Robert Lee “Sam” Huff rose like a rocket from a coal mining town in West Virginia to the pinnacle of football fame, starring at West Virginia University and earning NFL Hall of Fame induction for his years as a fierce linebacker with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.  Mr. Huff played in what many consider to be the greatest NFL game ever, the 1958 championship between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts.  This nationally televised overtime game is credited as being the catalyst for the NFL’s huge popularity. 

Sam Huff died Saturday at age 87, with dementia.  He was so famous in his day that he was on the cover of Time magazine.

Mr. Huff was less known for his participation in Thoroughbred horse racing.  He and his partner Carol Holden raised horses at Sporting Life Farm in Middleburg, Virginia.  They were the co-founders of the West Virginia Breeders Classics.  The couple also had a radio show, Trackside Weekly, devoted to racing that ran for 28 years, ending in 2016.

Mr. Huff enjoyed storytelling.  When I was a guest on Trackside Weekly, we chatted during commercials about football and horse racing.  He told me that once when he was traveling on an airplane–and had on his Hall of Fame ring–a millennial seated next to him asked him where he got it. Sam laughed at the memory.

His most well-known vignette is about a game against the Cleveland Browns and the great running back Jim Brown. After Huff tackled Brown on first down for a 1-yard gain, Huff trashed talked: “You’re overrated.  You stink, Jim.”  On second down, Brown broke away for a 79-yard touchdown run with Huff in hot pursuit.  Standing in the end zone, Brown inquired “Hey, Sam, how do I smell from here?”

Football and horse racing are poorer today with the loss of Sam Huff.

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