City Paper is not for tourists
Around 2007, I predicted the end was near for Sam Huff’s media career. I was nowhere near right.
Huff, who turned 77 last week, was only getting started. He’s branched into newspapering.
My dire prognosis came after I noticed how Huff, a Hall of Fame linebacker and member of the Washington Redskins radio broadcasting crew that I’ve been listening to for more than three decades, started speaking exclusively in code, or jibberish, or some linquistic form that indicated he was in a different place than everybody else.
From my 2007 story on Huff’s alleged decline:
“What happens if the Redskins keep the ball for 13 minutes?” former Skins linebacker and longtime color commentator Sam Huff asked over the Redskins radio network’s airwaves during overtime against the New York Jets last month.
After a pause to figure out what the hell he was talking about, Huff’s broadcast partners, Sonny Jurgensen and Larry Michael, explained that if the Skins somehow ran out the last 13 minutes without scoring, the game would end in a tie.
“Well, let’s hope for that!” Huff bellowed with gusto.
During his own playing career, Huff, 73, only played in one overtime game: the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. Huff’s Giants lost that one. So perhaps he’s never gotten over that loss. And a tie would indeed be better than his personal fifth-quarter experience, which he’s reminded of whenever the Greatest Game Ever Played comes up.
After all, Huff’s references have long fallen deep into the last century. By way of pointing out that the Skins defense against the Jets was underwhelming, he said Gregg Williams’ crew was making QB Kellen Clemens, a first-time starter, “look like Joe Namath.” For years, he’s been dropping a Jim Brown reference or five into the broadcasts.
And, there are occasions when Huff’s old-school knowledge is quite charming. When former Skins QB Billy Kilmer dropped by the radio booth before the Cowboys game, for example, they reminisced about a brawl Huff started with a late hit on Kilmer when he was a quarterback with the New Orleans Saints. That was, undeniably, great radio.
But this season, such vintage charm has been buried under an avalanche of those what-the-hell-is-he-talking-about? moments. To radio listeners, it often sounds like Huff is watching a different game than the one they’re listening to.
During the Green Bay Packers game, for example, Huff decided Clinton Portis was having a great day, and he wanted everybody to know about it.
“He’s averaging six or seven yards a carry!” Huff shouted.
“Clinton has five carries for 13 yards,” Michael said seconds later.
In the pre-game monologue before the Arizona Cardinals contest, Michael was going over the importance of winning the sixth game of the season. “3-3 is not the way you want to end up today!” Michael said.
Huff wanted in on that riff: “4-3! You want 4-3!” he blurted.
“4-2, actually,” Michael said. “You want 4-2.”
Huff hasn’t changed his banter at all in the years since. He’s been calling it like he sees it the whole time. And he’s been seeing it differently than everybody else.
But last season, I wised up and had to admit that Huff’s oddballness had become the primary attraction of Redskins broadcasts, and that he was the only reason I still turn down the TV and turn up the radio.
Now, thanks to Huff, I have a reason to still read newspapers. Huff’s become a sports columnist for the Loudoun Times.
His editors deserve medals for letting Sam Huff write just like Sam Huff talks. His latest piece, published yesterday, has the requisite name drops from days of yore — Tom Landry, Jim Taylor, and, of course, Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi — and all the charm and what-the-hell?-ishness of his radio work.
A sample of his story on Redskins special teamer Niles Paul getting fined $20,000 by the NFL:
The rookie wide receiver made a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rams’ returner Austin Pettis while he was recovering a punt, and Paul was assessed a 15-yard personal-foul penalty on the play. Now there is a fine?
If I were Mike Shanahan, I would put a star on Niles Paul’s helmet and give him a party! Paul was doing his job. Before that hit, the Rams’ returner should have signaled a fair catch, which he could have done while the ball was in the air, but he did not. Considering the situation, I am appalled and again made to quote one of my favorite coaches, Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?”
Is anyone listening? This is the NFL! As I say often, NFL may mean “not for long,” but also means, “I came a long way to get here, and the journey was not easy.”
I don’t doubt that you say that often, Sam. But if it meant that, wouldn’t the NFL instead be called the ICALWTGHATJWNE?
Keep being you, Sam Huff!
Photo by Darrow Montgomery