1936 Sugar Bowl Was Big for Baugh and TCU

by Patricia K. Benoit

This story originally appeared in the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram on Friday, December 19, 2008. Reprinted by permission.

"Slingin' Sammy" Baugh grew up in Temple and was widely regarded as a hometown hero, nicknamed "Slingin' Sammy," is widely recognized as one of the greatest football players ever.

As quarterback for the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, the Temple native first barnstormed on national horizons 72 years ago in the Sugar Bowl against the heavily favored Louisiana State Tigers.

That was the same game in which Temple was the real winner, no matter the final score. But for Baugh, who died Dec. 17 at the age of 94, the day was all about neighborhood one-upmanship.

On New Year's Day 1936, Texas Christian University and LSU went head to head on a sloppy field in New Orleans.

Temple claimed both team's key players: Ernie "Son" Seago, LSU backup quarterback, and Baugh, TCU quarterback.

The town's divided loyalties even made national news, which goes to prove that old high school rivalries die hard.

Everybody still talks about Baugh. He was the first great passer, and his rambunctious, daredevil style changed the game. He earned his nickname "Slingin' Sammy" during his TCU years, thanks to a Fort Worth sportswriter, but not for his gridiron skills. His expert hurling came from his prowess as a third baseman in baseball.

Temple was an incubator for several other players in that game, considered one of the best bowl games ever played: Seago lettered for LSU 1933-36; Cotton Harrison was a TCU starter; Amos Schiller joined Seago for the Tigers.

A few years earlier, end Garland Pickett lettered at LSU.

Baugh and Seago grew up in the same neighborhood and attended school together. Seago's family lived at 1113 W. Adams; Baugh grew up at 108 N. 23rd. Their fathers were freight handlers for the Santa Fe Railway. Both honed their skills throwing balls and gaining yardage on Central Texas Blackland Prairie.

Seago, about three years older than Baugh and the neighborhood hero, was a stalwart for Temple High during his early years. Baugh played football for Temple High only one year. Then, the Santa Fe transferred his father to Sweetwater. Still, Temple claimed him.

The bowl game was the talk of the town for weeks. Several days of heavy rains in the Crescent City had turned the Sugar Bowl into a soup bowl. That didn't stop a record 35,000 from cramming into Tulane Stadium.

Prognosticators gave LSU the edge, saying the game would be won in the air, relying on superior passing skills. That never happened. Baugh was taller and considered better equipped to pass over the heads of rushing defenders.

Eventually the game was won not on passing, but with kicking. Seago's accurate punting in four plays pushed TCU back, but to no avail. Baugh threw an incomplete pass in the end zone for a safety that gave LSU a 2-0 lead in the second quarter. Then the Frogs answered with a field goal from the 26 to lead at the half 3-2.

Another heavy downpour opened the scoreless second half. The United Press reported, "The players on both sides were smeared with mud and hard to recognize as it began to grow dark."

In 1937, after he had joined the Washington Redskins, Baugh wrote a series of newspaper articles about his greatest career moments. Sugar Bowl 1936 was top on his list because the Horned Frog win was hard-earned.

"Another thing which made victory more sweet was the fact that a chap named Ernie Seago was playing quarterback for LSU," Baugh recalled. "Ernie Seago had lived across the street from me in my extremely young days in Temple and was going to high school and on the team at the time. Most of the boys in the neighborhood sort of looked up to Ernie and regarded him as something of a hero. How swell it was to me to ride back on the train, to think I had been playing quarterback on the team which defeated the team for which Seago was calling signals. Boy, that was the thrill of thrills."

Patricia Benoit is a native New Orleanian and a fifth-generation Algiers native who writes for the Temple Daily Telegram.