Sam Huff, the hard-hitting Hall of Fame linebacker who helped the New York Giants reach six NFL title games from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s and later became a popular player and announcer in Washington, died Saturday. He was 87.
Huff family lawyer Deborah Matthews told The Associated Press that Huff died of natural causes in Winchester, Virginia. An obituary released by the Giants said Huff had been diagnosed with dementia in 2013.
Huff always will be remembered as the furious middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme developed for him by fellow Hall of Famer Tom Landry, his defensive coordinator with New York and later the architect of the Dallas Cowboys’ rise to power.
Raised in West Virginia coal mining country, Huff became a two-time All-Pro in a career that spanned 1956-69, regularly crashing into the likes of Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and other bruising running backs.
“Sam was one of the greatest Giants of all time. He was the heart and soul of our defense in his era. He almost single-handedly influenced the first chants of ‘Defense, defense’ in Yankee Stadium,” team president John Mara said in a statement.
“Anyone who knew Sam knew what an amazing person he was,” Washington owners Dan and Tanya Snyder said. “He was an iconic player and broadcaster for the franchise for over 40 years and was a great friend to our family. He represented the franchise with honor and respect on the field in the booth and was beloved by our fans.”
“The Twentieth Century,” a documentary television program hosted by Walter Cronkite on CBS that began in the late 1950s, once broadcast a piece on him entitled “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” Huff wore a microphone during practice and an exhibition game for the piece.
Drafted out of West Virginia in the third round in 1956, Huff played for New York from 1956-63. He was traded to Washington before the 1964 season and played there for the next four seasons. He retired after the ‘67 season, sat out the following year and returned for a final season in 1969 as a player-coach under Vince Lombardi.
“He may not be an all-American, but he is an example of the American way,” Huff said in his induction speech. “He is judged not for his race, nor for his social standing, or not for his finances, but by the democratic yardstick of how well he blocks, tackles and sacrifices individual glory for the overall success of his team.”
Huff was an every-down linebacker. He had the determination and strength to take on power running backs of that time and had the speed to cover backs on pass routes. He had 30 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries and five touchdowns.
Huff didn’t feel comfortable there and shorty after training camp opened in 1956, he got fed up and left. Lombardi, then a Giants assistant coach, caught him on the way to the airport and convinced him to come back, suggesting it would be better than the coal mines of West Virginia.
Landry eventually developed a 4-3 defense, which was a better fit for the mobile Huff and he was switched to middle linebacker behind Ray Beck. Landry used to have the rookie come to his apartment in New York and they would spent nights discussing defenses.
Robert Lee “Sam” Huff was born in a mining camp in Edna, West Virginia on Oct. 4, 1934. His father and two of his brothers worked in the coal mines and he lived in a small rowhouse with no running water.
“Mountaineer Nation is saddened to learn of the passing of WVU football legend Sam Huff. What a great Mountaineer who always cared for and loved his university,” hletic director Shane Lyons said in a statement.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.