Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

18.12.08

Sammy Baugh has died

One of the things that bugs me about sports pundits is the fact that for some sports, they're trapped in the present. It's odd, because when we speak of baseball, we have no problem comparing Walter Johnson, for instance, to Greg Maddux. Or Barry Bonds to Babe Ruth. Football, for some reason, is different. Perhaps because the game is about hitting, and players have gotten bigger and stronger and we can't imagine players from an earlier era surviving in today's game. "They'd get killed!" we say, chuckling about the silliness of it all. But remember - they also didn't wear a lot of pads, no helmets or flimsy leather ones, and often played offense and defense. So screw you, today's players!

Which brings us to Sammy Baugh, who died on Wednesday night at the young age of 94. Baugh gets his due, of course, because he was in the inaugural class of football's Hall of Fame in 1963, but when pundits talk about the greatest quarterbacks of all time, it takes them quite some time to get to Baugh, which is ridiculous. Baugh, who played for Washington (whose team name I refuse to write) from 1937 to 1952, helped revolutionize the passing game in the NFL. He once threw four touchdown passes and intercepted four passes in the same game. He punted, too. He still hold the record for highest punting average in a season ... in 1940. He's still the Washington leader in career touchdown passes, if you can believe that. Plus, he once completed 70% of his passes in a season in an age when completing half of your passes was amazing. In 1943, he led the league in passing, punting, and interceptions. And you have to remember that the football at this time was not as oblong as it is today, and much more difficult to throw. That makes his interceptions and punting totals less impressive, perhaps, but makes his passing skills much more impressive.

Baugh won two NFL Championships for Washington, in 1937 and 1942, and he played for three others in 1940, 1943, and 1945. The game in 1940, of course, is famous for the Bears' shellacking of Washington, 73-0, the biggest win in NFL history. After the Bears scored early to make it 7-0, Baugh led his team down the field and threw a pass to a wide-open receiver in the end zone, but the player dropped the pass. Washington failed to score, and after the game, someone asked Baugh if that play would have made a difference. "Yeah," Baugh said, "the final score would have been 73-7."

Baugh was in the first class inaugurated into the pro football Hall of Fame. The members of his class are names that should resonate through sports history, but because sports pundits don't think pro football counts before 1958 and the Baltimore-New York Championship Game ("the greatest game ever played"), many people have no idea who the players are. It's ironic that these days, football is much bigger in the American psyche than baseball, yet we know the history of the latter far better than the former. How many of the inaugural football class do you know: Baugh, Bert Bell, Joe Carr, Earl "Dutch" Clark, Harold "Red" Grange, George Halas, Mel Hein, Wilbur "Pete" Henry, Robert "Cal" Hubbard, Don Hutson, Earl "Curly" Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, John "Blood" McNally, Bronko Nagurski, Ernie Nevers, and Jim Thorpe.

Most casual fans probably know Halas, Lambeau (mainly because Green Bay's stadium is named after him), Thorpe (possibly), Baugh (possibly), and maybe Hutson and Nagurski. Contrast that with the initial group of men who went into baseball's Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth. You don't even need first names with those guys!

I like both baseball and football history. It's a shame the latter isn't more well known, because it's pretty fascinating. Pro football didn't start with the Super Bowl, after all.

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