SI Vault
Myron Cope
October 20, 1969
Bulldog Turner (left) and Sammy Baugh, who both started at Sweetwater High and ended as rugged ranchers, and Art Rooney, a winner with the horses but a loser with the Steelers, reflect on the lively days before pro football moved from its Golden Age to its Age of Gold
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October 20, 1969

A Life For Two Tough Texans

Bulldog Turner (left) and Sammy Baugh, who both started at Sweetwater High and ended as rugged ranchers, and Art Rooney, a winner with the horses but a loser with the Steelers, reflect on the lively days before pro football moved from its Golden Age to its Age of Gold

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Dutch Meyer told me he'd get me a job and help me through TCU if I'd come there and play baseball and football and basketball, the whole thing. So that's where I went. My freshman and sophomore years at TCU, we taped that knee all the time. But I never did have real good movement, and finally I told them I wasn't going to tape the knee anymore. So we just quit taping the thing, and it never did bother me the rest of the time I was there.

In the spring of my last year, 1937, George Marshall brought me to Washington and offered me $4,000 to play with the Redskins. Now down here in Texas, no one knew anything about pro football. They didn't even know what it was. I didn't know if I could make it in pro football, and since Dutch Meyer had offered me a job as freshman coach, I told Mr. Marshall I thought I was going to stay in Texas and coach. See, I still wanted to be a baseball player, but I wanted a coaching job to fall back on.

Anyway, the summer after I got out of college I went to Chicago to play in the College All-Star football game against Green Bay. I talked with the rest of the boys on the All-Star squad and found that a bunch of them were going to play pro football. I found that most of them were just like me—that they hadn't been out of the country too often themselves—and that I could play ball better than 99% of them. So I became more confident. As it turned out, we beat Green Bay, and then Mr. Marshall got after me pretty hot.

I didn't know how much pro players were making, but I thought they were making pretty good money. So I asked Mr. Marshall for $8,000, and I finally got it. Later I felt like a robber when I found out what Cliff Battles and some of those other good players were making. I'll tell you what the highest-priced boy in Washington was getting the year before—not half as much as $8,000! Three of them—Cliff Battles, Turk Edwards and Wayne Millner—got peanuts, and all of 'em in the Hall of Fame now. If I had known what they were getting I'd have never asked for $8,000.

Marshall always treated me fair. If he ever told me something I could depend on it. But he was hard on a lot of players. Cliff Battles led the league in ground-gaining a few years afore I got there, and when I got there he led the league for the second time. He had a knack of following his blockers better than any man I'd seen at that time. He could run punts back, catch passes—he was just a real good athlete. Everybody in the league liked him. Anyway, he wanted a raise from $2,750 to $3,000, as I recall. Marshall wouldn't give it to him. So Cliff said, "Well, I'm quitting then." He had a lot of ball left in him, but he quit. [Battles, now a General Electric executive, says the disputed figure was something in the $4,000 range. Marshall not only refused the raise, Battles remembers, he accused Columbia University of stealing his employee when Battles was hired there as an assistant coach, and three years later—after the Redskins had just lost the 73-0 game to the Bears—charged Battles with selling Redskin plays to Chicago. It was years before the two men were cordial again.]

The fact is, most men played pro football in those days because they liked football. A lot of players today say they only play for the money, but even now, it's not all money. I don't care if salaries went back down, they'd still play. Of course, nobody was making a lot of money out of football in the '30s. That's why I'll always think a lot of Marshall and George Halas and Art Rooney and those kind of people—they stayed in there when it was rough. They made a great game out of it. I went with the Redskins the year Marshall moved them from Boston to Washington, and in Boston he had lost money every year—all five years. But it was more fun than it is now.

Of all the years I played for Washington, the early ones were the best. In the first nine years, we played in the championship game five times. And, you know, the best group of boys we ever had was the team that got beaten 73-0 by the Bears in that 1940 championship game. I figured we were about the same kind of ball club as the Bears were, getting right down to it.

I've got my own ideas about what happened in that championship game, and I don't know whether they'd be right or not, but I think it starts with the fact that we had played the Bears three weeks earlier and had beat them 7-3. Boy, it hurt 'em. Leaving the field, both teams had to go down the same steps, and I remember some of those Bears were crying. Oh, they were cut to pieces. Their pride was hurt bad. I remember Bulldog Turner coming down those steps and saying, "You just remember one thing—we'll be back in three weeks."

The week of the championship game the weather was so bad in Chicago that I believe the Bears had to work inside all the time. They couldn't get as much work in, probably, as they wished they could have. In the meantime, we had beautiful weather in Washington, where the game was going to be played, and we worked like we were in training camp. We worked like dogs, I'm telling you the truth. But I think we left a lot of our football on the practice field. Mentally we weren't ready. So they beat us 73-0. But I remember the next time we played 'em in a championship game. That was two years later, and we won 14-6.

Over the years, George Marshall changed coaches pretty often, and by 1949 I already was playing for my fifth pro coach. We had a few fellows that were pretty good rounders, so Marshall hired a coach named Admiral Whelchel. He had coached at Navy and was a retired admiral, and Marshall thought the admiral would put a lot of discipline in the ball club. Well, he showed up, and he looked like anything but an admiral. He was just a kind of average-looking guy, not very impressive. And the funny thing was, he turned out to be a real nice fellow. All the players liked him, although he wasn't as up on his football as he should have been. I remember Harry Gilmer was just a young quarterback at that time, and in an exhibition game he quarterbacked the team down to practically the goal line. Then he sneaked that football over for a touchdown. Coming home from the game, the admiral got out a pencil and paper and must have spent hours showing Harry why he shouldn't have used the quarterback sneak. He showed him all kind of mathematics about weight and momentum and everything—I don't know what all. He spent a long time talking to Harry, and Harry went along with it, although he had scored on the play.

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