Sam Huff, a midfielder of the Giants’ Hall of Fame who became the face of professional football, his exploits celebrated in the national news media when the NFL began competing with major league baseball as the No. 1 sport in the United States, died Saturday in Winchester, Va. . He was 87.
His death, in hospital, was confirmed by his daughter, Catherine Huff Myers, who said Huff learned he had dementia in 2013.
Playing for the Giants in their heyday of the late 1950s and early 60s, Huff stepped out of West Virginia’s coalfield to anchor a defense that gained the kind of reputation that was previously reserved for heavily-armed quarterbacks and evasive runners .
He played in six NFL championship games in his eight seasons with the Giants. He was named to the all-league team three times and played in five Professional bowls.
Huff was remembered for his head-to-head duels with two of the game’s biggest defenders – Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns and Jim Taylor of the Green Bay Packers – but he also had 30 career interceptions. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Yankee Stadium, the Giants’ home at the time, resonated with chants of “DEE fense” and “Huff, Huff, Huff” in the late 1950s when one of the NFL’s oldest teams became a fancy franchise, competing with the baseball Yankees for media acclaim in the communications capital of the United States.
Huff became the epitome of the rough and tough football star.
On November 30, 1959 – nearly a year after the exciting sudden-dead NFL title game between the Giants and Baltimore Colts launched the power of professional football – Time magazine put a portrait of Huff on its cover. He was the focus of “A Man’s Game”, an article in that issue about professional football.
Huff’s awesome aura was sealed on October 30, 1960, when Walter Cronkite told the CBS documentary “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” part of the series “The Twentieth Century.”
A microphone and transmitter were placed on Huff’s shoulder pads for a demo game against the Chicago Bears in Toronto the previous August.
Viewers saw and heard Huff call signals in the crowd, then threatening a Bears receiver he considered taking liberties with him. “You do that again, you’ll get a broken nose,” Huff warned. “Don’t hit me on the chin with your elbow. I won’t warn you again. ”
Burton Benjamin, the documentary’s producer, later recalled in an article for The New York Times that the “violent world” reference “quickly became part of the football lexicon.”
As Frank Gifford, the runner and receiver of the Giants Hall of Fame, put it in his memoir “The Whole Ten Yards”, Huff became a “family name”.
Robert Lee Huff – he could not remember his name Sam – was born on 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 Farmington, W.Va.
Huff was an All-American at West Virginia University, a 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound guard and tackle on both offense and defense. The Giants selected him in the third round of the 1956 NFL draft.
As a rookie, Huff played in the Giants’ 47-7 win over the Bears in the 1956 NFL championship game, and he became a key person in the 4-3 lineup – four down line players and three two-line defenders – installed by the defensive end. of the giants. coordinator, Tom Landry. Replacing the 5-2 scheme commonly used, it put Huff at the heart of the action.
“Before, I always had my head down, looking straight into the center’s helmet,” Huff recalled in his memoir “Tough Stuff” (1988, with Leonard Shapiro). “Now I was standing and I could see everything, and I mean everything. I have always had an outstanding peripheral vision. It’s one of the reasons I was so perfectly fit for the job. “
The Giants ’prominent defensive linemen – Roosevelt Grier and Dick Modzelewski at tackle, Andy Robustelli and Jim Katcavage at the end – kept blockers away from Huff, helping him stop running games. And he went back or moved to the sidelines to break passes, completing the excellent defensive backs Emlen Tunnell, Jim Patton and Dick Nolan.
Huff “almost alone influenced the first chants of ‘Defense, Defense’ at Yankee Stadium,” John K. Mara, president and leader of the Giants, said in a statement Saturday.
Following their 1956 championship season, the Giants won five division titles between 1958 and 1963, but they lost in the championship game each time.
The Giants decided to transform into a veteran team after the 1963 season, when they won a third consecutive division title. They traded Huff to Washington for Dick James, a small runner, and Andy Stynchula, a defensive end.
Huff was shocked and angered, and the two players acquired by the Giants did little for them. As the giants’ aging stars departed, the team descended into mediocrity. Huff got revenge with Washington’s 72-41 victory over the Giants in November 1966, which he once called “the one game I wanted the most.”
He played for Washington from 1964 to 1967, then retired, but he returned for a final season as a player and linebacker when Vince Lombardi was named Washington’s head coach in 1969.
Huff was later a longtime radio broadcaster for Washington games and a marketing executive for the Marriott hotel and resort chain. He also bred purebred horses.
In addition to his daughter, Catherine, he is survived by his partner, Carol Holden; son, Joseph; his former wife, Mary Helen Fletcher Huff; three grandchildren; and great-grandson, said the family. Another son, Robert Jr., died in 2018. Huff’s marriage ended in divorce in the late 1980s.
For anyone unfamiliar with “The Huge World of Sam Huff,” the man in the midst of the Giants ’amazing defense underscored his belief in a 2002 interview for the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
“I never left anyone,” Huff said. “I think I never stop playing. If you had the football, I would hit you, and when I hit you, I tried to hit you hard enough to hurt you. That’s how the game should be played. ”
Michael Levenson contributed to reporting.