The Violent World
Monday, August 23, 2004
Huff liked hitting people
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
Dec. 21, 1958 - Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown had stung the New York Giants a week before by running 65 yards for a touchdown on the game's first offensive play. However, the Giants came back to win, 13-10, and force today's playoff to decide the Eastern Conference title at Yankee Stadium.
Middle linebacker Sam Huff, who rated Brown as the best player he'd ever seen, led a Giants defense that contained the second-year star. New York held Brown, who led the league with a then-record 1,527 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, to eight yards rushing on 7 or 12 carries, and limited Cleveland to 86 yards total offense in posting a 10-0 shutout. Huff and Dick Modzelewski teamed up for one tackle that jarred Brown so hard that Huff thought they had knocked the great runner out. Brown denied it, saying he got up so he couldn't have been unconscious.
"We had, perhaps, the finest defensive effort we ever had against Jim Brown," Huff said.
The Giants advanced to play Baltimore for the NFL championship, an overtime contest that would become known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Odds 'N' Ends
At Farmington (W. Va.) High School, Huff played four years of football, three on the varsity. He went from weighing 150 pounds as a sophomore to 210 as a senior.
Huff married schoolmate Mary Fletcher in his senior year at Farmington. They had three children and were together for more than 30 years before divorcing in the late 1980s.
Florida was among the colleges interested in Huff, who chose West Virginia, 30 miles away in Morgantown, W. Va.
Huff considers West Virginia's 42-19 loss to Georgia Tech in the 1954 Sugar Bowl his most vivid football memory. "I'll never forget it. I'll never get over it," Huff said. "Never."
In his senior year, he tried to tackle Brown, who was Syracuse's star running back, head on. Brown knocked him out, breaking his nose and some teeth.
Huff played catcher on the West Virginia baseball team as a senior, drawing some attention from scouts. He signed with the Cleveland Indians and went to Class A Reading (Pa.), spending most of his time warming up pitchers in the bullpen.
Huff played on the College All-Star team in 1956 that lost to the 1955 NFL champion Cleveland Browns, 26-0, in Chicago.
At Giants training camp at Winooski, Vt., Huff quickly grew to dislike head coach Jim Lee Howell. One reason: Huff said that Howell promised the winning team in a scrimmage a day off, but reneged. "I don't like people who lie to me," Huff said.
When Huff took over the Giants middle linebacker position, he was flanked by outside linebackers Harland Svare and Bill Svoboda.
Svare later became Huff's defensive coach in Washington. Svoboda retired in 1959 and was replaced by Cliff Livingston.
The Giants used female code names in their defensive huddle. Huff was "Meg," Svare was "Wanda" and Livingston was "Sara."
Huff's salary was $7,000 as a rookie. He earned another $3,779 as a member of the NFL champions that year. In the next offseason, he bagged groceries back home in Farmington.
He was voted to the NFL's all-pro team in 1958 and 1959.
The Hall of Fame selection committee picked him for the All-Pro squad of the 1950s.
Huff was considered one of the league's best kick-blockers.
In Huff's eight seasons with the Giants, his highest salary was $19,000.
In 1962, Huff began working in New York in the offseason for J.P. Stevens, a textile firm, making numerous public appearances.
After the 1965 season, Huff and several other NFL stars went on a two-week tour of Vietnam, visiting troops, hospitals and bases.
In 1966, Huff's Redskins were routing the Giants 69-41 when Washington called a timeout with seven seconds left and kicked a field goal. Coach Otto Graham was criticized for running up the score, but it was Huff who sent kicker Pete Gogolak onto the field.
Huff ripped tendons in his ankle in 1967 while getting his foot caught under a teammate as he attempted to tackle Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel. Huff missed five games and then played the rest of the season in pain.
Before his final game that year, at a press conference to announce his retirement, he twice broke down crying.
He moved his family back to the New York area and continued working for J.P. Stevens before giving football a final fling in 1969.
When Huff entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his 1982 class also had Doug Atkins, George Musso and Merlin Olsen.
With the Marriott Corporation, Huff spearheaded the idea to provide lodging and meeting rooms for all NFL teams. Later, NCAA conferences and other professional leagues chose the hotel chain as its stop of choice.
In the early 1980s, Huff suggested that Marriott install exercise rooms - now a staple of many hotel chains.
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