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NFL 100 – Slingin’ Sammy Baugh

19 Nov

Last week for one of our NFL 100 features we went back to the league’s roots in the 1920s to highlight Red Grange, an early gridiron star. This week, we’ll travel back again to the leather helmet era, but not quite as far, as we feature a player who began his pro career in 1937 and played into the early 1950s, Sammy Baugh. His contribution was instrumental in the development of the modern game, as he is widely recognized as the player who perfected the art of the forward pass. As the quarterback of the Washington Redskins from ’37 until 1952, he earned the nickname “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh as he set passing records and was consistently ranked among the top quarterbacks. Technically, he was lined up as a tailback or halfback in the Redskins’ offensive backfield formation for the first few seasons, but made his name with his passing prowess and later became the quarterback as the position evolved. He led the Redskins to championships in 1937 and 1942, and led the league in pass completion percentage 8 times, while also being named an All Pro 8 times. He was NFL Player of The Year in 1947 and ’48. In an era where players commonly played both ways, he was no slouch either. He was the team’s punter and also played defensive back. He led the league in punting 5 times and still holds the NFL record for yards per punt average (51.4), a mark he set in 1940. As a defensive back, he had 31 career interceptions and the led the league in that category in 1943 with 11.

 

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Slingin’ Sammy Baugh looks for an open receiver

Baugh was somewhat of an enigma in the era he played in that was mostly known for featuring the ground game almost entirely with his passing prowess. He pretty much ushered the NFL into the modern era with his successful use of the forward pass, but as stated above, he was a complete football player. Besides being a prolific passer, punter and defender, opponents praised his ability as a runner also. In 1943 he had a season that no other player in history could match as he led the NFL in passing, punting yardage and interceptions. In his rookie year of 1937 he led Washington to the NFL Championship game against the powerhouse Chicago Bears and threw for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns to guide his club to a 28-21 victory. The 335 yards passing in a playoff game was a record that stood until 2012 when Seattle’s Russell Wilson finally broke it. Another memorable day for Baugh came in 1947 when the team declared it “Sammy Baugh Day” in his honor, with the Washington, D.C. Touchdown Club presenting him a new station wagon. He promptly owned the day, lighting up the Chicago Cardinals for 355 yards passing and 6 touchdowns. Baugh retired after the 1952 season and was rightly included in the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963. He resurfaced as a coach, first for 4 years in college in the late 1950s and then as the first head coach of the New York Titans when the American Football League was born in 1960. He only lasted 2 seasons but was hired for the same job with the Houston Oilers in 1964, with limited success in both spots.

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Hall of Famer Slingin’ Sammy Baugh

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

19 Nov

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Logo of a Division III college football team that plays in the American Southwest Conference, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys. The program began play in 1897 and rose to prominence in the 1930s. A period of dismal play and financial losses led the school to drop football in 1964, but the program was revived on a smaller level in 1990. They’ve since won 11 ASC titles. Notable former Cowboys who have had success in pro football include Bulldog Turner, Frank Sprinkle, Mike Mercer, Camp Wilson and Hal Prescott.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

19 Nov

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1960 Fleer football card of a gridiron legend, former quarterback Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, who played 16 seasons in the NFL for the Washington Redskins. He was an eight-time All Pro and NFL Player of The Year twice. He excelled not only as the premier passer of his era but also as a punter and defensive back. Baugh was the head coach of the AFL’s New York Titans, who later became the Jets, for their first 2 seasons in the new league, and also coached the Houston Oilers for a year. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Jinx Is Ended

14 Nov

The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins clash on this week’s NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to opening day of the 1980 NFL season for a memorable game between these 2 AFC East rivals. It was September 7, 1980, and was the beginning of the third year of Buffalo’s rebuild under coach Chuck Knox. Knox had done the unthinkable – trading Bills’ legend O.J. Simpson away and replacing him with a rookie back named Joe Cribbs. He also stocked the Bills’ roster with former players he was familiar with from his days coaching the Los Angeles Rams, like Isiah Robertson, Ron Jessie and Bill Simpson. This game was the first to be played by both teams in the new decade of the 1980s, and Buffalo was more than happy to put the last decade behind them. In an incredible feat, coach Don Shula’s Dolphins had defeated the Bills 20 consecutive times, twice a year for the entire decade of the 1970s.

