AP/Wide World Photos
AP/Wide World Photos

Sammy Baugh, 1943: The Greatest Season?

That year, the bandy-legged Texan led the NFL in pass attempts, completions and percentage; in punting average; and in interceptions—made, not thrown. And on Nov. 14 against the Lions, he had arguably the greatest single-game performance in football history

By Dan Daly

WASHINGTON — He had the arm of a god . . . and the legs of a flamingo. Sammy Baugh could throw a football through the earhole of a helmet, or near about, but when he peeled off his pads, his unglamorous gams visible to all, a teammate would be sure to say, “You’re not going to go downtown on those legs, are you?”

Baugh, the Washington Redskins legend, was an unusual physical type, even in the NFL’s pre-Muscle Beach days. He looked more like a receiver, if you wanted to be charitable, like somebody who might be nicknamed Bones. But the things he could make his 6-foot-2, 182-pound body do. Like pass. And punt. And snatch interceptions out of the air. Heck, simply surviving 16 seasons—a record at the time—in the ruthless, toothless leather-helmet era was a testament to his genetic freakishness.

Seventy years ago, those legs took Baugh to places never seen before or since. If it wasn’t the greatest individual season in pro football history, it’s definitely among the finalists. In guiding the Redskins to the 1943 championship game, Slingin’ Sam did just about everything a player can do—on offense, defense, even special teams. Of course, they didn’t call them “special teams” back then. They just called it “playin’ football.”

Sammy Baugh. (Carl M. Mydans/Time Life Pictures)
(Carl M. Mydans/Time Life Pictures)

Some of Baugh’s more notable accomplishments that year, just to get us started:

● As the tailback in Washington’s single wing, he completed 55.6 percent of his passes, best in the NFL that year. That might not be up to Drew Brees’s standard, but the rest of the league’s passers in ’43 completed a collective 42.6 percent of their throws.

● He threw 23 touchdowns passes, second in the NFL—and third-highest all-time to that point.

● In a 48-10 bludgeoning of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he passed for 376 yards and six TDs, both single-game records.

● As a defensive back, he had 11 interceptions, which broke another league record.

● He averaged an NFL-leading 45.9 yards a punt, often flipping the field with a well-timed quick kick. Five of his boots were longer than 70 yards. To put this in perspective, punters not named Baugh averaged a combined 37.5 yards.

● And in the midst of one of the most amazing seasons in NFL annals he had arguably the greatest single-game performance in history: In a 42-20 win over the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14, Baugh fired four touchdown passes, intercepted four passes and got off an 81-yard punt, the longest of the year in the NFL.

About the only things Baugh didn’t do in 1943 were score a touchdown or kick a field goal or extra point. Fullback “Anvil” Andy Farkas and wingback Wilbur Moore supplied all the rushing TDs for the Redskins that season, and ends Bob Masterson and Joe Aguirre handled the bulk of the placekicking. Even a Hall-of-Famer like Baugh had his limits—especially on those folding-table legs.

* * *

Running something akin to a West Coast attack, Baugh led the NFL in completion percentage nine times. (AP)
Running a short-passing game akin to a West Coast attack—the “great equalizer,” he called it—Baugh led the NFL in completion percentage nine times. (AP)

One of the reasons he had such a remarkable, all-around season is that he could. These were the years of multitasking, of smaller rosters and two-way players. Versatility was at a premium. This was especially true in 1943, when the NFL reduced squad sizes from 33 to 28 so its travel needs wouldn’t infringe too much on the war effort.

By then, too, it was getting harder to find able-bodied men, what with so many of them streaming into the military. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles dealt with the scarcity by merging, creating a “Steagles” team that finished a game out of first in the Eastern Division. The Cleveland Rams went a step further and shut down for the year. More than a dozen of their players were lend-leased to other clubs. The result was an eight-team league that still had quite a few marquee names—Baugh, the Chicago Bears’ Sid Luckman, Green Bay’s Don Hutson and others—but was short on depth. So much so that the Bears talked Bronko Nagurski, who had been retired for five seasons, into putting on a uniform again.

