Baugh to Brady: Author Interview


The Evolution of the Forward Pass


  Genre: Sports History / Football

Publisher: Texas Tech University Press

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Date of Publication: December 15, 2017

Number of Pages: 296

There are three things that can happen when you throw a pass, and two of them are bad.   –Woody Hayes

 The quarterback pass is one of the leading offensive components of today’s National Football League and college football’s top level of play. This was not always the case. In early American football, the strategy focused entirely on advancing the ball one running play at a time, with the player tucking the then-roundish ball on his hip and sprinting ahead until tackled by a swarm of defenders. The revolution that transformed the sport began in 1906, when passing was first legalized. The passing weapon made the game safer, altered strategy, turned the quarterback into a key offensive player, and made possible the high-scoring games of today.

Lew Freedman traces football’s passing game from its inception to the present, telling the tale through the stories of the quarterbacks whose arms carried (and threw) the changes forward. Freedman relies especially on the biography of “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh–who hailed from Sweetwater, Texas–as a framework. Baugh, perhaps the greatest all-around football player in history, came along at just the right time to elevate the passing game to unprecedented importance in the eyes of the sports world.



Why did you choose to write about sports history?

I am a very big sports fan who has long been fascinated by sports history and how the games we follow today were shaped by the past. From my reading I also became a very big fan of Sammy Baugh, the one-time Texas Christian University star and NFL quarterback. I came to believe that he is probably the greatest football player of all time because he was an all-star in the pros as a quarterback, defensive player and a punter, demonstrating a remarkable versatility. This volume traces the history of the forward pass from the time it was first permitted to the way it gradually gained in importance in the sport to the present day when its offensive value has eclipsed the running game.

Much of the story focuses on the life of Sammy Baugh and the pivotal role he played in this evolution.

Where did you love of books, writing, reading and storytelling come from?

I grew up in a family where everyone read, my mother and especially my father, who was a public relations man whose job involved writing. By the time I was in the sixth grade I began writing fictional short stories with my friends as characters and I always believed I would write novels.

In eighth grade I had an English teacher who heavily emphasized reading. She wanted us to read as much as possible on any topic. We were asked to write a book comment (it could be as short as a few paragraphs or a page), basically to prove we actually read the book. This turned me into a voracious reader of everything from popular novels to mysteries to sports books. I read – and turned in more book comments – than anyone in the class. Reading stuck and I do not go out the door any day without a book with me.

By my sophomore year in high school I was writing for my high school newspaper and before that year was out I obtained a job writing about sports for my hometown weekly newspaper. I then majored in journalism in college. Over the 50-plus years since I have almost always written for a newspaper, though briefly only for the Internet. In 1988 I wrote my first non-fiction book and since then I have written 100 of them, virtually all about Alaska or sports. Alas, I never have had the chance to write those novels, though short stories and novels remain goals to fulfill.

What are some day jobs that you have held? Have any of them impacted your writing?

My regular jobs over the decades have included writing for the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Anchorage Daily News and currently for the Cody Enterprise in Wyoming. When I was a kid I was such a big sports fan I kept all types of statistical lists about sports such as baseball, football and basketball.

When I became a sportswriter, it was a treat just to go to the games and write about them. Over time, as I matured and my writing matured, I realized the real stories were about the people behind the scores, not so much those statistics. The appeal of telling unique, individual stories expanded and I still get excited to tell someone’s unusual tale. The stories about what makes people tick or what obstacles they must overcome are the most satisfying to write.

I have worked long hours and long weeks for many years to keep improving and do believe even at this point in my life I can still get better. I believe I wrote some of the best in-depth stories of my life this very year, even after all of this time. When you work for a newspaper there are some basic stories that must be written, but the challenge is to find the juicy ones no one else is doing to tell.

The opportunities that came my way to write longer, in-depth features for a newspaper (space tougher to come by these days depending on where one works) helped me develop style and an eye for what works in a longer piece. Writing many, many of those stories helped me write better books and writing the books helped me write better long newspaper stories.

It seems to be working since I have won nearly 300 journalism awards.

What do you like to read in your free time?

I enjoy mystery/suspense novels by a select group of authors whom I follow at all times when they write new ones, novels that take you back in time sometimes simultaneously taking a fictional look at real-life events, biographies, and sports books about the sports I like best and which I also write about.

I read collections of Best American Sports Writing, Best Travel Writing and a few others for the opportunity to learn what somebody considers to be the best non-fiction newspaper or magazine tales out there – and to find out what I missed by not subscribing to a publication.

If you could time travel, what time period would you first visit?

I can think of two time periods that I would prefer for different reasons, both of them allowing me to explore different aspects of the United States. The first would be the 1870s-1880s as the American Frontier was closing, Buffalo Bill Cody was starting his Wild West show, Sitting Bull was still around, and the bison had not yet disappeared completely from the West.

The second would be the 1920s, the Roaring Twenties in the U.S. after World War I and before the Great Depression, when Babe Ruth was the king of baseball and several other of the greatest Hall of Famers were still playing, and when a glimpse of the huge cities of today like New York and Chicago could be compared.

What’s your funniest flaw?

My complete lack of electronic gadget mastery (I don’t even text) and this dovetailing with my total lack of ability as a handyman. Whatever it is, I would probably buy a new one rather than try to fix it. Luckily, my wife is a bit sharper on these fronts.

Secondarily, despite an enthusiasm for singing along with the radio in the car, a total ability to sing on key without making others laugh would be another weak point.

What projects are you working on at the present?

First thing that needs finishing is an encyclopedia of professional wrestling that I hope contains every weird, silly and off-beat side story about that half-sport/half-entertainment industry.

This will be followed by a biography of the late Hall of Fame baseball star Ernie Banks, a biography of Buffalo Bill Cody, and hopefully a personal memoir based on my 50 years of sports writing.


Lew Freedman is a veteran newspaper sportswriter and experienced author of more than seventy-five books about sports as well as about Alaska.

He spent seventeen years at the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska and has also worked for the Chicago Tribune and  Philadelphia Inquirer. Freedman is recipient of more than 250 journalism awards.




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