Samuel Adrian (Sammy) Baugh, star quarterback at Texas Christian University and record-setting passer for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, was born on March 17, 1914, in Temple, Texas. He was the son of James Valentine Baugh and Lucy (Ray) Baugh. In 1931 the family moved to Sweetwater, where Baugh starred for Sweetwater High School before entering Texas Christian University in 1933.
Baugh became the Horned Frogs’ starting tailback when Leo Robert “Dutch” Meyer took over as coach in 1934 and led TCU to a 29-7-2 record over the next three seasons. Baugh was named to All-American teams in 1935 and 1936 and led TCU to victories over Louisiana State University in the 1936 Sugar Bowl and over Marquette University in the 1937 Cotton Bowl. His college passing record included a total of 39 touchdowns and 3,384 yards.
Baugh’s first love was baseball, however, and he claimed that he earned his famous nickname, “Slingin’ Sammy,” for his throwing ability as a third baseman on the TCU baseball team, not for his passing prowess. After graduating from TCU he joined the Pampa Roadrunners, a semiprofessional baseball team, and at a tournament in Denver, Colorado, Rogers Hornsby signed him to a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. After leading the College All-Stars to a 7-0 upset of the National Football League champion Green Bay Packers in the annual College All-Star football game in Chicago, Baugh spent the summer of 1937 playing shortstop for the Cardinals’ minor league affiliates in Rochester and Columbus.
The Redskins, who were moving from Boston to Washington for the 1937 season, offered Baugh $4,000 to forsake baseball. Baugh later recalled that he asked for $8,000 to join the team and eventually received it. He enjoyed a sensational rookie season—throwing a record 81 passes for 1,127 yards. He led the NFL in passing and took the Redskins to the league title. Afterwards NFL president Joe F. Carr said of Baugh, “In one short season, his first as a professional, he became football’s greatest thrill.” His record of 335 yards passing by a rookie quarterback in a playoff game stood until 2012.
Baugh went on to lead the NFL in passing five more times during the 1940s and at one time held literally every NFL single-game, season, and career passing record. He is credited as leading football’s offensive revolution that fundamentally changed the game. He led the Redskins to another championship in 1942 and played in a total of five championship games. He also led the league in punting from 1940 to 1943 and set the highest-ever season punting average of 51.4 in 1940. As a defensive back, he was the first player to make four interceptions in one game. In 1943 he led in passing, punting, and interceptions. His 70.3 passing completion percentage in the 1945 season topped NFL records and remained in the top five in 2014. He was named to the all-NFL team seven times. So great was his fame that in 1941 he starred in King of the Texas Rangers, a Republic Studios movie serial. Honored by the Washington Redskins on “Sammy Baugh Day” at Griffith Stadium on November 23, 1947, Baugh passed for 355 yards and 6 touchdowns. He passed for a total of 21,886 yards during his professional career, and his number, #33, was later retired by the Redskins.
Before his sixteenth and final NFL season, in 1952, Baugh worked as a part-time assistant coach at Hardin-Simmons University. After he retired from the NFL he joined the Hardin-Simmons staff as a full-time assistant, then was appointed head coach in 1955. In five seasons as head coach Baugh compiled a 23-28 record at Hardin-Simmons, although the team did win the Border Conference and went to the Sun Bowl in 1958.
In 1959 Baugh was the second coach hired by the fledgling American Football League (AFL), which was challenging the NFL’s monopoly on professional football. Baugh coached the New York Titans (later the New York Jets) for the first two years of their existence, compiling a 14-14 record. In 1962 and 1963 he coached as an assistant at the University of Tulsa and at Oklahoma State University. In the spring of 1964 he signed on as an assistant coach with the Houston Oilers of the AFL but was elevated to head coach, replacing Frank “Pop” Ivy, shortly thereafter. In 1965 he returned to the Oilers as an assistant coach under Hugh “Bones” Taylor and in 1966 served in a similar capacity with the Detroit Lions of the NFL.
After the 1966 season he retired from coaching and devoted himself full-time to his 7,667-acre Double Mountain Ranch, a cattle ranch near Rotan in Fisher County, although he continued to work as a special scout for the Lions. In 1969 a panel of journalists voted Baugh the best college quarterback of all time in conjunction with the celebration of the centennial of college football. He was named to the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame and the Helms Athletic Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. He has also been honored in the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. He was a charter inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Through the years, Baugh has been named among the greatest players on numerous college and NFL lists.
Baugh married his former high school sweetheart, Edmonia Smith, in 1938. They had four sons and a daughter. Baugh died at the age of ninety-four on December 17, 2008, at Fisher County Memorial Hospital in Rotan and was buried in the Belvieu Cemetery in Rotan. He was the last surviving member of the original seventeen class of 1963 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.