On November 14, 1943, Sammy Baugh threw four touchdowns and intercepted four passes as his Washington Redskins topped the visiting Detroit Lions 42-20.
The end result may not have been surprising—NFL title-holding Washington came into the game 4-0-1 and Detroit was 3-4-1. Baugh, nicknamed “Slingin’ Sam” for his heroics tossing the pigskin, probably also didn’t shock many of the 35,000-plus at Griffith Stadium with his aerial display. However, Baugh’s domination on both sides of the passing game is one for the record books.
The scoring started in the opening quarter when Baugh, a wiry passer from central Texas, tossed a 10-yard touchdown to Bob Masterson. The rest of that period was silent on the scoreboard, as Baugh punted the ball three straight times on first down when the Redskins were pinned deep in their own half (field position was at a premium and turnovers more common in football at time, so teams were willing to give up the ball in order to have a potentially better spot down field).
The second quarter is when things got interesting. Early on, Detroit tackle Alex Ketzko batted a Baugh pass at the line of scrimmage and linemate Augie Lio ripped the hovering ball from the ether for the interception. Baugh immediately returned the favor by pulling down an interception of his own on the Detroit 46 several plays later. His 18 yard return of the pick set up a 28-yard strike to Bob Seymour, doubling the Redskin lead and giving Baugh his second pass touchdown.
The following Lion possession, Baugh snagged a pick for the second straight drive. It was perhaps his best catch of the day: Detroit tailback Frankie Sinkwich sailed one deep, intended for end Bill Fisk. However, Baugh felt a connection shouldn’t be made and leaped in front of the intended receiver. The Texan then reached over his shoulder, wrangled the ball between his hands, and bounded out-of-bounds with the pigskin safely in his possession, leaving Fisk grasping at air.
After the teams traded punts for several possessions, Washington tackle Lou Rymkus intercepted a pass on a poorly executed screen play. With Sinkwich—who was on the ground, tackled after his bungled toss—the only Lion between him and paydirt, Rymkus hoofed 21 yards untouched for the third Redskins touchdown.
The remainder of the period saw no more changes to the scoreboard. Moments before halftime, though, Baugh halted a threatening Lions drive that had reached the Redskins 26 by grabbing his third Sinkwich pass of the quarter—this one saw Baugh catch an overthrown ball near his own goal line. Washington then ran the clock out, content to enter the break with a 21-0 lead.
After the players returned to the field for the second half, Washington immediately marched 73 yards on five Baugh passes and one Detroit pass interference penalty. To culminate the drive and give the Redskins a 28-point lead, Baugh found Masterson from 10 yards out again. On that scoring play, Baugh drew Detroit defenders away from Masterson by using a fake throwing motion he had perfected in the lead-up to the game; we now know this move as a “pump fake”. During the Lions’ ensuing possession, Baugh collected his fourth and final interception, once again on a deep Sinkwich pass.
That 28-point advantage and Baugh’s fourth pick surely put the game on ice. Sinkwich and the Lions didn’t get the memo, however, and quickly built a rally behind the former All-American from Georgia.
The visitors’ resurgence began with Sinkwich returning a third-quarter punt 77 yards. After fullback Harry Hopp lost a fumble (that was recovered by Baugh) inside the Washington’s 5-yard line, Ketzko got his hand on a quick-kick from Baugh. Hopp then grabbed the flubbed kick at the Redskins 18 and set the Lions up with great field position. On the ensuing possession, Sinkwich found Jack Matheson from 22 yards out for the visitors’ first points.
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Within the next 10 minutes, Sinkwich intercepted a floating Baugh pass for a 39-yard pick six and then tallied a second touchdown strike—this time a 40-yard bomb to Bill Callihan that left Washington’s George Smith falling head-over-heals in coverage—to cut the score to 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.
With the game now uncomfortably tight, Redskins fullback Andy Farkas rumbled 41 yards to the promised land to make things 35-20. After this score provided a cushion, Baugh connected for his fourth and final touchdown, a four yard flick to Joe Aguirre—who then nailed the extra point for the game’s final tally.
