Baugh vs O’Brien Opens 1939 NFL Season

Running to his left with the pigskin in his non-throwing left hand, Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback DAVEY O’BRIEN (# 8), the diminutive (5’7″ 150 lbs) Heisman Trophy winner from Texas Christian University, looks to be in trouble as Washington Redskins right end CHARLEY MALONE (# 19) gives chase in front of a record-setting crowd of 42,000 spectators at Philadelphia Municipal (later re-named John F. Kennedy Memorial) Stadium on September 17, 1939.

Exactly twelve calendar days before the defending national champions from TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY kicked off their NCAA campaign opposite the host UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, two former record-setting Horned Frogs passers who were both consensus All-America selections while in college squared off against one another as the visiting WASHINGTON REDSKINS and PHILADELPHIA EAGLES collided on the very first day of the 1939 National Football League season.

The Washington Redskins were spearheaded by the legendary SAMMY BAUGH, who, as a rookie professional out of Texas Christian University in 1937, had the legendary the entire NFL in passing yardage while also establishing a new league record for pass completions in a single season. This, of course, was the same year that Baugh also threw for what was then a mind-boggling 335 yards and three touchdown passes in the annual NFL Championship Game. Thanks to two fourth quarter scoring tosses from Slingin’ Sammy, the underdog Redskins rallied to defeat the favored Chicago Bears 28-21 and celebrate the very first NFL title in the franchise’s history.

The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, were hoping that history might soon repeat itself and, according, had made DAVEY O’BRIEN the fourth overall player selected at the 1939 National Football League Draft. In order to convince the little quarterback who had propelled the Horned Frogs to a perfect 11-0 campaign and the national championship title in 1938 to become the very first Heisman Trophy winner to ever actually play in the NFL, the Eagles induced O’Brien with a two-year contract worth a reported $ 12,000 per season. Interestingly enough, Baugh’s terms his first year in Washington called for the rate of $ 8,000 per season, a handsome figure which had made the Slinging Sammy the highest-paid player on the entire Redskins team.


Associated Press report
September 18, 1939


Little Davey O’Brien must wait another day — possibly next Sunday — to successfully portray his David vs Goliath role.

The former Texas Christian quarterback made his professional league football debut yesterday at Philadelphia and came off second best in his passing duel with the Washington Redskins’ “Goliath” — Slinging Sammy Baugh, himself a former T.C.U. star.

A crowd of 42,000 — the largest ever to see the Eagles at Philadelphia — watched a scoreless battle for three quarters. Then Baugh hurled a 30-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Malone for a 7 to 0 triumph. O’Brien’s passing and ball-carrying helped the Eagles reach the Redskins’ 17-yard line in the opening period, but he wrecked his own cause with a fumble.

Always recognized as a top notch two-way player, Washington Redskins defensive back SAMMY BAUGH puts an abrupt halt to the forward progress of Philadelphia Eagles fullback DAVE SMUKLER during the National Football League contest watched by the record-setting crowd of 42,000 spectators at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium on September 17, 1939.

Washington Redskins reserve end BOB MCCHESNEY was the one and only UCLA Bruins alum throughout the whole of the ten-team National Football League in 1939. Three years earlier, it was McChesney, who had along with Brooklyn Dodgers guard VERDI BOYER become the first two UCLA players ever to appear in the crack NFL. As it went, neither Boyer nor McChesney had been chosen at the first-ever National Football League Draft in 1936.



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