December 14, 2009

1947: Sammy Baugh Completes Record Passing Season with 343 Yards in Finale

Quarterback Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins broke and re-broke many NFL passing records during his 16-year career. Starting out as a tailback in Washington’s double wing offense, he had made the transition to T-formation quarterback in 1944. While he was at it, he also led the Redskins to five Eastern Division titles and two league championships. He was more than just the best passer of his era, but an outstanding defensive back and punter as well.

The Redskins were in decline by 1947, under Head Coach Turk Edwards, but Baugh was not. In the season-concluding game on December 14, he led the team to a 40-13 win over the Boston Yanks at Griffith Stadium. Slingin’ Sammy passed for 343 yards, including three touchdowns against one interception.

Baugh’s first TD pass, of 15 yards to HB Dick Poillon in the second quarter, gave the Redskins their first lead of the day at 13-6. His two fourth quarter scoring passes covered 6 yards to end Doug Turley and 20 yards to rookie end Joe Tereshinski, and allowed Washington to put the Yanks away. The offensive effort was also helped by FB Jim Castiglia’s 136 yards on 19 carries, which included two short touchdown runs.

All in all, it was a fine performance to conclude an otherwise disappointing season as the Redskins rolled up 574 yards while holding Boston to 112. Washington’s final record was 4-8, which ranked fourth in the five-team Eastern Division. The Yanks, who split the season series with the Redskins, ended up in third with a 4-7-1 tally.

Baugh had three 300-yard passing performances during the year, including a high of 364 with 5 TD passes in an opening day shootout at Philadelphia (the Eagles won, 45-42). He also tied his career best with six touchdown passes in a 45-21 win over the Chicago Cardinals (on “Sammy Baugh Day” in Washington, no less).

For the season, he set records for pass attempts (354) and completions (210) as well as passing yards (2938, breaking the record set by Chicago’s Sid Luckman in 1943 by 744 yards). Baugh, the league’s passing leader for the fifth of an eventual six times, also led the NFL in completion percentage (59.3) and TD passes (25) while having the lowest percentage of interceptions (4.2). For the era, these were exceptional numbers; the yardage record, most notably, lasted until 1960.

Baugh already held most of the career passing marks at this point (attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdown passes) as he set whole new standards for future quarterbacks to build upon. Thin (6’2”, 180 pounds) but very tough (sanctions against roughing the passer hadn’t yet been adopted – if the play was still in progress, a defender could hit the quarterback long after he had gotten rid of the ball), Baugh threw very accurately – way more than was the norm in the 1940s – with a sidearm motion. His style of play not only produced records, but greatly influenced the rise of the passing game in pro football.

The nickname Slingin’ Sam had actually been conferred on him for his exploits as a baseball third baseman, good enough to make it into the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals, but not good enough to make it out of the minors (he couldn’t hit a curve ball). Baseball’s loss ended up being football’s gain, all the way to a charter membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.