Besides the incredible performance on both offense and defense, Baugh also had success kicking the football. On three successive first downs in the first half, the slingin’ Texan booted “quick kicks” 54, 46, and 66 yards each. He also had an 81-yard one that pinned the Lions deep on their own 1-yard line.
All told, Baugh’s aerial attack read 18 of 30 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns in the box score. According to The Washington Post, the two-way player was in the game for all but one minute and 35 seconds (The Detroit Free press, meanwhile, claimed that Baugh played the entire game, save for the final 35 seconds).
While Baugh’s day was incredible, it wasn’t all perfect. He threw two interceptions—including the one that Sinkwich returned for a touchdown—although neither were entirely his fault. Besides those errant throws, Baugh also had a punt blocked, and he fumbled on his fourth interception return (though the Redskins retrieved the loose ball).
We’d noticed in the films that Sinkwich had thrown for a couple of touchdowns on down-and-outs. And I thought: He’ll try to do the same thing to me. Quarterbacks form certain habits. So I stayed in the middle of the field and didn’t move until the ball was snapped and he was dropping back. Sure enough, I guessed right every time. After the first two I intercepted, I thought: Well, he’s going to come back with the post. And he damn sure did.
The Redskins star talking to Sports Illustrated about the passing habits of Detroit Lions tailback Frankie Sinkwich
Several days after Baugh’s magical day, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice ranked the quarterback as one of the top three players in the NFL alongside Green Bay Packers’ Don Hutson and Chicago Bears’ Sid Luckman, who threw an NFL-record seven touchdowns the same day Baugh embarrassed Detroit. Players and coaches Rice talked to voted Baugh as the best out of the three.
The Wednesday after the game, Baugh hurt his knee during practice. This injury limited his time in the next game, against the unbeaten and Western Division-leading Bears. Despite the tweaked knee, Baugh played enough to toss a touchdown and the Redskins won 21-7 in an assumed preview of the NFL championship game.
That assumption was soon cast into doubt as Washington lost three straight, once to the combined Phil-Pitt Steagles and a pair to the New York Giants. With a 6-3-1 overall record, the Redskins were forced to play the Giants a third time in a tiebreaker playoff to decide the Eastern Division champion. This time, Washington won 28-0, earning the rights to face the Bears for the NFL championship.
In the title game, Baugh went out with a concussion after getting kicked in the head while covering a first quarter punt return. Baugh later returned, but according to The Washington Post “was not throwing the ball in his usual manner” and the Redskins lost 42-21 to the Bears.
Detroit only had one game left after the defeat to Washington and lost that one 35-34 to the Steagles. The Lions’ 3-6-1 record saw them finish third out of four in the Western Division.
Despite his team faltering in the championship game, Baugh’s 1943 campaign is credited by some as one of the most well-rounded individual seasons in NFL history. The former Texas Christian player led the league in passing accuracy (55.6 percent) and was second in touchdown passes (23) and passing yards (1,754). Besides his aerial prowess, Baugh paced the league in interceptions (11) and punting average (45.9 yards).
It’s likely these numbers were aided by World War II. Prior to the US’ involvement in the war, Baugh usually only played half the game. According to Sports Illustrated, the NFL attempted to limit its impact on the war effort by dropping roster sizes from 33 to 28 in 1943—ultimately requiring more players to go both ways. Baugh was one such player asked to increase his multitasking load and so he often played the entire 60 minutes that season.
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Baugh’s four touchdown, four interception game is undoubtedly the last and only time a player has managed such a stat line in the NFL. However, there are certainly others who have recorded both pass touchdowns and pass interceptions in the same game.
The last player who performed such a feat was Bill Stits, a halfback and defensive back. On November 13, 1955, Stits tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass for the Lions against the Pittsburgh Steelers before later returning a Jim Finks pass seven yards for a pick-six. Those pair of scores enabled Detroit to eek out the win, 31-28.
