EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Sam Huff, who played the first eight years of his Hall of Fame career with the Giants and was a charter member of the franchise's Ring of Honor, passed away Saturday at a hospital in Winchester, Va. He was 87.
Huff had been diagnosed with dementia in 2013.
Huff also spent five seasons with Washington and spent more than 30 years as a broadcaster for the team.
As a rookie, Huff helped lead the Giants to the 1956 NFL championship, including a resounding 47-7 victory against the Chicago Bears in the title game in Yankee Stadium. Huff anchored a defense that also helped the Giants reach the championship game in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1963., but they came up short each time.
Huff was a five-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro and four-time second-team selection, and a member of the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team. He was inducted into the Giants' Ring of Honor in 2010.
Huff became one of the NFL's first highly publicized defensive players. In 1959, Huff was named the NFL's top linebacker and was the second pro football player to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, after Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne five years earlier. Huff was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
"Sam was one of the greatest Giants of all time," said John Mara, the Giants' President and Chief Executive Officer. "He was the heart and soul of our defense in his era. He almost single-handedly influenced the first chants of 'Defense, Defense' in Yankee Stadium."
"The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Sam Huff," Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. "He was an outstanding player on the gridiron and an even greater man off the field. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sam's family during this difficult time. The Hall of Fame will forever guard his legacy. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Sam's memory."
Hall of Fame linebacker and Giants Ring of Honor inductee Sam Huff passed away at age 87
Huff played in 168 regular-season games with 159 starts, including 102 games with 99 starts for the Giants. He intercepted 30 passes, recovered 17 fumbles and was credited with 29.0 sacks (14.5 for the Giants) long before they became an official statistic in 1982. He played in 150 consecutive games before an ankle injury ended the streak in 1967.
Huff also played in seven playoff games with six starts.
The Giants selected Huff in the third round of the 1956 NFL Draft from West Virginia University, where he played guard and tackle. Following some position experimentation in training camp, Huff was inserted at middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, where he became an immediate star.
Huff won recognition for his great individual efforts against the premier running backs of his era, including Jim Brown of Cleveland, Rick Casares of Chicago and Alan Ameche of Baltimore. He uttered one of the most famous quotes in pro football history when asked how to stop Brown, arguably the best back who ever lived. "All you can do is grab hold, hang on and wait for help," Huff said.
Huff was traded to Washington prior to the 1964 season and was selected to his final Pro Bowl in his first season in burgundy and gold. He blamed coach Allie Sherman for trading him and dismantling the Giants' outstanding defense. "As long as I live," he wrote in his autobiography, "I will never forgive Allie Sherman for trading me." But Huff remained close to the Giants and always spoke with great fondness about the Mara family, particularly Wellington Mara.
Huff first left the NFL following the 1967 season. But in 1969, he was coaxed out of retirement by new Washington coach Vince Lombardi, the five-time champion and Hall of Famer who was a Giants assistant coach when Huff began his career.
After one final season, Huff retired for good. He enjoyed a long career with the Marriott Corporation before retiring in 1998.
Huff also stayed close to football. He spent three seasons as a color commentator for the Giants radio team and then moved on in the same capacity for the Washington radio broudcast until his retirement at the end of the 2012 season. He and his partners, former Redskins teammate Sonny Jurgensen and play-by-play announcers Frank Herzog (1979–2004) and Larry Michael (2005–2012), were beloved by legions of Washington fans.
Robert Lee Huff was born Oct. 4, 1934, in Edna Gas, W.Va., where he grew up in Coal Camp No. 9, the fourth of sixth children. His father and two of his brothers worked in the coal mines.
Huff became known as Sam at an early age, although "to this day I have no idea how I got my real name, or the nickname," he said in his 1988 autobiography, written with Washington Post sports reporter Leonard Shapiro.
According to the Post, he was an all-state high school football player and, during his senior year, married classmate Mary Fletcher, with whom he had three children and later divorced. When he received an athletic scholarship to West Virginia University, he became the first member of his family to attend college.
Huff was an All-American offensive lineman while helping his Mountaineers to a 31-7 record during his four years at West Virginia. He was also the team's kicker and a catcher on the university's baseball team, showing enough talent to sign a professional contract with the Cleveland Indians.
But it was in football where he made his greatest and most enduring legacy.