That’s why Baugh, who before the war usually played only half the game, often went the full 60 minutes in 1943. It also helps explain why his statistics spiked dramatically—his touchdown passes from 16 to 23, his interceptions from five to 11. He might have been having a career year, sure, but he was on the field more, too. And he was hardly alone. Blocking back Ray Hare, according to one accounting, missed only 13 minutes in 12 games, playoffs included.

Baugh gripped with his fingers on the seams rather than the laces for better control. (JFL/AP)
Baugh gripped with his fingers on the seams rather than the laces for better control. (JFL/AP)

It was still a single-wing world in ’43, though the Bears’ revolutionary T formation had begun to make inroads. The Redskins ran the offense as well as anybody, and Baugh, with his extraordinary accuracy, was the key. He didn’t hold the ball by the laces, the way most passers did; he held it by the seam, the laces in his palm. It gave him more control, he said.

“If it was a muddy day, or if I wanted to put a little extra distance on the ball, I would go with the laces,” he once told me. “But just the average pass, I would throw off the seam.”

If you use your imagination, you can see the beginnings of the West Coast offense in the Redskins’ attack in those years. For one thing, Baugh was a disciple of the short passing game—as taught to him by Dutch Meyer at TCU. For another, he loved to throw to his backs. In Sammy’s big game against Brooklyn that season, Moore had 213 receiving yards, still the NFL record for a back. That was the beauty of the wingback; you could throw to him, bring him around for a handoff, do all kinds of things with him.

To Baugh the logic was inescapable. The short passing game is “the great equalizer,” he said. “Even if you’re the weaker team, if you’ve got a good short passing game, you can hit that seven- or eight-yard pass, keep the other team from putting the big rush on you, and then run twice for the first down. And while you’re doing this you’re using up the clock and keeping the other offense off the field.”

As for targeting his backs rather than his ends, you have to understand: The ends in that era generally weren’t the whip-fast creatures they are today. They had more important duties than just getting open for a pass. On offense they essentially functioned as tight ends, though in obvious throwing situations they might split out.

“It was different times,” Baugh said. “The end’s first job was to be able to block and play defense. It was a little different when you went to the T formation because you spread men out more and it took a different kind of end. In the single wing, we didn’t have speed anywhere but our backs and our wingback. We were always looking to get a linebacker covering the halfback. I guarantee you, I threw more to my backs than anybody in football.”

The numbers bear him out. Redskins backs that season caught 81 passes for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns, with Moore’s 537 receiving yards ranking second in the league. The ends’ totals were 58 catches, 676 yards and 11 touchdowns. Baugh still called more runs (320) than passes (254), but 24 of the team’s 31 offensive touchdowns came through the air. No other club operated like that. Only the futuristic Bears even came close.

* * *

A master of the quick kick, Baugh would use the surprise punt as a field-position weapon; it undoubtedly boosted his yardage totals since there were no return men. (International News Photos)
A master of the quick kick, Baugh would use the tactic as a field-position weapon; it undoubtedly boosted his yardage totals since there was no one back to field the punt. (International News Photos)

What also set the Redskins apart was Baugh’s deadly quick-kicking. While very modern in his approach to the passing game, Baugh remained a strong believer in punting before fourth down, a practice that had begun to fall out of fashion. As offenses opened up and more points were scored, teams became reluctant to give up the ball before they had to. But Baugh still used the ancient weapon to dictate field position—and to discourage the opponent from crowding the line of scrimmage and trying to clamp down on the short stuff. He’d just take the snap, kick one over the safety’s head and watch it roll.

“You’d use a rocker step,” he said. “Just kind of rock back and kick that ball. My style was a little different than most of them. In the Southwest you’re going to get a lot of wind, and I was taught that you couldn’t hold the ball real high. You had to kick it from a lower position, drop the ball lower. Less margin of error.”

Baugh honed his punting skills as an All-America at TCU. (JFL/AP)
The Texas native honed his punting skills as an All-America at TCU. (JFL/AP)

Trajectory was another consideration—the lower the better, so the safety couldn’t hustle back and catch the punt on the fly. It was all about getting the ball downfield before the defense could react.