Four-pass touchdown games are reasonably common in the NFL—quarterbacks pitched 35 four-plus touchdown games during the 2018 regular season. Four interception games are much rarer and no one has snagged five or more. According to the NFL Hall of Fame, only 18 others after Baugh’s four-pick day have equaled the total (with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jerry Norton having two such games). The last player to do so was DeAngeleo Hall, whose four picks helped Washington to a 17-14 win over Chicago in 2010.
Baugh is not only a brilliant passer, but also a brilliant kicker. He is a good defensive back and he can also carry the ball. He has just an edge over Luckman.
An unnamed coach/player
After Sammy Baugh’s performance against Detroit
Surprisingly, a cut of almost the entire game is available on YouTube (and in color, too!):
There are also a few pictures bouncing around too. The one below is supposedly an image of Baugh (No. 33) stretching out for one of his interceptions, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, based on available video footage, I believe it’s actually a photo of an incomplete pass during the second quarter (the play in question begins at the 12:25 mark in the above video):
The only other images of the game that I’ve found come from the next day’s edition of The Washington Post. This first photo is of Baugh attempting to recover an Andy Farkas fumble, although the play was blown dead before the ball hit the ground:
This final image shows Baugh hitting Joe Aguirre for a first-down pass in the fourth quarter:
He’s something out of a book. I’d love to pay my way into a game and just watch him throw those things.
Detroit Lions tailback on the passing marvels of Sammy Baugh
- The Washington Redskins’ Sammy Baugh led his team to a 42-20 win over the Detroit Lions by doing on both sides of the ball: He passed four touchdowns and intercepted four Detroit passes.
- Baugh also had a solid day as a punter, including an 81-yard quick-kick that placed the ball on the Lions’ own 1.
- Baugh and the Redskins would beat the vaunted Chicago Bears 21-7 the next week. However, the Bears got the upper hand at the end of the season and claimed the NFL title by topping Washington 41-21 in the championship game.
- “Lion-Tamer Baugh Cracks His Whip and 42-20 Victory for Redskins Is the Result”, Detroit Free Press, November 15, 1943 via Newspapers.com
- “REDSKINS TRIUMPH OVER DETROIT, 42-20”, The New York Times, November 15, 1943 via TimesMachine
- “The Sportlight: Luckman, Baugh and Hudson”, The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), November 17, 1943 via Newspapers.com
- “Redskins Beat Lions, 42 to 20; Baugh Stars”, The Washington Post, November 15, 1943 via ProQuest
- “This Morning With Shirley Povich”, The Washington Post, November 16, 1943 via ProQuest
- “‘Skins Stall Bear Attack, Blasting Out 21-7 Victory”, The Washington Post, November 22, 1943 via ProQuest
- “Sam Baugh, Farkas Star As Giants Lose, 28 to 0”, The Washington Post, December 20, 1943 via ProQuest
- “Bears Rout Redskins to Win Title, 41-21”, The Washington Post, December 27, 1943 via ProQuest
- “Baugh’s Injury Is Main Topic On Redskins’ Trip Back Home”, The Washinton Post, December 28, 1943 via ProQuest
- “On This Date in Sports November 14, 1943: Sammy Baugh Does It All”, Barstool Sports
- “Luckman Beats His Home-Town Giants”, The New York Times
- “Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins – November 14th, 1943”, Pro-Football-Reference.com
- 4-plus passing touchdown games in 2018, Pro-Football-Reference.com
- Players with at least one pass touchdown and one interception caught in a single season, Pro-Football-Reference.com
- “1943 Detroit Lions”, Pro Football Archives
- “1943 Washington Redskins”, Pro Football Archives
- “Slingin’ Sammy first to have 4-pick game”, Pro Football Hall of Fame
- “Sammy Baugh, 1943: The Greatest Season?”, Sports Illustrated
- “DeAngelo Hall, Sammy Baugh and four interceptions”, Washington Post