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Sammy Baugh during a workout, 1 October 1945. Associated Press

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Baugh, Sammy (17 March 1914–17 December 2008), football player, was born Samuel Adrian Baugh and raised in Temple, Texas, the son of James “J.V.” Baugh, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad when not running gaming houses and cockfights, and Lucy. The family was poor, a predicament that worsened when the father ran off with another woman. “Sammy” Baugh attended local schools. In junior high, he played end and switched to tailback before his mother took her three children to Sweetwater, near Abilene, after Sam's freshman year in high school. There, Sam practiced accuracy by throwing at a swinging tire, later starring at tailback and twice taking his team to the state playoffs. Texas Christian University gave him a scholarship to play baseball, but in his sophomore year the legendary Dutch Meyer became the school's football coach and urged Baugh to concentrate on that sport as quarterback. Between 1934 and 1936, the raw-boned, genial, but foul-mouthed Baugh led the Horned Frogs to a 29-7-3 record, passing a newly designed, slimmer football for 3,384 yards and 39 touchdowns, while being named an all-American in 1935 and 1936. He capped his college career with wins in the Sugar Bowl (1936) and the very first Cotton Bowl (1937), finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting for 1936. Baugh was “the greatest athlete I ever saw,” said Meyer ( ...

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Bell, Matty (22 February 1899–30 June 1983), athlete and college coach and administrator, was born William Madison Bell in Alvarado, Texas, the son of Ruben Edwin Bell, a dry goods store operator, and Elizabeth Morgan. As a teenager Bell adopted the nickname Matty because he admired professional baseball pitcher ...

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Bierman, Bernard William (11 March 1894–08 March 1977), college athlete and football coach, was born in Springfield, Minnesota, the son of William August Bierman and Lydia Ruessler. His father worked at odd jobs, causing the family to live in three Minnesota towns, along with two years in Oklahoma, by the time Bierman graduated from high school. A bone infection in his leg prevented him from undertaking high school sports until his sophomore year. He then participated in football, basketball, and track....

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Blanda, George (17 September 1927–27 September 2010), professional football player, was born George Frederick Blanda in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, the seventh of eleven children to parents of Czech extraction, Michael Blanda, a coal miner, and Mary Blanda. Located near Pittsburgh, Youngwood was part of a region in western Pennsylvania with a strong football tradition that produced the Hall of Fame quarterbacks ...

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Johnny Mack Brown. With Mae West, on movie set. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111083).

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Brown, Johnny Mack (01 September 1904–14 November 1974), college football player and film actor, was born John Mack Brown in Dothan, Alabama, the son of John Henry Brown and Hattie McGillary. Brown’s father owned a small retail shoe store in Dothan that brought the family only a small income. Johnny had to go to work at an early age selling newspapers. He spent much of his youth fishing, hunting, and playing football and other sports with his five brothers. Brown attended Dothan High School, where he earned letters in track, baseball, and football and was an all-state football player. In 1923 Brown earned a scholarship to play football all four years at the University of Alabama....

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Guy Chamberlin. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Chamberlin, Guy (16 January 1894–04 April 1967), professional football player and coach, was born Berlin Chamberlin in Blue Springs, Nebraska, the son of Elmer E. Chamberlin and Ana I. Tobyne. He grew up in a large farm family. Tall and fast, Chamberlin had the makings of a fine athlete, but the local high school was too small to field a football team. Relegated to sandlot play against nearby teams and lacking confidence, he entered a small college, Nebraska Wesleyan, in 1912. There he blossomed as a football star, winning all-state honors in his first season and attracting the attention of Jumbo Stiehm, football coach at the University of Nebraska, who recruited Chamberlin to the larger state institution....

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Christiansen, Jack (20 December 1928–29 June 1986), football player and coach, was born John LeRoy Christiansen in Sublette, Kansas, the son of Leroy Christiansen and Catherine (maiden name unknown). Following a grain elevator accident in 1930 that killed his father, Christiansen briefly lived with his paternal grandparents in Wray, Colorado. During the Great Depression, fearing they could not provide for the education of Jack and his sister, who was two years older, Christiansen’s grandparents arranged for the youngsters to enter the Odd Fellows Orphanage in Canon City, Colorado. Christiansen attended the local schools in Canon City from the third grade on. Six-feet-one and spindly as he reached his teens, Christiansen excelled in football and track in high school, but an accidental gunshot wound to his left arm during his senior year threatened to preclude football thereafter. In 1947 he enrolled at Colorado A & M (now Colorado State University). There he initially confined his participation in sports to track, where he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds, tying a school record in the event. He also ran the 220- and 440-yard dashes and was a member of the relay team that won the Skyline Conference title his senior year; for three consecutive years he held the conference’s 440 title. His love for football, however, caused Christiansen to disregard his physician’s advice to avoid contact sports. He made the powerful Colorado A & M football squad as a reserve defensive back his sophomore year but soon became a starting safety. He also returned punts and saw some action at halfback. Carrying the ball mainly on sweeps and reverses, he set a single-game school rushing record that endured for almost twenty years. In the spring of 1951 Christiansen married Doris Erickson, who was studying for a master’s degree in physical education at Colorado A & M. The couple would have four children....