“That’s the only time we’d really try to kick it down the middle of the field,” he said. “[On a regular punt] we would always go for one sideline or the other. ‘Punt to the right on two. Punt to the left on two.’ That’s how we’d call it. But on a quick kick you’d try to kick it right down the middle, right over that safety’s head. Because your linemen, they make an offensive charge, see? They block like you’re going to run through the middle. They had to make those [defensive] linemen keep their hands down. And you had to get it off pretty damn fast” because the tailback lined up only seven yards deep.

All five of Baugh’s 70-plus-yard punts in 1943 were quick kicks—which, naturally, had a healthy effect on his punting average. In the big game against the Lions he quick-kicked on first down three straight times in the early going, for 54, 46 and 66 yards. “The third shoved the Lions in a hole on their 8-yard line,” the Washington Post said, “and after [Harry] Hopp kicked feebly out Baugh pitched for a score.”

All of Baugh’s many talents were on display that year. Twice, if the newspapers are to be believed, he made touchdown-saving tackles on kickoff returns. Another time he scooped up the ball after a field-goal try was blocked and would have gone 90 yards for a score if the Giants’ Ward Cuff hadn’t made a diving stop.

Then there was his work as a defensive back. He had a terrific sense of anticipation—as you’d expect. He was, after all, a quarterback. Of his four-interception day he recalled:

“We’d noticed in the films that [Lions passer Frank] Sinkwich had thrown for a couple of touchdowns on down-and-outs. And I thought: He’ll try to do the same thing to me. Quarterbacks form certain habits. So I stayed in the middle of the field and didn’t move [toward the sideline] until the ball was snapped and he was dropping back. Sure enough, I guessed right every time. After the first two I intercepted, I thought: Well, he’s going to come back with the post. And he damn sure did.”

Victory followed victory. Only a 14-14 tie with the Steagles (the team cobbled together from the Eagles and Steelers because of the depleted wartime rosters) kept the Redskins from extending their winning streak, carried over from their 1942 championship season, to 17 games. (Not that a 16-0-1 run wasn’t impressive enough. In fact, it remains the best in franchise history.)

The crowds were huge, war or no war. People needed their entertainment, and what was more fun than the sight of Sammy Baugh slingin’ the ball around? Every home game at Griffith Stadium was a sellout, 35,540 strong, and visits to Philadelphia (32,541) and New York (51,308) also drew packed houses. One Redskins fan even complained about ticket scalping in a letter the editor of the Post. Not only was it illegal, he argued, but it was also unfair to servicemen, “most of whom are in town just for the weekend and cannot purchase tickets” in advance.

sammy-baugh-1943-800
Baugh making one of his four interceptions against the Lions at Griffith Stadium on Nov. 14, 1943. No NFL player has had more picks in a game. (Pro Football Hall of Fame)

When the Redskins manhandled the previously unbeaten Bears 21-7 in Washington to up their record to 6-0-1, fans stormed the field and tore down both goal posts. (Historical note: Keeping the peace that afternoon, as the referee in a four-man crew, was Sam Weiss, whose regular job was representing Pennsylvania’s 31st district in Congress.) Baugh, hobbled by a knee injury suffered in practice, played sparingly but was a major factor nonetheless. In the second quarter, at coach Dutch Bergman’s suggestion, he ran a Statue of Liberty play, and it worked just the way it was drawn up. Moore plucked the ball from Baugh’s hand as Sammy cocked his arm and ran 20 yards, untouched, around left end to make it 7-0. Later, Baugh tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Farkas for the second Washington score.

At that point, the Redskins looked headed to their second title in a row. In addition to their tailback’s ­otherworldly play, they had yet to allow a rushing touchdown. But then things started to get weird. Actually, they might have started to get weird two weeks earlier. Before the Lions game, Baugh said, owner George Preston Marshall came into the dressing room and told the players, “There’s a rumor going around that you’re throwing the game to Detroit. I just wanted you all to know about it.”

Baugh: “We just stood there with our mouths open. I often wondered: Did he do that to get us worked up, to piss us off so we’d play a better game? Or was he tellin’ us the truth?”

