Remembering Washington and NFL legend Sam Huff

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Robert Lee “Sam” Huff died on Saturday in Winchester VA; he was 87 years of age.

An avid Washington fan since early childhood, my first WFT team memories are of the 1969 team. Coached by Vince Lombardi, the team consisted of other Hall of Famers in Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Chris Hanburger and yes, Sam Huff.

How good was Sam Huff?

Not only was Huff voted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 1982, but in addition, when the NFL in 2010 chose their 100 greatest players ever, Huff came in at number 93.

Growing up the son of a West Virginia coal miner, Sam was a leader on the undefeated 1951 Farmington High team and was All-State in ’52.

An All-American at WVU in ’55, the New York Giants drafted the defensive lineman in round three. NYG Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry installed his new 4-3 defense, asking Huff to adjust and play middle linebacker.

“As long as I had played football, I always played from what is called ‘a three-point stance’ ”, explained Huff. “You were always down, and you always saw one person. And all of a sudden Tom Landry said, “Why don’t you try middle linebacker?”

“And I am standing up; now I can see everything. It was such a beautiful thing for me; it was like I was born to play it.”

His prominence was quite high resulting in Huff being featured on the November 30, 1959, Time Magazine cover. Number 70 was also the focus of an October 30, 1960, CBS documentary, “The Violent World of Sam Huff”.

Traded from the Giants to Washington in 1964, he began a friendship with new Washington quarterback, Sonny Jurgensen.

“We became very close and have remained very close”, Jurgensen said in an NFL interview in 2010. “I always told him, ‘You were like the brother I never had’.”

“I had great admiration for him when he was with the Giants, and it grew when he became a Redskin. I then knew why Sam Huff would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame… Believe me, he deserves to be in the top 100.”

Playing four seasons in the Burgundy and Gold, Huff retired after the 1967 season. Someone else who had retired after the 1967 season was Green Bay Packers’ head coach, Vince Lombardi. However, after one season as an executive in the Packers organization, Lombardi returned to the sidelines, becoming Washington’s head coach in 1969.

Huff wanted back in; he wanted to play for Lombardi.

Approaching Lombardi, Huff claimed to have said, “Coach Lombardi, you need a middle linebacker. I can be a player-coach for you. I can coach the linebackers, and I can play.”

Lombardi responded, “You think you can still play?”

“I can play; I know I can play”, said a confident Huff.

Huff did play well in that 1969 season, playing in all 14 games, starting ten, and intercepting three passes, including an 18-yard touchdown return against the Philadelphia Eagles.

He finished his career intercepting 30 passes, recovering 19 fumbles, was a Pro Bowler five times, and twice a first-team All-Pro.

The Hall of Fame linebacker enjoyed a very successful 25+ years with Marriott and 38 seasons as part of the Washington radio broadcasting team (1975-2012).

Unfortunately, life is hard, often bringing difficult challenges and sometimes horrible circumstances.

In Huff’s last year of broadcasting Washington games (2012), he began to show signs of declining. He sometimes repeated himself, stated the obvious, and once I recall he chided a Washington defensive player for not doing anything that day. To which Sonny Jurgensen then responded, “But Sam, he has made five official tackles.”

It was his last season and word of a diagnosis of Dementia would follow in 2013.

“We lost a legend today; a legend in every sense of the word,” said former Washington play-by-play announcer Larry Michael (2004-2019). “He was a great guy. Working with Sam was a huge honor. Sam was a genuine man, true to his roots. His legacy and memory will last forever.”