Legendary linebacker Sam Huff has died at the age of 87 at a hospital in Winchester, Virginia, the Washington Post has reported.
Huff made a tremendous impact on the world of football, coming out of Farmington, West Virginia to play four seasons for the Mountaineers before embarking on a 13-year NFL career with Washington and the New York Giants. By the end of his career, he had earned his place in the WVU, College Football and Pro Football halls of fame.
The 6-1, 230-pound linebacker started his career in Morgantown in 1952. He played in 38 games for the Old Gold and Blue, nabbing an interception in his 1954 junior season before taking over placekicking duties in his All-American senior year.
“He was a good player first of all, but he was smart,” WVU writer Jon Antonik told WBOY in 2020. “The thing about Sam Huff is he was a very intelligent player, and he knew how to market himself.”
Huff was selected by New York in the third round of the 1956 NFL Draft, appearing in all 12 regular season games as a rookie and starting 10. On Dec. 30 of that year, he got the start in the only postseason game for the Giants, the NFL Championship, which he helped New York win over the Chicago Bears 47-7.
During his eight-year stint in New York, Huff gained so much notoriety as a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-team All-Pro selection that he became the first NFL player to make the cover of TIME magazine in 1959. CBS featured him in a 1960 television special, “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” Broadcaster Walter Cronkite followed Huff, who was wired-for-sound, as he played an exhibition game to display his experience as a middle linebacker.
“Defensive players had never had that before, it was offensive players,” Antonik said. “But I know for a fact that there were a lot of defensive players that credited Sam with raising their salaries because for the first time there was an importance and a value to defensive play.”
Huff went on to play another five seasons with Washington, earning his final Pro Bowl selection in 1964. He played his final pro season in 1969.
After his playing career ended, he broadcast locally-shown WVU games before working for both the Giants and Washington until he retired in 2012.
Back at WVU, Huff became the second Mountaineer to have his number retired, as his No. 75 now hangs inside Milan Puskar Stadium. The Giants inducted him into their Ring of Honor and Washington inducted him into its Ring of Fame.
The NFL has been keen to name Huff one of the best players in the history of the league. A 2010 ranking of the league’s best players featured him at No. 93.
In his 13-year NFL career, which occurred before tackles were a recorded stat, Huff racked up 30 interceptions and scored two touchdowns in 168 appearances.