As the season unfolded—and the Redskins’ lead in the division disappeared—the rumors grew louder. After they lost back-to-back to the Steagles and Giants, games in which they were heavy favorites, the Washington Times-Herald reported that several players might be part of an NFL gambling investigation. The league denied there was any substance to the story, that the whispers had been checked out and found to be baseless. But it made for a turbulent few weeks in nation’s capital. Marshall was so incensed that he marched the team up to the Times-Herald’s offices and demanded evidence of foul play. None was produced.

* * *

A more reasonable explanation for the Redskins’ swoon was that they were banged up. Baugh’s knee was bothering him; Moore, his favorite receiver, had a similar injury; and several others were either playing hurt or too hurt to play. With little in the way of reserves, the team simply hit a wall. 

But Baugh and the Redskins did have one fabulous performance left in them. After losing a third consecutive game, and second straight to New York, to force a playoff for the Eastern Division title, they returned to the Polo Grounds and pounded the Giants 28-0, holding them to four completions in 20 attempts.

Baugh’s stats were substantially better: 16 of 21 for 199 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 66-yard quick kick “to send the Giants reeling back on their heels,” the New York Times reported, along with a pair of interceptions. Pick No. 1, in the third quarter, put a halt to the first serious New York drive. Pick No. 2—and Sammy’s 40-yard runback to the Giants 5—came in the fourth quarter and set up the third Washington TD, the one that put the game away. And he did all this, mind you, while wearing sneakers, which provided better traction on the frozen turf.

(FYI: Those two interceptions gave Baugh 13 for season, playoffs included—13 in 12 games. The all-time record is 14, set by the Rams’ Night Train Lane in 1952 in a 12-game schedule. You could make the case, then, that only one player in history has had a better year for picks than Sammy did in ’43.)

While the Redskins-Giants triple feature was running its course, the Bears, winners of the Western Division, were back in Chicago, sharpening their claws and trying not to lose their edge. Thanks to the quirky scheduling in the early NFL, their regular season had ended two weeks before Washington’s—and the playoff made their layoff even longer. By the time the two clubs met for the championship, it would be 28 days since the Bears had clotheslined anybody.

Nagurski killed some of the time on his farm in Minnesota. Luckman busied himself with preparations to enter the merchant marine in January. As formidable as the Monsters of the Midway were—and they were on a 34-3-1 tear since late 1940—there was concern in the Windy City that the team would go stale, especially since George Halas wasn’t around to crack the whip. He had enlisted in the Navy the year before and left the coaching to assistants Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos. That seemed to be the wounded Redskins’ best hope: jump on top early, while the Bears were knocking the rust off, and try to hold on.

And the Redskins did score first, at the start of the second quarter, on a 1-yard touchdown run by Farkas. By then, though, they were in deep trouble, despite being up 7-0. While covering a punt in the opening minutes, Baugh had taken a hit on the head—either from a knee or the hard ground—and suffered a concussion. He spent the rest of the half, and some of the second, on the bench, clearing the cobwebs.

That’s all that’s missing from this story, this homage to Sammy Baugh’s spectacular 1943—a happy ending. Instead of Baugh’s leading the Redskins to another title, we have Baugh wrapped in a parka on the sideline, tears trickling down his face, hazily asking teammates, “Why won’t they let me play?”

When he did return to action, Washington was down 21-7 and Luckman was in the process throwing five touchdown passes, a record for an NFL championship game that stood until 1995. Sammy threw two in the time that remained, but lord knows how. His brain was so scrambled that he had to ask for help in the huddle. “Baugh kept telling them to correct him if he called the wrong play,” the Post reported. The Bears, never averse to running up the score, onside kicked with a 20-point lead to set up their final TD in a 41-21 victory.

* * *

(AP)
(AP)

Over the decades Baugh’s season has disappeared in the mists. Maybe it’s because it came against wartime competition. Maybe it’s because he didn’t win the title. Maybe it’s because Luckman, on the strength of his record-breaking passing (2,194 yards, 28 touchdowns), was voted the league’s most valuable player. Or maybe it’s because 1943 is, to many, as distant as the dinosaurs.

