No. 1 – Sammy Baugh (1937-1952)
Of all the things you can say about Sammy Baugh’s place in history, this is what I consider the most fascinating. It is easier to make the case that he was the greatest football player of all-time than it is to make the case that he was the greatest quarterback.
To be sure, he is among the greatest quarterbacks ever. For me, he slots in somewhere in the second half of the top ten. But this is a man who, in addition to revolutionizing the nature of football offense in the ‘30s and ‘40s, also had more career interceptions than Patrick Peterson. He had a higher career punting average than Dustin Colquitt. Sammy Baugh did it all, and he did it all extremely well.
He came to the franchise just as they made the move from Boston to Washington and he took them to the championship in his very first season. In that championship game, played against the Bears in Chicago with the temperature hovering around 15 degrees, Baugh threw for over 350 yards and three touchdowns.
To put those numbers into historical context, that single game would have ranked Sammy number 10 in the league for passing that year.
Sammy was not alone in popularizing the forward pass. In Chicago, Sid Luckman was doing great things. In Green Bay, Cecil Isbell was doing even better. But Luckman had the advantage of playing out of the T-formation and Isbell retired after just a handful of seasons. Sammy just kept going and going and going.
Because he wasn’t officially designated as a quarterback until Washington converted to the T-formation in 1944 (until then, Baugh was a single-wing halfback who threw the ball a lot), it can be difficult to evaluate some of his statistics. But there is no denying many of his accomplishments:
- · Seven times a first-team All-Pro
- · Four times the league leader in passing
- · Two championships, and three other championship games
His career completion percentage of over 56% may not seem that special by modern standards. But when you realize that Baugh led the league in completion percentage eight times, you get a sense of how much of an outlier he was for his era.
Baugh was the first genuinely modern quarterback. He threw the ball as a matter of course – not simply as a trick play or out of desperation. He made the forward pass a regular part of the offense. He could throw long, but he often threw short, allowing his talented backs and receivers to run after the catch. He orchestrated drives that relied on passing as much as running. Watching sequences of plays from those Washington teams in the ‘40s allows you to see the seeds from which Joe Montana and Tom Brady would grow.
To list Baugh’s records would take too long, Suffice to that he retired as the NFL career leader in passing yardage. In the sixteen years from the time he broke the record, to the time Bobby Layne surpassed it, the game had changed dramatically (If you count statistics from the rival All-American Football Conference of the late 1940s, then Otto Graham broke Sammy’s record before Layne did).
Baugh was elected into the Hall Of Fame’s inaugural class in 1963.
Baugh and Jurgensen are the only two Washington quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame.