Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff dies at 87

Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame middle linebacker who became the face of professional football, his exploits celebrated in national me...


Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame middle linebacker who became the face of professional football, his exploits celebrated in national media when the NFL began to compete with major league baseball as America’s No.1 sport , died Saturday in Winchester, Va. He was 87 years old.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter, Catherine Huff Myers, who said Huff learned he had dementia in 2013.

Playing for the Giants in their glory years of the late ’50s and early’ 60s, Huff came from the coal country of West Virginia to anchor a defense that gained the kind of fame that was previously reserved for quarterbacks – powerful backs and elusive runners.

He played six NFL Championship games in his eight seasons with the Giants. He has been named to the All-League squad three times and has played in five Pro Bowls.

Huff was remembered for his head-on duels with two of the greatest full-backs in the game – Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers Jim taylor – but he’s also had 30 career interceptions. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

Yankee Stadium, the home of the Giants at the time, echoed to chants of “DEE-fense” and “Huff, Huff, Huff” in the late 1950s as one of the NFL’s oldest teams rose to fame. a glamorous franchise, rivaling the baseball Yankees for media acclaim in America’s communications capital.

Huff has become the epitome of the tough, tough football star.

On November 30, 1959 – almost a year after the thrilling NFL title sudden death game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts launched the ascendancy of professional football – Time magazine placed a portrait of Huff on its cover. He was at the center of “A Man’s Game,” an article in this issue on professional football.

Huff’s dreadful aura was sealed on October 30, 1960, when Walter Cronkite narrated the CBS documentary “The Violent World of Sam Huff”, which is part of the “Twentieth Century” series.

A microphone and transmitter were placed on Huff’s shoulder pads for an exhibition game against the Chicago Bears in Toronto last August.

Viewers saw and heard Huff calling out signals in the group, then threatening a Bears receiver he considered taking liberties with him. “If you do it again, you’ll get a broken nose,” Huff warned. “Don’t hit me on the chin with your elbow.” I’m not going to warn you anymore.

Burton Benjamin, the documentary’s producer, later recalled in an article for The New York Times that the reference to the “violent world” “has quickly become part of the lexicon of football.”

As Frank Gifford, the Giants Hall of Fame running back and wide receiver, put it in his memoir “The Whole Ten Yards”, Huff has become “a household name”.

Robert Lee Huff – he couldn’t remember his name Sam – was born October 4, 1934 in Morgantown, W.Va., the son of a coal miner. He grew up in a mining camp known as Number Nine, outside of Farmington, W.Va.

Huff was an All-American at the University of West Virginia, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound guard and tackle in both attack and defense. The Giants selected him in the third round of the NFL Draft in 1956.

As a rookie, Huff starred in the Giants’ 47-7 win over the Bears in the 1956 NFL Championship game, and he became a key figure in the 4-3 roster – four linemen and three linebackers – installed by the Giants’ defense. coordinator, Tom landry. Replacing the commonly used 5-2 scheme, it puts Huff at the heart of the action.

“Before, I always had my head down, looking straight into the center helmet,” Huff recalls in his “Tough Stuff” (1988, with Leonard Shapiro) memoir. “Now I was up and I could see everything, and I mean everything. I have always had exceptional peripheral vision. This is one of the reasons I was so perfectly suited for the job.

The Giants’ outstanding defensive linemen – Roosevelt Grier and Dick modzelewski tackle, Andy Robustelli and Jim Katcavage in the end – kept the blockers clear of Huff, helping him stop the games in progress. And he backed off or moved to the sideline to break passes, complementing the superb defensive backs Emlen Tunnell, Jim patton and Dick nolan.

Huff “almost single-handedly influenced the early ‘Defense, Defense’ chants at Yankee Stadium,” Giants president and general manager John K. Mara said on Saturday.

After their 1956 championship season, the Giants won five division titles between 1958 and 1963, but both lost in the championship game.

The Giants decided to reshape a veteran team after the 1963 season, when they won a third straight division title. They traded Huff in Washington for Dick James, a short running back, and Andy Stylchula, a defensive end.

Huff was shocked and angry, and the two players acquired by the Giants didn’t do much for them. As the aging Giants stars departed, the team fell into mediocrity. Huff secured retaliation with Washington’s 72-41 victory over the Giants in November 1966, which he once called “the game I wanted most.”

He played for Washington from 1964 to 1967 and then retired, but returned for a final season as a player and linebacker coach when Vince Lombardi was appointed Washington head coach in 1969.

Huff was later a longtime radio host for Washington Games and a marketing manager for the Marriott hotel and resort chain. He also bred thoroughbred horses.

Besides his daughter Catherine, he is survived by his partner Carol Holden; one son, Joseph; his former wife, Mary Helen Fletcher Huff; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild, the family said. Another son, Robert Jr., died in 2018. Huff’s marriage ended in divorce in the late 1980s.

For anyone unfamiliar with “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” the man in the midst of the Giants’ impressive defense underscored his credo in a 2002 interview for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I never let anyone down,” Huff said. “I don’t think I’ve ever stopped a play. If you had the ball I was going to hit you, and when I hit you I tried to hit you hard enough to hurt you. This is how the game should be played.

Michael Levenson contributed reporting.

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