The teams battled through a defensive struggle in the first half, with the only scoring coming on a 40 yard Nick Mike-Mayer field goal as Buffalo took a 3-0 lead. Miami finally got untracked in the third quarter and went ahead 7-3 when Bob Griese finished a drive with a short touchdown pass to Tony Nathan. It looked like the Dolphins were going to continue their mastery over the Bills at that point, and Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson wasn’t helping matters as he threw 5 interceptions on the day. Buffalo’s defense, however, matched the Dolphins’ defensive intensity and kept the Fish off the scoreboard the rest of the way, intercepting Griese and backup Don Strock 4 times. Safety Jeff Nixon led the way, pilfering 3 passes and also recovering a fumble. Ferguson and the Bills finally found their way in the fourth quarter, putting together a pair of drives that accounted for the only points in that final stanza. Fergy found fullback Roosevelt Leaks for a 4 yard touchdown pass and Cribbs finished off a productive day that saw him rack up 131 yards from scrimmage by scoring from 2 yards out, securing a 17-7 win for the Bills that finally put an end to Miami’s 20 game, and 10 year, dominance over their AFC East rivals. The ending of the game wiped out a decade of frustration for Bills’ fans, and they reacted by storming the field and tearing down the goalposts, probably the only time in football history the goalposts came down on a team’s opening day. Knox was carried off the field by his players like a conquering hero. At the time it appeared that Buffalo’s fortunes would possibly be turning for the good. They won the AFC East and the Dolphins finished 8-8, a rare non-winning season for Shula. The Bills wound up losing to San Diego in the playoffs with Ferguson playing on an injured ankle, but for the Knox era, this one game may have been the crowning moment.

 

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Coach Chuck Knox, Buffalo’s conquering hero

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

14 Nov

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Logo of a small college football team that plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, the University of Richmond Spiders. Their program has been in existence since 1881 and won the Football Championship Subdivision national title in 2008. Former Spiders who have had success in pro football include Jeff Nixon, Mike Bragg, Bruce Gossett, John Hilton, Barry Redden, Paris Lenon and Matt Joyce.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

14 Nov

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1981 Topps football card of former safety Jeff Nixon, who played six seasons in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills. He led the team in interceptions in his rookie year with 6. A knee injury ended his career in 1984, and since retiring, he has worked to keep retired NFL players informed of their rights regarding pension and medical benefits. Nixon, an accomplished guitar player, has also worked for 20 years as a youth employment director for the city of Buffalo.

 

NFL 100 – Al Davis

13 Nov

In celebrating 100 seasons of the National Football League, one name that cannot be left out is that of one of the game’s most influential, and controversial people, Al Davis. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts who was raised in Brooklyn, he started his career in coaching in the 1950s, working as an offensive line coach at various universities, and also worked as a scout for a year with the Baltimore Colts in 1954. The formation of the new American Football League in 1960 gave Davis his coaching opportunity in the pros, and it was there that he cemented his legacy as an icon of the game. He joined Sid Gillman’s staff as receivers coach in 1960 and parlayed the Chargers’ success into landing the Oakland Raiders head coaching job in 1963. He was an immediate success in Oakland, guiding the previously foundering club to a 10-4 record, good for second place in the AFL’s Western Division, behind the eventual AFL champion Chargers. The Chargers had won the West despite the fact that Davis’ Raiders had beaten them twice. Davis was named AFL Coach of The Year for turning Oakland’s fortunes around. He remained Raiders’ coach for 2 more seasons when, with the AFL now embroiled in a war for survival with the established NFL, he agreed to take the position of AFL commissioner in 1966 when Joe Foss resigned. Foss had quit because he felt the battle with the NFL was a losing one, and the AFL owners felt Davis was a fighter who would work hard to win against the older league.

 

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Davis (2nd from right) with the Chargers’ 1960 coaching staff

The owners wanted a fighter, and they got one in Davis. He implemented a plan where AFL teams would raid their NFL counterparts of their stars, preferably the quarterbacks, by signing those players to “future” contracts. The AFL signed Roman Gabriel of the Rams and John Brodie of the 49ers to those types of contracts, sending the NFL owners into a panic. Unbeknownst to Davis, a secret agreement was reached among a group he wasn’t included in, including NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Dallas executive Tex Schramm and Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. The new agreement was basically a peace treaty merging the 2 leagues, voiding the “future” contracts and establishing a common draft of college players, while also including a plan to play a championship game between the 2 leagues, a game that would grow into the Super Bowl. Also, the 2 leagues would merge into a single entity, the National Football League, with teams divided into the National and American Conferences, in 1970 when the leagues’ separate television contracts were set to expire. Davis was furious with the agreement, feeling that he was undermined in his efforts to “win the war” with the NFL. To appease him, he was offered the position of AFL President since the merger also called for his position as AFL commissioner to be dissolved. He refused the job and eventually returned to the Raiders in an executive role as one of 3 “managing general partners”, with him getting a 10% ownership share of the club. He used a controversial move in 1972 to gain control of the franchise. One of the 3 partners, Wayne Valley, was in Munich for the Olympics, and while he was gone Davis drew up a revised agreement that gave him controlling interest in the team and the other partner signed it. Valley sued to overturn the new agreement but lost his case, since under California law it only took 2 of the 3 partners to validate it. Davis seemed to never get rid of the chip on his shoulder of losing out to Rozelle in the merger fight, and spent a lot of the next few decades fighting Rozelle and the NFL in court over various issues, including the right to move the Raiders to Los Angeles when he couldn’t get a new stadium built in Oakland. Things didn’t work out in L.A. either, and Davis relocated the franchise back to Oakland after 14 seasons, even though the team would be forced to play home games in the same old stadium they had left behind in 1982. The nomadic club will move again, this time to Las Vegas, beginning next season. The half century of fighting with the league in the courts aside, Davis was a genius when it came to the actual football side of things. He built the Raider franchise into one of professional sports’ most successful and popular teams, winning 3 Super Bowls along the way and establishing the “Silver and Black” team colors as well known in fans’ eyes. His mantras of “Commitment To Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby” are still widely associated with the team, even though they fell on hard times in the last few years of Davis’ life.