It bears mentioning, though, that Baugh didn’t do much that year that he didn’t do other years, when the NFL was at full strength—which takes some of the steam out of the war-weakened-league argument. He had a significantly higher completion percentage in 1940 (62.7 to 55.6), and in ’47 he threw for more touchdowns (25 to 23) and far more yards (2,938 to 1,754). His punting average (45.9), meanwhile, wasn’t as high as it was in ’40 (51.4) or ’41 (48.7). Only his interception total (11) was off the charts, and that was due, at least in part, to playing more on defense. (Most years he was good for four or five picks.)

But when you add it all up, consider the sheer weight of his contributions . . . wow. By any measure, it’s a season for the ages. And it was accomplished on a pair of legs, I’ll just remind you, that never seemed suited for such a rugged game. “The ‘daddy longlegs’ of them all in the art of aerials,” the New York Times called him after the playoff against the Giants. He was certainly that.

30 comments
skanee00
skanee00

I feel the need to continue tooting the Ernie Nevers horn.

Ernie Nevers could probably be described as being the most iron of all of the old two-way ironmen.  He played the 1925 Rose Bowl on what amounted to two broken ankles and was that game's leading rusher.  He played nearly every minute for the Duluth Eskimos during the 1926 and 1927 seasons.  In 1929 while playing for the Chicago Cardinals, he scored 40 points in a single game against the cross town rival Bears.  The next game, he scored 19 points, making 59 points in two games, possibly the greatest accomplishment in sports history.  Many believe the NFL would not had survived were it not for the star power of Ernie Nevers.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernie-Nevers

Ernie Nevers -- The greatest NFL player ever.

MichaelShannon
MichaelShannon

Like Rocket Richard's 50 goal season in 1944 can records made during WW 2 be taken seriously?

Phroggo
Phroggo

The story fails to mention the Redskins started the season by losing to the College All Stars 27 - 7. The highlight of the game came when Otto Graham, playing in the game as a junior at Northwestern, intercepted a Baugh pass and ran it back 97 yards for a pick six.

John333
John333

Incidentally, for those who are offended by the team name Redskins, remember that Oklahoma is based on Choctaw Indian words which translate as "red people."  So maybe it's okay for them to refer to themselves as "red skins" but not others?  True, the native Americans were decimated by European settlers, but it doesn't seem as derogatory as some references to black people that are no longer accepted (fortunately).  Or maybe I simply don't want to see a team name that I've known since childhood to be changed due to excessive political correctness.   Cleveland Native Americans, anyone? 

skanee00
skanee00

The greatest NFL player to ever strap on a helmet?  Try Ernie Nevers of the Duluth Eskimos.  It wasn't his stats that made him great (even though he had great stats), it was just the fact the dude was superhuman.  Read up on him.

RickEger
RickEger

You're talking about the 43 season and as you say most of the regular players were in the second world war. Talent was so scarce the N.Y. Yankees employed a one armed outfielder......Pete Gray.

rskins09
rskins09

Great article and you did all your homework ...Late, late Grandfather  moved to DC in 1938 after being out of work for two,three years  during the depression ..He wasn't a die hard fan like Dad and I  but would go to the Redskin games just to see Sammy Baugh play ...And would talk about Sammy Baugh seven days a week .. Know NFL .com  had Jerry Rice 1st,  and Jim Brown  2nd and Sammy Baugh 11th .. best ever TOP  100 ..Difficult  to compare players  from different era's  but  I'd  put  Jim Brown  1st  and Sammy Baugh  at least 4th ....  1.  Jim Brown  2. Dick Butkus   3.  LT    4.  Sammy Baugh   5. Jerry Rice   6. Bob Lilly   ....Btw , original Browns used to be in the same division as the Redskins ..Dad had season tckts. @ RFK in the early 1960's  and It was quite a thrill  when i was a kid  to see Jim Brown play ..His power and speed  were unbelievable -- so was his balance ...

nyjetsfan08
nyjetsfan08

I really enjoyed the article!. I love the early years of the football. I don't know how you found all those quotes. Amazing stuff. Stuff of legend, right there.

