One of the most important games in NFL history was played on December 12, 1937, before a crowd of only 15,878 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The conditions were horrible the temperature at kickoff was 24 degrees. The field was described by Quarterback Sammy Baugh as “the worst field I ever saw. The field had been torn up the previous week, and it froze solid with jagged clods sticking up. I’ve never seen so many people get cut up in a football game.” The 9-1-1 Chicago Bears led by George Halas were facing the upstart 8-3 Washington Redskins for the NFL title. This was the near the end for one football legend and the first for another. Chicago’s fullback Bronko Nagurski against Washington’s quarterback “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh. Nagurski represented professional football of the 1930s. Sammy Baugh would be professional football for the next 20 years. The NFL would never be the same.
Sammy Baugh was born on a farm near Temple, Texas in March of 1914. After his parents’ divorce he moved with his Mother and two brothers to Sweetwater, where he starred on the Sweetwater High School baseball, basketball, and football teams. His first love was baseball, it was as an infielder that he acquired the nickname “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh. When Washington State University offered him a Baseball Scholarship he jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, Sammy hurt his knee and Washington State withdrew their offer. Choosing again, he accepted TCU’s scholarship offer, mostly because they allowed him to play on all three Varsity Teams. Despite being a two time All-American in football and finishing fourth in the 1936 Heisman Balloting, Baugh chose baseball and signed a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals after graduating. Playing Shortstop for the Cardinal’s top minor league affiliate in Rochester, New York, Baugh found himself trapped behind the slick fielding Marty Marion. Riding the bench was not what he signed up for, so he contacted the Washington Redskins who drafted him in the first round with the sixth overall pick in 1937. He would take the ‘Skins to the NFL title game his rooking season.
40,000 fans were expected at that NFL Title game in 1937 but the weather was so terrible less than half braved the cold. The Redskins, behind Baugh opened the scoring on a 7-yard reverse by Cliff Battles, but the Bears responded with a 10-yard run by Jack Manders, followed by a Manders 37-yard TD reception from Bernard Masterson. The Bears led 14-7 at halftime
The Bears maintained their 7-point lead entering the 4th quarter when a 4-yard pass by Masterson to Edgar Manske answered Baugh’s 55-yard pass play to Wayne Milner. Now trailing 21-14 in the fourth quarter, Baugh went to work. In the frigid conditions and before a sparse crowd Baugh hit Milner on a 78-yard bomb and completed the comeback on a 35-yard strike to Ed Justice late in the game for the go-ahead touchdown. The Redskins would win 28-21 and their first NFL Title. Baugh ended the game 18 for 33, passing for 335 yards and 3 touchdowns. The quarterback position and professional football would never be the same. The game had been played running the ball, but with Baugh slinging the ball for 55 and 78 yard passes the game was changed. Today, we see our quarterbacks, even mediocre ones throw passes deep. That was not the case in the 1930s.
The Bears and Redskins would meet again in the 1940 Title game three years later. This time the Bears would take control early in the game. On the second play from scrimmage Running Back Bill Osmanski ran for a 68-yard touchdown. The Redskins answered with a drive to the Chicago 26-yard line where Charlie Monroe dropped a sure touchdown pass from Sammy Baugh in the end zone. The Bears rolled to a 28-0 Halftime lead and then exploded in the second half for 45 more points in a 73-0 romp; the most lopsided NFL Championship Game in history. Asked after the game if the game would be different if Monroe had not dropped the tying touchdown pass, Sammy Baugh answered “Sure, the final score would have been 73-7”
Baugh would spend his entire 16-year career with the Redskins. He would lead the ‘Skins to five NFL Championship Games. Winning two (1937, 1943). 1943 was an incredible year, as Baugh led the league in passing, punting (45.9 Avg) and interceptions (11). No other player has led the league in those three categories. He still holds the record in punting, averaging 51.4 yards per punt in 1940. His career average of 45.1 is the second best in NFL History. At the time of his retirement in 1952 he held 13 NFL Records, even now he still holds two; most years leading league in passing (6, tied with Steve Young) and most years leading league in lowest interception rate (5).
Sammy Baugh’s legacy is best defined by a 42-20 victory over the Detroit Lions in 1943. Baugh punted, threw for 4 touchdowns, and also intercepted 4 passes. “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh may not be the greatest Football Player of all time…but then again, maybe he was. The 1937 NFL Championship game that matched the Chicago Bears against the Washington Redskins marked the beginning. The beginning of one of the all-time greats, Sammy Baugh, and the evolution of the position of quarterback. All in front of only 15,000 fans in horrible conditions.
Bronko Nagasurki rookie card is the most valuable football card out there. Sammy Baugh’s also make the list of most expensive football cards. To see a whole list of most valuable football cards check out Old Sports Cards blog.