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Al Davis flipped off the NFL for most of his football ownership days

As much of a renegade and a thorn in the side of the NFL as Davis was, he was also a visionary in the game and charitable when it came to his Raider “family”. He hired the first African American head coach, Art Shell, the first female front office executive, Amy Trask, and was the second to hire a Latino coach, Tom Flores. He retained close ties with all of his former players, who all returned the love. He was always true to his mantra of “Once A Raider, Always A Raider”. It was common to see old Raiders of the past like George Blanda, Jim Otto or Willie Brown around the team facility or in Davis’ owner’s box on game day. Despite being a maverick who fought the NFL for 50 years or more, the Pro Football Hall of Fame still overlooked all the controversy and inducted Davis into Canton in 1992.

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

13 Nov

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Logo of the Oakland Raiders football team, used for only a single season in 1963, when they were members of the American Football League. It was the first year the team changed their primary colors from black and gold to the silver and black they are known for today. The Raiders, under new coach Al Davis, went 10-4 in ’63 and finished second in the AFL’s Western Division. Key players on that team, which had a 1-13 record the previous year, were Cotton Davidson, Tom Flores, Clem Daniels, Art Powell, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Jim Otto, Bo Roberson and Ken Herock.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

13 Nov

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1962 Fleer football card of former pro football center Jim Otto, an undersized lineman who worked hard enough to enjoy a 15 year career in the AFL and NFL, all with the Oakland Raiders. Known for his unusual “00” jersey number, he was an All-AFL player for all of the league’s 10 year existence, and an easy choice for the AFL’s All Time team. Otto was then a 3-time Pro Bowler after the team joined the NFL. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility.

 

NFL 100 – Red Grange

12 Nov

Most of the early stars of pro football are long forgotten but in this year of celebration of the NFL’s 100th season it’s good to remember those players and the contributions they made to bring the sport forward into the public eye. There is no player who contributed more to that cause than Harold “Red” Grange. In the 1920s, baseball was the undisputed national pastime, since it was the era of the sport’s most famous player, Babe Ruth. College football was also popular but the pro game, in it’s infancy then, was regarded as a savage game and there were even prominent politicians who wanted to ban the sport. Grange was a highly popular All American player for the University of Illinois, to the point that when he was a 22 year old just out of college, people tried to convince him to run for Congress. He chose to sign with the Bears and play pro football, however. The Bears then went on a 19 game, 67 day barnstorming tour of games around the country, with “The Galloping Ghost”, Grange’s nickname, as it’s star attraction. And an attraction he turned out to be, as crowds of up to 70,000 showed up to see him play.

 

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Red Grange, pro football’s first gate attraction

 

New York Giants’ owner Tim Mara had previously been critical of Grange signing with the Bears, citing a rule that teams shouldn’t sign college players. However, he negotiated a game with the Bears to be held in New York and over 70,000 fans turned out for the match. The gate receipts from that game helped keep the Giants’ franchise from folding. The barnstorming tour was a brutal one, and when injuries began to mount on the players, most notably Grange, the promoters began the practice of having a week’s rest period between games. That practice, for the most part, became a standard for the NFL, and pro football in general, that still exists today. Critics who had denounced pro football from the start began comparing the barnstorming tours to a traveling circus rather than a professional sports league. That criticism was most likely a big factor in the league’s founders and executives pulling the pro teams together to form a more unified, organized association with uniform rules for all.

 

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Red Grange on the cover of Time magazine in 1925

Of course, Grange was only one of many early marquee players who lifted the game out of it’s “circus” reputation to a stature as a major sport, and it’s been argued that injuries caused a decline in his abilities and his name rather than exploits on the field kept him in the news. He did make plays to help the Bears win championships in 1932 and 1933, so I’m not sure that argument holds water. Grange, being a major name in the news, also was recruited to star in silent films and in 1931 starred in a 12 part serial The Galloping Ghost, playing himself. That exposure in movies was good publicity for both Grange and the NFL, as the league could brag that one of their own stars was also a very popular figure among non-football fans. Being as well known as he was, Grange became a motivational speaker after he was finished playing and had dabbled in coaching as the Bears’ backfield coach. He also was once offered the team’s head coaching job but turned it down, expressing that he wasn’t interested in being a head coach at either the college or pro level. He was successful as a broadcaster starting in the 1950s as he worked both college games for NBC and regional telecasts of Bears’ games for the Dumont Network and CBS. Grange was one of the earliest names known to pro football fans, and it was only right that he was included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of inductees in 1963. He passed away in 1991 and he hadn’t been involved in the NFL for over 50 years, but when the NFL began to honor those who had been the brightest stars in their long history in this celebratory season, The Galloping Ghost was one of the first to be mentioned.

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Grange and Lindsey Nelson in the broadcast booth