I know most have Jim Brown or Jerry Rice as greatest player of all time, but those guys didn't play defense or special teams, especially at a high level. Sammy played was a QB, DB, and kicker and did it all at a high level. If you asked Sammy what was best position and did he consider himself a QB, DB, or kicker, I think he would've replied that he considers himself a football player.

But as great a QB as he was--and he's definitely a top 10 QB in all of NFL history--there are some fair criticisms which keep him out of the best QB of all time. The same arguments would apply for Sid Luckman.

Aside from WWII, these players weren't paid much. The best athletes of the day weren't in the NFL. Sure, there were some great athletes. But the best professional athletes go where the money is. Perhaps you can argue that a Sid Luckman or Sammy Baugh were men amongst more boys than other men, whereas today's game is full of freakish men, as opposed to men. Look at the games. The OL, DL, and DBs all looked almost the same size. Think of a Big Ben or Cam Newton who is big and scrambles and is difficult to bring down because they are as big or bigger than some linebackers and defensive ends. You take that in and you can see how it was for Sammy and Sid with guys generally not much bigger than them and certainly not as fast.

The most important argument is the prohibition of minority players, specifically blacks. Blacks were banned from the league from 1933 or 1934 to 1946. Before 1933, there were black players in the NFL, but something like one or two, maybe a handful at the most. I know some might argue it as racist, even though I'm paying a compliment, but blacks tend to be great athletes. That's not to say other races don't have great athletes, but today's NFL and NBA are comprised of something like 70-80% blacks. 

We all know MLB had the same problem in the days of Ruth. Ruth, for all his accomplishments, can be admonished because the sport was whites only. Imagine if Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh, like Ruth, played with a melting pot of players and how different their stats may have been.

The other argument worth mentioning are the offensive and defensive schemes of the day. Compared to today, they were simple as can be. Their teams were innovators on offense. And when you look at today's game, with state-of-the-art technology to study your opponent, it must have taken longer for the defenses to figure out what the offenses were doing. The wildcat was a minor fad a few years ago but defenses caught up to it quickly. Back in Sammy's day, given the technology, infancy of the game, and level of personnel, I think it's logical to conclude it took longer for defenses to catch up.

I would still put Baugh in the top 10. In fact, here is my top 10, broken down by decade:

30/40s: Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman

50s: Otto Graham

60s: Bart Starr, Johnny U

70s: Rodger Dodger

80s: Joe Montana

90s: Steve Young

2000s: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning

If I had to pick the best of all time, it's REALLY hard. Steve Young led the league 6 times in passer rating, more than anyone else in the history of the game. To put that into perspective, Baugh and Luckman lead the league 3 times each. You have to combine their best seasons together to equate to Steve Young's performance. He's the Sandy Koufax of the NFL. Montana has 4 SB wins and was equally unbelievable as Young, but for different reasons. Tom Brady, what can you say. Fastest to 100 wins. Most playoff wins. 3 SB wins in 5 SB appearances. Never had a losing record (much like John Madden's Raiders teams of the 70s). And this is all during the era of free agency and salary caps. He's never had a reliable set of receivers. He had one superstar, Randy Moss, for a short time, and broke records. No one has done more with less. Montana and Young had Rice. Peyton had Harrison and, later, Wayne. Brady never had anyone like that. Guys cycle in and cycle out. The only constants are the coach and the QB. That's it. Every other piece is movable and he keeps winning. He's a born winner.

Others have made the case for Brady as best QB of all time and it's not a statement that lacks evidence of such a claim. If Brady wins another SB, I think that would finally put him past Montana for many, many people.

AndrewJHamm
AndrewJHamm

Wonderful piece. How anyone can suggest that anyone other than Baugh is the greatest player in NFL history mystifies me. Did Jim Brown pass and punt? Did Jerry Rice play defensive back? Baugh almost single-handedly invented the forward passing game. He was the NFL's Babe Ruth.

Sean O1
Sean O1

I thought MMQB wasn't going to use "Redskins" anymore?

