BAUGH TO BRADY
The Evolution of the Forward Pass
There are three things that can happen when you throw a pass, and two of them are bad. –Woody Hayes
The quarterback pass is one of the leading offensive components of today’s National Football League and college football’s top level of play. This was not always the case. In early American football, the strategy focused entirely on advancing the ball one running play at a time, with the player tucking the then-roundish ball on his hip and sprinting ahead until tackled by a swarm of defenders. The revolution that transformed the sport began in 1906, when passing was first legalized. The passing weapon made the game safer, altered strategy, turned the quarterback into a key offensive player, and made possible the high-scoring games of today.
Lew Freedman traces football’s passing game from its inception to the present, telling the tale through the stories of the quarterbacks whose arms carried (and threw) the changes forward. Freedman relies especially on the biography of “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh–who hailed from Sweetwater, Texas–as a framework. Baugh, perhaps the greatest all-around football player in history, came along at just the right time to elevate the passing game to unprecedented importance in the eyes of the sports world.
Baugh to Brady is, of course, about football, specifically about the forward pass, but this book is much more than that. While Tom Brady is mentioned at the end, Baugh to Brady is mostly about Slingin’ Sammy Baugh and his contributions to the game of football and the forward pass. More than half the book is centered around football in the 1930s and 1940s, with the latter half of the book focusing on those famous quarterbacks following in Baugh’s footsteps, such as Unitas, Namath Tarkenton, Marino, Elway, Bradshaw, Aikman, Montana, Manning, and, of course, Brady.
But the book never really wavers from Baugh. While he wasn’t the first to employ the forward pass, he definitely perfected it and gave it his own unique style. An interesting aspect in this book, for me at least, is realizing the importance of football as a means of distraction during the hard times of the 1930s with the Great Depression and the 1940s with WWII. People never stop needing that entertainment and brief respite from reality, and football was and will definitely always be a thrilling distraction, especially when you see that ball spiraling down the field with dead-eye accuracy.
Baugh to Brady is filled with interesting anecdotes, stats, colorful characters (players and coaches alike), and the ever-evolving game of football. I would never consider myself an avid fan of football, but I have always appreciated the competitive spirit of the game and the inevitable history that goes along with it. You would think that once the forward pass was put into motion, teams would have quickly jumped in with both feet. But the slowness of that evolution of the forward pass is what surprised me the most. That and the fact that the ball used to be round and definitely not suited for shooting across the field like a missile.
However, the game did eventually move forward, with changing regulations, a more aerodynamic ball, and more quarterbacks unafraid of throwing that ball right into the hands of equally important receivers.
The overall story is pretty fast paced and interesting, but don’t expect too much about modern players. This book leans heavily toward Baugh and for good reason. Sammy Baugh sounds like one incredible person, both on the gridiron and off.
“Forget the passing. Sam Baugh was a football player, a whole football player, and a full-time one.”
Sammy Baugh was also a Texas rancher, a devoted husband and father, a Hollywood celebrity (briefly and reluctantly), and an all around decent guy. While many people have played, coached, and improved the game of football over the years, Sammy Baugh, with his weird way of holding the ball, transformed the game by being one of the first great players to lift it up into the air and rocket it into the future, paving the way for others to embrace and perfect the forward pass.
Lew Freedman is a veteran newspaper sportswriter and experienced author of more than seventy-five books about sports as well as about Alaska. He spent seventeen years at the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska and has also worked for the Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer. Freedman is recipient of more than 250 journalism awards.
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