It is always interesting to speculate on where important historical figures might stand in other generations. Could Abraham Lincoln be elected President in 2012? Could George Patton or Omar Bradley lead men and women in the modern army? Nowhere will you find a more heated discussion than when the subject is sports. Just speculate out loud how many home runs Babe Ruth would hit if he was playing today and the debate is on. And it will not stop for quite a while.
Joe Holley makes his viewpoint crystal clear in the title of his excellent biography, SLINGIN’ SAM: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game. Holley makes a strong presentation that Sammy Baugh is the greatest quarterback of all time, doing so in a factually entertaining manner. A good biography must be more than the story of one life. It should place its subject in the times of his life, and Holley has accomplished that task extremely well. Baugh’s football career began in an era when college coaches adopted new offensive strategies and tactics. When he moved to professional football, he would be one of the creators of the game that is now our national sport. Of course, Baugh was not a lone figure in the changes and growth of football. Those who were with him as the game evolved are superbly portrayed by Holley, and that makes this biography an enjoyable book.
"SLINGIN’ SAM is a wonderful book for the football fan on your holiday shopping list. At year’s end, reviewers for Bookreporter.com often compile lists of their favorite books of the year. Holley’s engaging account of the life of a football legend definitely will be on my list."
Like most athletes of his generation, Baugh was a multi-sport player. His nickname, “Slingin’ Sam, was born not of his ability to throw a football, but of his skill as a third-baseman making the throw across the diamond from third to first. Baseball was his chosen sport, and after high school graduation in 1933, he enrolled at TCU with the assurance that he could play football, basketball and baseball.
Arriving at TCU, Baugh was fortunate to have a coach, Dutch Meyer, who was adopting an offensive strategy that favored the passing game. In the 1930s, college football was still a fairly conservative smash-mouth game of running, defense and field position. Meyer saw the value of short, quick passes, and Baugh had the talent to implement that strategy. College football in the ’30s was still a game that most modern fans would not recognize. Players played both offense and defense, and teams did not have the large roster of players that exist today. Not only was Baugh an extraordinary passer, he was also an outstanding defensive back and punter. He led TCU to two bowl games in his career and finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1936.
By the time of his graduation, Baugh had caught the eye of George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston Redskins, who were preparing to re-locate to Washington. Selected sixth overall in the college draft, he signed a one-year contract with the Redskins for $8,000. In his rookie season, he set numerous passing records and played defensive back as well as punter. He led his team to the NFL Championship by defeating the Chicago Bears. It would be the beginning of a fierce rivalry between the Bears and Redskins and their respective owners, George Halas and George Marshall. Holley has painted a vivid portrait of the league in its infant stages. The groundwork for a billion dollar industry was laid during the 1930s and ’40s by Baugh and many other players and owners vividly portrayed by the author.
Baugh’s mark on professional football remains today. He set records as a quarterback, defensive back and punter. His career punting average is second longest in NFL history. His single season average of 51.4 yards per kick is the best season average of all-time. Baugh rarely left the playing field, making his offensive accomplishments that much more extraordinary. His career culminated with being named to the first class of players enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame.
SLINGIN’ SAM is a wonderful book for the football fan on your holiday shopping list. At year’s end, reviewers for Bookreporter.com often compile lists of their favorite books of the year. Holley’s engaging account of the life of a football legend definitely will be on my list.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 7, 2012