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Way Back When: Manning, Baugh connected as legends as Washington comes to town


It is very special that Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning goes into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame on the same day on which Denver plays the Washington Football Team.

While Denver and Washington do not play all that often, there is a quarterback bond between the two teams.

For the Broncos, it is Manning, whose honors and awards take pages to list. Chief among the qualities that define Manning is a great respect for the people and traditions of the National Football League.

And way back when, before Manning, John Elway and all the other recent greats, Washington had the first big-time passing quarterback in the history of the game.

That individual was Sammy Baugh, also known as "Slingin' Sammy," who played at Texas Christian University and then for Washington from 1937-52.

A member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1963, Baugh preceded Sid Luckman, Otto Graham, Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Johnny Unitas and all the other greats that followed.

He set the stage for the role that Manning would have in the game.

Baugh led the NFL in passing categories numerous times — including four years leading the league in passing yards, twice in passing touchdowns and more. Similarly, Manning led the NFL in many passing stats during his career.

But Baugh, a literal three-way player who also was a defensive back and punter, also made 31 interceptions on defense and led the NFL with 11 in 1943. Three years earlier, in 1940, he also had a 51.4 yard punting average that not only led the league then but remains the single-season NFL record.

Considered by many (including this author) to be the greatest NFL player ever, Baugh (who always went by Sam and said that both "Sammy" and "Slingin' Sammy" were concoctions of sportswriters) was selected to the NFL 100 All-Time Team in 2019, as did Manning. There were 10 quarterbacks chosen, and the list would have seemed incomplete without both Baugh and Manning.

Manning is the only five-time league MVP in NFL history and was elected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and our own Ring of Fame this year. Manning's list of accomplishments is both illustrious and lengthy, including being a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade team and, along with Baugh, the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time team.

Like Baugh, Manning defines greatness, on the field and off.

Manning and Baugh met just once, and it involved Manning going to see Baugh, as Baugh was as stubborn as he was great and did not leave his 20,000-acre West Texas ranch (the Double Mountain Ranch) much in his later years.

Sam Baugh was one of Manning's heroes, as it turns out, but they met just one time.  

Their meeting came in 2000, Manning told the Houston Chronicle’s Joe Holley several years ago. It was long before Peyton began his brilliant years with the Broncos, and the two all-time greats got together for a photo shoot at Baugh's ranch.

"I left the ranch that day with great respect for Sam Baugh," Manning recalled to Holley. "I never saw him again, but we stayed in touch."

When Baugh died eight years later, the Indianapolis Colts played Jacksonville the next day. In tribute to Baugh, Manning wrote "SB" on his wristband, he said, and had a Sammy Baugh-like performance against the Jaguars with 17 straight completions to open the game and three touchdown passes to clinch a playoff berth.

According to the Chronicle, when reporters gathered around him after the game, Manning said, "I was slinging it tonight," a gentle tribute to the great Sammy Baugh.

Things often come full circle in sports, and this week Manning joins the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame on a day when his team faces the Washington Football Team, tying a bow around the joined legacies of Peyton Manning and Sammy Baugh.

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