They said, "Nobody in New Orleans knows about it. It must be a secret." Right away I went to Walmsley and told him, "I want to meet Maestri."
So I visited Maestri and I took Whizzer White with me. I figured Maestri might not have heard of me but everybody had heard of Whizzer White. Maestri and I talked a little bit, but right then and there I knew I was dead, because not only didn't Maestri ever hear of me or know I owned the Pittsburgh club, he never heard of White either. In fact, he kept getting everything confused. He thought we were a college team that had come down to play against Tulane.
On the day of the game I'm sitting with Walmsley in the Sugar Bowl, and nobody's there. Walmsley keeps telling me, "Oh, don't worry about it. Everybody comes late to a football game down here." Well, I'd been listening to that kind of stuff as long as I'd been a promoter. I said, "There's nobody going to show up here." And nobody did. The place was empty. To top it off, Cleveland beat us and the New Orleans police called me at the hotel that night and informed me they'd pinched three or four of my ballplayers for kicking over some garbage cans. I told the sergeant, "We got a train out of here at 9 in the morning. You keep 'em till it's time for them to get on the train."
We've had a lot of great ballplayers, you know. Just think of the quarterbacks. We've had Sid Luckman, Earl Morrall, Len Dawson, Jackie Kemp, Bill Nelsen. I'd say we were experts on quarterbacks at Pittsburgh. We had them all, and we got rid of every one of them. We had Johnny Unitas in for a tryout, but our coach then, Walter Kiesling, let him go. Kies said, "He can't remember the plays. He's dumb." You had to know Kies. He was a great coach, but he thought a lot of ballplayers were dumb. We were arguing about a guy one day, and I said, "I don't care how dumb he is. He can run and he can pass and he can block. If he can do those three things, he don't have to be a Rhodes scholar." But all Kies said to that was, "He's dumb."
Over the years it's been one thing or another. It's bad that we've never won a championship. I feel terrible about it. There isn't anyone in professional football who hurts as much as I do. But what am I going to do about it? I think my whole mistake was letting my coaches have too free a hand. I'm positively sure that had I run my team like George Marshall ran his Washington club we would have won some championships. I was able. I was competent. Well. I can't change now. I'm too old. But I'm sure not crying. Who's interested in a loser's alibis?
SAMMY BAUGH (1937-1952: Washington Redskins)