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Clark, Dutch (11 October 1906–05 August 1978), professional football player, was born Earl Harry Clark in Fowler, Colorado, the son of Harry Clark, a farmer and railroad worker, and Mary Etta Lackey. His nickname was derived from “Little Dutch,” an older brother having been called “Big Dutch” because of a speech problem. When his family moved to Pueblo, Colorado, Clark quit attending public schools and began working as a “call boy” in a railyard, “rousting” brakemen and engineers from their rooming houses early in the morning. After two years he returned to school, attending Pueblo Central High School, where he was an outstanding football, basketball, and baseball player. Noted particularly for his broken-field running, he led his high school football team to the final game of the state playoffs for two years in a row. He also played center on the basketball team that lost in the championship game of the National Interscholastic Tournament....

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Conzelman, James Gleason (06 March 1898–31 July 1970), football player, coach, and sports executive, was born James Gleason Dunn in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of James Dunn and Margaret Ryan. After his parents divorced and his mother remarried, he took the name of his stepfather. Conzelman attended McKinley High School in St. Louis, where he excelled in sports. In 1916 he enrolled at Washington University in that city, where he played football. The following year he joined the U.S. Navy and served at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station for two years. During his naval service Conzelman played quarterback for the Great Lakes football team that defeated the Mare Island Marines 17–0 in the Rose Bowl game on 1 January 1919. He was also the middleweight boxing champion at Great Lakes. In the fall of 1919 he returned to Washington University and was an All–Missouri Valley quarterback. Conzelman left school in 1920 to help support his widowed mother, a sister, and two brothers....

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Coy, Ted (24 May 1888–08 September 1935), college athlete, coach, and sportswriter, was born Edward Harris Coy in Andover, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Gustin Coy, a master of Phillips Andover Academy, and Helen Eliza Marsh. He graduated from the Hotchkiss School in 1906, two years after his father, its first headmaster, died. Coy earned a B.A. degree in 1910 from Yale College, which had been attended by his father, brother, and two uncles, one of whom was former college president ...

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See Four Horsemen of Notre Dame

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Ernie Davis Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115342).

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Davis, Ernie (14 December 1939–18 May 1963), football player, was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, a coal mining district. The names and occupations of his parents cannot be ascertained. He never knew his father, who left the family soon after his son’s birth and subsequently died in an accident. His mother moved to Elmira, New York, leaving the one-year-old Ernie with his grandparents in nearby Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Ten years later Davis rejoined his mother in Elmira....

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Dobie, Gilmour (21 January 1879–23 December 1948), college football player and coach, was born in Hastings, Minnesota, the son of Robert Dobie, a well driller, and Ellen Black. Dobie first played football in high school at Hastings as a 150-pound end and halfback. He graduated from Hastings High School and entered the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis in 1899. After joining the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team as an end in 1899, Dobie became quarterback and led the Gophers to the Western (later Big Ten) Conference Championship in 1900. He remained at quarterback until graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1902, after which he entered the University of Minnesota Law School and began a three-year tenure as a Minnesota assistant football coach. In 1902 he also coached the South Side Minneapolis High School football team to an undefeated season and the state championship. As an assistant coach, Dobie directed the Minnesota junior varsity football team to three consecutive undefeated seasons. Dobie graduated from law school in 1904 but never worked as an attorney....

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Driscoll, Paddy (11 January 1895–29 June 1968), professional athlete and coach, was born John Leo Driscoll in Evanston, Illinois, the son of Timothy Driscoll, a mason for the Milwaukee Railroad, and Elizabeth Mahoney. Of small stature, the 5′ 11″, 150-pound Driscoll began his formal football career relatively late, as a junior at Evanston High School. In 1914 Driscoll matriculated at Northwestern University in his hometown, where he starred as a halfback and team captain. Northwestern nearly won the league championship in 1916, as Driscoll led the Wildcats and was named to the All–Western Conference team....

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Eckersall, Walter Herbert (17 June 1886–24 March 1930), football player, referee, and sportswriter, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Walter Eckersall and Minnie Killerlain. Little is known about his family or early years except that as a boy of seven or eight he began playing “prairie football” on the streets and vacant lots of his neighborhood. This brand of football emphasized a wide-open style of play, including end runs and broken field running. This style ran counter to the prevailing line-smashing tactics that were then widely used in the eastern United States, where football was first developed. Eckersall would be a major force in popularizing this style of football during his career....

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Ford, Len (18 February 1926–14 March 1972), football player, was born Leonard Guy Ford, Jr., in Washington, D.C., the son of Leonard Guy Ford, a federal government employee. His mother’s name is not known. Ford attended public schools in Washington and graduated from Armstrong High School, where as a senior he captained the football, baseball, and basketball teams and earned All-City honors in football in both 1942 and 1943. Ford recalled that his ambition was to play major league baseball, but since segregation prevented him from doing so he instead enrolled at Morgan State University, an all-black school in Baltimore, Maryland. There he played basketball and football, winning all-conference honors as a tackle his one year at Morgan. In 1944 Ford entered the U.S. Navy, where he met people who told him that at 6′ 5″ and over 220 pounds he should play at a higher competitive level....