The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday, from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Sammy Baugh wasn’t the greatest thing in pro football since the advent of the forward pass, but he was one of the first quarterbacks to use the forward pass as a consistent weapon. Washington’s marquee player, a lanky Texan who played from 1937 to 1952, demontrated to a ground-and-pound league that the pass wasn’t just something to be used with caution or in desperation.
But the legend of “Slingin’ Sammy” is about more than just slinging—namely, his 1943 season, the likes of which we’re all but certain never to again see in pro football. World War II had drawn away many players to serve, so the NFL reduced its rosters from 33 players to 28, and Baugh often played the full 60 minutes in games. He led the league in passing, punting and picking off opposing quarterbacks (his 11 interceptions were tops among all defensive backs). In one game that season, a 42-20 win against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14, he threw four touchdowns, intercepted four passes and booted the longest punt of the NFL season, for 81 yards.
The greatest seasons by passers today, like Peyton Manning’s record 5,477 yards in 2013, may far exceed Baugh’s 1,754 passing yards. But no player has come close to the all-around excellence of Baugh in that one stellar year.
Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.