Even as an all-around athlete who had
participated in football, basketball, and track at Bessemer, Alabama High
School, there was limited expectation and nary a prediction that Maxie Callaway
Baughan would be perhaps the best National Football League linebacker to be
denied entry to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. As a 145 pound center and
linebacker there was certainly no prediction that he would blossom into a fierce
All Southeastern Conference and Consensus All American player at Georgia Tech in
1959. His working class background was great motivation and also made Tech an
excellent college choice. As he noted, “My daddy…climbed telephone poles at U.S.
Steel. About two or three times a year, he would come home with marks all over
his arms and his legs where he had to grab the pole as he fell as he came down.
I didn’t want to do that. That is the reason why I went to [Georgia] Tech. It
was a great football program. I am glad I [went there] and I would do it again.”
Appropriately motivated, he did in fact blossom in part due to hard work that
brought his weight up to 212 pounds that he utilized as a two-way,
never-leave-the-field performer, and what was described as keen intelligence and
what amounted to a great knack for diagnosing plays as they developed. If there
ever was a thinking-man’s linebacker and center, Baughan was it. After a
succession of terrifically excellent seasons, Tech hit a lull during Maxie’s
years there, going 4-4-2, 5-4-1, and 6-4, far below Tech’s usual standards [see
NEWS/REFLECTIONS October, November, December
and with the ignominy of being the first of Head Coach Bobby Dodd’s teams to
lose a bowl game. Baughan however saw his senior year end with a new school
record of 124 tackles and was named the SEC Defensive Player Of The Year.
Baughan was the second round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles, slated for linebacker duty only. When their first-round pick Ron Burton opted for the new American Football League Boston Patriots, Baughan was saddled with the expectations of a first round choice. Amazingly, and something that will be difficult to understand for younger readers, Baughan had little exposure to professional football growing up and had attended college in order to earn a degree that would keep him out of the manual labor pool of his hometown. He stated, “I never thought about playing professional football until my senior year… Being Consensus All-American didn’t hurt, either… I thought I might as well try it. I thought I would probably play two or three years, but as the years went on, I never thought about quitting.” He lost time, as was standard for the era, when chosen for the College All Star Game that saw him practicing for the annual charity classic against the Baltimore Colts instead of attending training camp with his new professional squad. He got to the Eagles camp, became an every game starter at outside linebacker, was a key member of the Eagles NFL Championship squad, and was named to the Pro Bowl. He never looked back and never considered leaving the game for a work-a-day job that was less physically strenuous than the one his father performed. He was outstanding with the Eagles, being named to the Pro Bowl every season during his six years in Philadelphia except in ’62 when he tried to play on an injured ankle and missed time. He did not miss playing time nor allow his play to be diminished by a broken hand in ’63 when he again was a Pro Bowl member and the Eagles’ Defensive Most Valuable Player. He was the team’s defensive captain, signal caller, and was as tough, tenacious, and intelligent as any of the great linebackers of his era, one filled with great classic linebackers, and any of the greats today.
Frustrated with the Eagles’ poor record and poor management he requested a trade, preferably to the newly minted Atlanta Falcons which would have brought him close to his home roots. Instead, some said out of spite, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for three forgettable picks and Rams coach George Allen, always appreciative of veterans, later called it the “best trade” he had ever made. The defensive minded coach got exactly whom he wanted to call the signals for his 250-plus play defense in this proven linebacker. He remained with the Rams through the 1970 season, and in his five seasons with Los Angeles, went to four more Pro Bowls despite knee and ankle surgeries. Allen brought Maxie with him when he became the Redskins new head coach in ’71, with every intention of having him lead his “Over The Hill” defense but with the accumulating injuries, Baughan instead took on a coaching position. He served as the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech under Bill Fulcher for two seasons and then returned to George Allen’s staff in ’74, improbably as a player-coach who appeared in two games! After his final retirement as an active player, Baughan embarked on a very successful coaching career, beginning as defensive coordinator with the Colts and Lions over an eight season period, becoming head coach at Cornell where he took a tepid squad and built them into the Ivy League Co-Champions by 1988. He returned to the NFL and coached linebackers for the Vikings, Bucs, and Ravens over the next nine years before retiring.
In addition to all of his great collegiate honors, Baughan is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall Of Fame, State of Alabama Sports Hall Of Fame, State Of Georgia Sports Hall Of Fame, and the Gator Bowl Hall Of Fame but remains one of the forgotten greats with plenty of credentials to back up a Pro Football Hall Of Fame nomination. He played in nine Pro Bowls and was a first or second team All Pro seven times during the NFL era of what could be termed “The Greatest Linebackers.” He is still spoken of as one of the truly intelligent and instinctive players to ever grace the field and was perfect as George Allen’s alter-ego on the field. He is beloved in Philadelphia but it must be emphasized that he made four Pro Bowls in his five seasons while in Los Angeles, leading the defense of highly successful teams. HELMET HUT would like to present Baughan’s game worn Riddell RK4 Husky helmet that featured a six-point suspension system. There are many wonderful details to this classic piece of Rams history including the double rivets, Dymo tape identification inside the shell and the painted Rams horns. Typically, as would have been the case with this beautiful helmet dated in 1966, Baughan’s inaugural season with the Rams, Riddell would paint the newly minted helmet in the factory, both the shell and horns. Once out of the factory and onto the field, it was more typical for the equipment staff to touch up or repaint the white shell while taping over the horns. Much less frequently would the horns be painted or touched up. This specific helmet was dear to Baughan as it had been reconditioned a number of times. Although he most often wore a two bar mask his entire career, there were periods of time or for specific games where he would try out a different mask as noted here with the Eagles.
Close observation of this game worn beauty indicates that his helmet had in fact been drilled for the inclusion of a different mask, perhaps one he considered but never wore with the Rams.
This great piece of helmet history while reminding us of a great player like Maxie Baughan, is also a reminder of the disappointment many older fans have when realizing that so many greats of his era have been overlooked for inclusion to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in favor of those who sport “heavier” statistics despite playing what is a less competitive game.