(Photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
Maxie Baughan played linebacker with the mind of a coach.
That would explain his post-NFL career when he spent a quarter of a century coaching at both the NFL and college levels. He won an Ivy League title as a head coach at Cornell, coordinated NFL playoff defenses at Baltimore and Detroit and later served as a linebacker coach for Hall-of-Famers Derrick Brooks and Ray Lewis.
But Baughan was an even better player than coach. He was a second-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960 who became a walk-in starter at weakside linebacker. The Eagles won the NFL title that season, and Baughan was one of only three rookies selected to the Pro Bowl.
Baughan went to the Pro Bowl again in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 – nine Pro Bowls in a single decade. He went to his first five Pro Bowls with the Eagles in the Eastern Conference and his last four Pro Bowls with the Los Angeles Rams in the Western Conference.
Yet Baughan was passed over in voting for the 1960s’ NFL all-decade team. The five linebackers selected – Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis, Larry Morris and Dave Robinson – went to a combined 10 Pro Bowls in the 1960 decade. That’s right – they combined to go to only one more Pro Bowl in the decade than Baughan went on his own.
Even more tragic, Baughan has never been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among his contemporaries in the 1960s, Chris Hanburger went to nine Pro Bowls, Butkus, Chuck Bednarik, Bill George and Willie Lanier eight apiece, Dave Wilcox seven and Sam Huff five. All are now in the Hall of Fame.
But Baughan? Never even been discussed as a candidate.
George Allen was the defensive genius of the Chicago Bears in the early 1960s. His defense led the NFL across the board in 1963 – allowing the fewest points, yards, passing yards and rushing yards – propelling the Bears to an NFL championship. When the Los Angeles Rams hired Allen as their head coach in 1966, one of his first moves was to trade for Baughan.
Allen installed Baughan as a defensive captain, and he became a three-time All-Pro selection on a Rams team that would go 49-17-4 during the linebacker’s five-year stay. Baughan retired after the 1970 seson to go into coaching, serving as defensive coordinator at his alma mater Georgia Tech.
Allen moved on to Washington to become head coach of the Redskins and, in 1974, coaxed Baughan out of retirement to play one final NFL season. Washington went 10-4 that year. Allen was a thinking man’s coach and Baughan a thinking man’s player. So the two clicked.
“One of things so admirable about Johnny Unitas was his on the field leadership and play calling,” said Redskins’ president Bruce Allen, the son of George Allen. “Maxie had the identical profile on the other side of the ball.”
Baughan has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 36 years now. But without statistics, the memory of his greatness fades. The NFL didn’t count tackles back then, nor were linebackers used as primary pass rushers. So his 25 career sacks, 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries pale in comparison to the tackles of a Ray Lewis and the sacks of a Kevin Greene.
But there needs to be a bust in Canton for a textbook linebacker who was always in the right place at the right time — a player who could beat you mentally as well as physically. His play earned him a spot on Georgia Tech’s all-time team. His play earned him spots in the Georgia, Alabama, Philadelphia and Gator Bowl Halls of Fame. He also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
But Baughan remains one Hall of Fame short of a complete resume. Those nine Pro Bowls should one day garner him a spin as a senior finalist for Canton. His candidacy needs to be discussed.