Good read, obviously, but that caught me off guard since you guys made such a stink about it in August.

tresselball
tresselball

Great article, Dan DalyI  I loved it.  And the awesome black and white photos took us back to the 

early days of the NFL and WW II.  Please write more articles like it.  Thank you.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@skanee00 You don't need to convince ME about Nevers. I know how great he was. Even played major-league baseball and, as I remember, served up one of Babe's 60 homers in 1927. One of the greatest athletes the country has seen.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@MichaelShannon 1944 was the nadir for all sports, manpower-wise. But in '43 there were still a decent number of NFL-quality players on rosters. Football players, remember, were probably more likely to get deferments because the game took such a toll on their anatomies.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@Phroggo I'm not sure how much that tells us. For starters, that was an unusually good All-Star team, one picked not by the fans (in a newspaper poll) but by coaches. The next year, you'll note, the Bears barely beat the All-Stars, and in '46 and '47 the All-Stars won by 16-0 scores. Another factor, no doubt, is that the All-Stars had more preparation time and a deeper roster. That mattered back then when -- unlike today -- pro players arrived in camp in less than tip-top condition. As I recall, the Redskins' 1943 roster was still taking shape in August, as was the case with everybody in the league. Teams were trying to determine who was going to be available, who was on the verge of being called into the military, who might be able to play on a weekend pass, etc.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@skanee00 Ernie Nevers? I seem to remember the name.  :)  This isn't a piece about the greatest player ever, just about what might have been the greatest season. There are plenty of other candidates. Bob Waterfield's 1946, for instance. 

DanDaly
DanDaly

@RickEger Gray was in 1945. Heck, in '45 the NFL had TWO one-armed players, Ellis Jones of the Boston Yanks and Jack Sanders of the Eagles. (Sanders had been injured at Iwo Jima.) But it was a little different in '43. The piece originally included these graphs, which were deleted because of length concerns:

For the record, there were 12 players on Washington roster in 1943 – nearly half the squad – who had been with the club in ’41, the last year before the war. The Redskins were further strengthened by a couple of loaned-out Rams (linemen Joe Pasqua and Joe Gibson) and by two players the last-place Brooklyn Dodgers dumped during the season to cut payroll (tailback George Cafego and center Bill “Red” Conkright). They also had a rookie tackle, Lou Rymkus, who would play on five championship teams with the Cleveland Browns.

So, contrary to popular belief, the league wasn’t merely a collection of 4-Fs, just-out-of-college kids waiting to be drafted and veteran players with deferments – like Sammy, who remained on the home front, he would say, under the “cows and calves” provision. (Translation: The War Department thought he’d be more useful as a rancher, raising cattle to feed the troops, than as a soldier.)

Put it this way: The situation wasn’t nearly as desperate as it was in 1944, when the Redskins, turning to cradle-robbing, signed an end – Tom Bedore, a product of Tupper Lake High School in New York – who was 18 years old. He got into two games. That said, some unlikely players did suit up in ’43, including Alex Piasecky, an end Washington bought from the Steagles. Piasecky wore a facemask, a rarity in that period, because “he has had every bone removed from his nose due to football injuries,” the Washington Post reported. “If he’s hit in the nose doctors have told him it will spread from ear to ear.”

Coach Dutch Bergman summed up the season thusly: “We played . . . with only 15 men who belonged in the league in normal times, and when they got hurt in wholesale quantities we had nobody to carry on.” 



DanDaly
DanDaly

@rskins09 Thanks. NFL.com had Baugh 14th, actually -- three spots below Ronnie Lott. Hmmm. It's tough when you put together a list like that. You want to give every era and every position a fair shake. And obviously, the list runs the risk of being top-heavy with quarterbacks because it's such a quarterbacks game. But yeah, I agree. I was one of the voters, and I can't remember exactly where I had Baugh, but he was somewhere in the Top 10, if not the Top 5 -- as much for impact as for his many talents.

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

@nyjetsfan08 Brady was complicit in cheating during all of the Patriots success prior to Spygate.  He knew they were stealing signals, he was in on it, he was being fed the signals every game and took advantage of it.  


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That's the Patriots legacy. 

