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Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday on Profootballhof.com.
Last week Jack Butler visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame to prepare for his enshrinement in August. The former great cornerback from the 1950s Pittsburgh Steelers took time to visit our archives. We sat around with Jack and listened to some great stories from his days in the NFL.
One particular one, I had him share when I sat down to interview him. It was about the day that the Steelers honored him during the 1959 season. As part of the pomp and circumstance, he was not only featured on the game program cover but was “given” a car. Funny thing, as he recalls, he’s still wondering what happened to the vehicle awarded to him some six decades ago!
Here’s the game program cover.
Here is Jack’s interview with me as he tells the story about the car.
It got me thinking that we have several images in our photo collection of players from that era who were honored in a similar fashion. There are great shots of these stars standing next to a brand new car. It was always my assumption that the players drove home in the car. That was until last week when Butler told us his story.
Here’s another car story for you. The famed Slingin’ Sammy Baugh revolutionized the NFL’s passing game during his career with the Washington Redskins from 1937 to 1952. So, it came as no surprise that he would be the focal point of one of these celebrations. His time came on Nov. 23, 1947 when the Redskins hosted the Chicago Cardinals.
Before the game, Baugh stood at the center of Griffith Stadium next to a brand new wood-paneled Packard station wagon, reportedly worth $3,000. The car, presented to him by the Washington Touchdown Club, had the inscription “Slingin’ Sam” on one side and a big “33” on the other side.
Obviously, Baugh was affected by the tribute. All he did was go out and have one of the finest days of his entire 15-year career. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 355 yards and tossed six TD passes to lead Washington to a stunning 45-21 upset of that season’s eventual league champion Cardinals.
Now, back to the car. Unlike Butler’s experience, Sammy actually received the car and drove it home. But by midweek his prized new vehicle was the subject of headlines. The Washington Post’s big headline read “Baugh’s Station Wagon Thrown for Loss.”
Baugh, just days after getting the keys, was hurrying back from Philadelphia to take part in a Thanksgiving Day high school game in Alexandria, Va. in which he was to crown the queen. While traveling through Maryland an oncoming car swerved into Baugh’s lane forcing him to drive the Packard into a ditch on the side of the road. The driver of the other vehicle never stopped.
Fortunately for Baugh, and the Redskins, he suffered minor injuries and was able to play the following weekend. As for his ride, that took the hardest hit with its passenger side doors and rear fender badly damaged. But, just hours after the accident, Sammy was contacted by a fan who offered to cover the hundreds of dollars in repairs.
Maybe Butler should be happy he never got his car!