Wednesday, March 17, 2021

SAMMY BAUGH: Transition to the "T" and Back on Top

By TJ Troup 

Today is a day to celebrate one of the greatest and most versatile players in league history on his birthday. This saga will detail his season in 1945, but before going there...some background on the Redskins as a team and their most bitter rival the New York football Giants. 

Before Sammy Baugh arrived in the Nation's Capitol the 'Skins had a record of 3-6-1 against New York, and from 1937 through 1943 the Giants continued to get the better of their rivals to the tune of 9-4-1. 

Washington, led by Baugh, managed to play in the Championship game four times from 1937 through 1943. The Redskin offense was almost always aligned in a wing formation—either single or double wing. 

Baugh, early in his career

Baugh was a master at mixing the running game and his short passing attack. His ability to devise a pass play to go deep was simply a man who understood defenses and how to attack them. During 1944 the Redskins transitioned to the t-formation as Washington finished third in the division at 6-3-1. 

The paragraph written in The Official Encyclopedia of Pro Football states "Baugh, who had always been a tailback, didn't care for it at first, but then slowly made the adjustment." Frank Filchock had returned from the Coast Guard and had his one outstanding season in his career in 1944. 

He led the league in completions, touchdown passes, yards per pass, and also the passer rating at 86.0. Sam finished third in this category at 59.4, and ended the '44 campaign with two straight losses to the Giants. 

Baugh completed 39 of 69 for 414 with 1 touchdown and SIX interceptions. Being the competitor he was; must have been a long winter/spring in Texas as he mentally/emotionally looked back on his poorest season. 

Washington opened the 1945 season with a loss to the Yanks, and no doubt the upset brought to mind that maybe Baugh and the Redskins were not an elite team anymore. Having film of Sam and his 'Skins of '45 is a joy to watch (much of it in color), and on October 14th Washington dominated the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers 14-0. 

Baugh operated out of the t-formation like he was born to it; he completed 18 of 21 for 226 yards, with one score, and no interceptions...this equates to a passer rating of 127.8! 

Shredding the Steelers is one thing, how about against the Eagles and Giants? The 24-14 victory over Philadelphia set the stage for those damn Giants and another key game. New York is just not as strong a team in 1945 as they were in '44 but with a record of 1-1-1 another win over Washington elevates them above Washington in the standings. 

Baugh continues his pinpoint passing as he completes 19 of 23 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 24-14 victory. The blue-clad Chicago Cardinals are much improved with Paul Christman at quarterback and fight back to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Baugh expertly drives the 'Skins goal ward late in the game setting up the winning field goal 24-21. 

Earlier in the game, Samuel Adrian Baugh passed from his own end zone as he set up to punt to blocking back Mike Micka for 64 yards. The Chicago Bears had fallen on hard times in 1945, but since the Bears had won impressively over Washington three times in title games the first half of the decade Baugh took great pleasure in beating them 28-21. 

His touchdown pass of 68 yards to rookie Steve Bagarus was the key play of the game. Since one of his receivers was mentioned, how about we look at who Sam was pitching to? Wilbur Moore had been a favorite target in the past for Baugh, but not near as much in '45, as Sammy sent Bagarus in motion often and fired accurate passes to the lean rookie. 

Bagarus ranked among the league leaders in receiving all season and had one helluva performance in the victory over the Giants; 8 catches for 162 yards. Akins, Condit, and Seymour caught a pass once in a while, but Sammy usually concentrated on getting the ball to his ends. Describing his receivers brings to mind a handful of adjectives—but none of them would remind anyone of Rice, Warfield, Alworth, and the Alabama Antelope Don Hutson. 

Turley, Aguirre, Dye, Miller, and Milner ran short out patters or straight up the field and turned around on stop patterns. They needed to whip their heads around cause the pigskin was coming out of Baugh's hand quickly right at them. 

They all had their moments, yet Bagarus was the weapon Sam utilized at key times in the game. Washington was back on top in the standings at 6-1 and Slingin' Sam had completed 95 of 136 for 1,228 yards, with 7 touchdowns, and just 2 intercepted. 

Yes, folks, he was completing 69.9% of his passes which is unheard of in this era, and averaging 9 yards a pass! His technique while still very similar to his days in the wing formations, had evolved in that he would usually move to his right a few steps and deliver with his three-quarter arm throwing motion. His footwork remained superb and on balance, and since his mind worked so quickly defenders were just not able to anticipate the pass and drive on the throw. 

Watching the 16-0 shut-out loss to Philadelphia over and over is a microcosm of a defense; in this case the Eagles that could beat anybody with their fundamentally sound defensive game plans. Philadelphia "took away" Bagarus, and made strong open-field tackles as soon as Baugh's receivers caught the ball. Sam's longest completion was for only 12 yards. 

The Eagles were upset by New York on December 2nd as Washington got back in the win column with a 24-0 pasting of Pittsburgh. Baugh was again masterful as he completed 8 of 10 for 163 yards with a season-high three touchdown tosses. 

The final day of the season on December the 9th the 'Skins are at home in Griffith Stadium to again end the campaign with the Giants, and with a one-game lead on the Eagles, they can return to the title game with a victory. 

The end zone camera color film of this game captures from interesting angles the Washington Redskin offense. Powerful fullback Frank Akins continued to thunder up the middle, off tackle, and even bounce outside as Sam knew how to mix in the running game. The Giants concentrated on Bagarus(why not?) and the quick slippery rookie speedster caught one pass for 32 yards; so Sam again flipped, pitched, fired, and drilled his passes to Dye, Turley, Milner, Miller, and deCorrevont out of the backfield. Baugh ends his season by completing 12 of 20 for 184 yards, with one scoring toss, and again NO interceptions. The passer rating had not yet been devised, yet his rating of 109 for the season remains the best of the pre-modern era. 

Baugh vs the Rams in the 1945 Title game

Washington would take on the "Cinderella" Cleveland Rams in the championship tilt, and due to weather conditions, and one fateful pass in the wind the 'Skins would come up short. Since America is at war not sure how dedicated the league office was at keeping the weekly stats? There were many, MANY scorekeeping errors during the season, and hopefully, Elias would want my corrections? One of the corrections involves Sammy Baugh. 

When the Lions defeated the Packers on December 2nd Lou Brock of Green Bay returned an interception 26 yards (have the film). Charley Brock was credited with the interception return, and as such led the league with 122 yards in interception returns. In actuality, Sam led the league with 114. During the October victory over New York Baugh pilfered a pair of passes and returned them 95 yards; including the longest of his career—74 yards.

He also continued to rank among the league leaders in punting. Sammy Baugh had made a successful transition to t-formation quarterback in his 9th season, and would continue his onslaught on defenses for another seven years!

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