Pro Football Hall of Famer Sam Huff, who revolutionized the linebacker position during the 1950s and 1960s with the New York Giants and Washington, died Saturday, his daughter Catherine Huff Myers told the Washington Post.
Huff was 87 and had lived with dementia since 2013.
Born and raised in a West Virginia coal mining camp, Huff attended the University of West Virginia, where he starred on the Mountaineers’ football team as an All-American offensive lineman and for the baseball team as a catcher.
The Giants drafted him in the third round in 1956 (he also inked a pro baseball deal with Cleveland) and he was deemed a “tweener,” without a true position. Legend has it Vince Lombardi convinced Huff to stick out his first training camp and the Giants eventually found a home for him at middle linebacker. He took over the position during his rookie season, and the Giants won the NFL championship that year.
Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry was the Giants defensive coordinator at the time, and Huff would say years later that Landry designed his 4-3 defensive scheme around him.
Huff led the Giants defense in the 1958 championship game against the Baltimore Colts, the so-called “Greatest Game Ever Played,” a 23-17 overtime loss for the Giants.
Huff also became one of the first football “stars,” thanks to a significant media presence. He graced the cover of Time Magazine at 24. In the television show “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” CBS News wired microphones in his pads to pick up the natural sound of him playing football in 1960.
“You play as hard and as tough as you can, but you play clean,” Huff said, according to his Hall of Fame bio. “We hit each other hard, sure. But this is a man’s game and any guy who doesn’t want to hit hard doesn’t belong in it.”
The Giants made it back to the championship in 1959 and 1961-63 but never won. After the 1963 season, Giants coach Allie Sherman traded Huff to inter-division rival Washington. He wrote in his autobiography he’d never forgive Sherman for that.
Huff remained productive and finished his career with 30 interceptions. He missed part of the 1967 season with an ankle injury and had a brief retirement before returning as a “player-coach” at Lombardi’s request in 1969.
Huff retired for good and lost a race for a seat in Congress in West Virginia the following year. He was named all-NFL three times, made five Pro Bowls (four with the Giants) and could be considered one of the first defensive superstars in league history.
Huff began a radio broadcasting career in 1972 for Giants games and in 1975 joined the Washington booth, and he called the team’s games — including three Super Bowl victories — until his retirement prior to the 2013 season.
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