DanDaly
DanDaly

@AndrewJHamm Well, when you're comparing players across eras, it can almost be an apples-and-oranges thing. Still, in a book I came out with last year, "The National Forgotten League," I quote Baugh saying, "People don't realize how much of a difference rules make in football. They can make it a great game or they can make it a lousy one. I would've loved to play under the rules they have now. Every damn one helps the offense."

gary41
gary41

@Sean O1 Peter King gained a lot of politically correct publicity over not using the name Redskins, but not others including the SI staff generally.  Of course, he remains in the vast minority among fans & writers. 

Skins'Fan
Skins'Fan

@Sean O1 Before a huge stink was caused about the name, did it even offend you? (I didn't even know it was a racist term based on settlers' until Natives said it was - I became a fan at age 12) Furthermore, if MMQB really cared about it, why did it take them until now when everything is boiling over to take this stance? Piggybacking on the social media trend of the year is all they're doing and it's despicable. If they were so set against to not even type their name NOW then what changed? Oh yea, a little more coverage so now we can talk about SI not typing it. Garbage. Absolute garbage. Is it really your belief if you only realize it when EVERYONE ELSE DOES? No. It's a friggin team name. Natives' freaked out about not being called Indians' in the early 90's because it was a derogatory term. Most of the groups lobbying against the Skins' name still have Indians in their group name!!!!!!! Such bull.

AndrewJHamm
AndrewJHamm

@Sean O1 I assume it's because it's a historical piece, and reporting that the team was called "Redskins" in 1943 makes no commentary on the appropriateness of the name 70 years later.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@tresselball Much thanks. You'll have to take that up with Peter. I'm just a (temporarily) hired hand.

skanee00
skanee00

@DanDaly @skanee00 Why would the NFL Network rank him at #89 on their all-time list?  The NFL might not exist today if he didn't sign with an NFL team.  Wouldn't that make him the NFL's all-time MVP?

JimKirkwood1
JimKirkwood1

@DanDaly @skanee00 There will almost always be room for disagreement on the "best ever". What impresses me about Baugh is that he excelled on offense, defense and special teams. (Although my understanding is that they really didn't have "special teams" back then.)

DanDaly
DanDaly

@JahliSuwaghaman Right. And since 2007, when the Patriots got caught, defenses have held them to 589 ('07), 557 ('12), 518 ('10) and 513 ('11) points -- four of the 11 highest totals in NFL history (or, to be fairer, since the schedule was increased to 16 games in '78). Those are also, by far, the four highest season point totals in the Brady Era. That's part of their legacy, too.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@skanee00 "Might not exist today." Come on, you can do better than that.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@JimKirkwood1 You haven't lived until you've seen Sammy pitch the ball to the wingback coming around, then jump out in front and help lead the interference. Tailbacks were sometimes called upon to block back then, too.

DanDaly
DanDaly

@nyjetsfan08 Try Amazon. They should have some copies. Unitas is definitely in the mix of Greatest of All Time. Not Starr, in my mind. Really good, clutch QB, no question, but played with an awful lot of Hall of Famers. Hard to argue with Graham's 10 championship games (and seven titles) in 10 years, isn't it? If you've seen film of him, you know how mobile he was (being an ex-basketball player). Rushed for 99 yards in the 1950 championship game.

nyjetsfan08
nyjetsfan08

@DanDaly

I didn't know you had a book published last year. Where can I pick it up?

Also, I'd love to see who would be in your top 10 QBs of all time, in particular order, if possible.

The rules make it (more) difficult to compare eras. Objectively, what people do is compare how players performed in their era, against the average, i.e. if QB x in 1940 was 47% higher than the average passer rating and QB y in 1990 was 33% higher, QB x is better. It's very hard to say how Baugh would've done in an era with "bigger, stronger, faster" and continually complex offensive and defensive schemes. You just don't know. And I don't think it's fair to anybody. You go by what's on the stat sheet and not extrapolate data. Putting Baugh in a time machine to today. He could do well. But he also could get injured or play poorly due to a variety of factors, you just don't know. It's still so hard to compare players across eras in football and I don't know if anyone will figure it out.

Would you rank Bart Starr and Unitas above Baugh, Luckman, and Graham?

Thank you.


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