Q&A: Eagles Hall of Famer Maxie Baughan
The Eagles will induct running back Brian Westbrook and linebacker Maxie Baughan into their Hall of Fame tonight at halftime, so we caught up with Baughan to discuss his life and career. We talked to the Alabama native about playing with Chuck Bednarik, Norm Van Brocklin calling him ‘cracker’ and much more.
In six seasons with the Eagles, Baughan made the Pro Bowl five times. He was the only rookie to immediately start on the 1960 NFL Championship team, and won the Eagles Defensive MVP Award in 1963 and 1964.
After his time with the Eagles ended, Baughan spent five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and one season in Washington. He then coached in college and the NFL for more than two decades for several different teams.
You grew up in Alabama from the late-1930s to the mid-1950s. What was your childhood like?
“I didn’t have very much but what I did have was football. I never thought about going to college. Everybody around us worked in the steel mill, but I got lucky and [Head] Coach [Bobby] Dodd gave me a scholarship at Georgia Tech. All of a sudden, I went to college and played football too and I thought that was a pretty good deal.”
What was your introduction to football?
“Oh, listen. In the little town I lived in, you played football. If you weren’t in the band, you were on the football team. We didn’t have that many people. Everybody I ran around with and knew played football, so it was just a matter of time until you got on a team. It was just part of the deal; you were going to play football.”
Was it something you immediately liked?
“Oh, yeah. I loved it. For Christmas one year, I told my mother that I wanted a football helmet and I got one of those little helmets made out of cardboard. I still got that little old thing! That started me off, and all the boys I was in school with were all playing football too.”
How did you end up Georgia Tech?
“Well, they were four boys that went to my high school that were going to Georgia Tech and I knew all of them. They said, ‘Come on over.’ The Coach [Paul “Bear”] Bryant thing hadn’t started yet at Alabama, because he was still at Texas A&M. Therefore, I didn’t have to decide between Alabama and Georgia Tech. Auburn was good at that time, anyway. I figured I’d just go to Georgia Tech and come back home and wear a white shirt and work in the steel mills, but that didn’t happen.”
You were an All-American and a First-Team All-SEC selection at Georgia Tech. What are your favorite memories from that time?
“The business of playing football and going to school was something I can’t forget. I would go to class on Saturday and get out of the class at 11 a.m. and walk down the hill from the school and put my uniform on and play football at 1 p.m. That was a little different! They put the priorities on you and told you, ‘You got to go to school and do well.’
“I’ll never forget how I went to class and was going down the hill one day and [former Dallas Cowboys and Southern Methodist University quarterback] Don Meredith was there. We were playing SMU and I ran into him as I was going into the stadium and that’s the first time I met him. I thought it was something because he had his picture on LIFE magazine and Sports Illustrated and everything. I said, ‘Oooh Don Meredith’ and after that we were friends.”
You were a two-way starter at Georgia Tech, right?
“Back then, we had to play both ways. There were only 11 people on the All-American team. Now, I don’t know how many there are. We had to play offense and defense, the whole game. I didn’t know any better; that’s what I was raised with. My high school, we were the state champions in football in three out of my four years. That was the way it was, we were going to win!
“Coach Schneider — my high school coach — said, ‘We’re going to win championships and if we don’t, we’re going to learn to win!’ We lost a game up in Birmingham one time and my hometown is 14 miles to Birmingham. When we got back, we went to our stadium and scrimmaged. This was 10:00 at night after the football game! Instead of going in and taking a shower, we went out on the field and scrimmaged for an hour. But hey, that was the way it was.”
When you played at Georgia Tech and then in the NFL, football was integrating. What was that like?
“The sad thing about it was it never really hit me because that’s the way it was. When I got to college, we played schools in the south and didn’t go up north. Then, all of a sudden, I graduated and went into the professional ranks. Because of integration, it’s black and white. I never thought about it much because when I grew up, I was two blocks from the railroad track and that divided my hometown. Some of my best friends lived on the other side of the railroad track and we played with them everyday.”
The Eagles drafted you in the second round in 1960. What was that like for you?
“Back then, television was a big thing. There weren’t very many televisions around; I didn’t get to watch much. I didn’t get to see professional football. The Washington Redskins were on TV in the south, and I didn’t like them anyway. When I got drafted, I didn’t even know I was drafted until one of my teammates came in and said, ‘Hey, I heard on the radio you were drafted!’ And that’s how I learned.”
Why didn’t you like Washington?
“I didn’t like anybody! I didn’t watch it. I was busy doing other things I liked better than watching football. It wasn’t my everyday thing. I’d just rather be out shooting baskets or going home — I went home a lot when I was at Tech and had to take my clothes home and get my mother to wash them.”
What was your rookie season in Philadelphia like?
“I had to play in the college all-star game, and there were two weeks of practice that we were up in Chicago for. We were all up there — 30 or 40 of us — missing training camp. I didn’t go to training camp at all because we played the all-star game and then flew and joined the team. I didn’t even see the team before that or know a soul on the team. That was a scary thing because all of a sudden, you’re on a professional football team that you’ve never seen before. I was scared to death!”
I don’t know if you know this, but when you guys beat the Packers in that 1960 NFL Championship game, that’s Vince Lombardi’s only playoff loss.
“Yeah, I knew that! That loss that we gave him was fantastic for us too, because we were doing something kind of unorthodox. We lost the first game of the year to Cleveland and then won eight or nine in a row. Then, we beat Vince Lombardi. They had the name of the toughest and best coach in the league, but we were fortunate enough to play a good team and win.”
That’s the knock against the Eagles is that they don’t have a Super Bowl, but obviously they’ve won other NFL Championships, like yours in 1960. Does that frustrate you at all?
“Yeah, well, it’s the same thing. You go about lining up the same way. I’m proud of the championship we won and I’m happy to wear the ring we won. The Eagles will win another championship and hopefully I can help them win somehow!”
Who was the best player you ever played with on the Eagles?
“The first name I’d have to think about is Chuck Bednarik. He was not only a great football player, but he was a great man. He flew in World War II over Germany. He didn’t get to go to school to run off that; he was 18-years-old flying in Germany. That’s history. He was my idol.”
What made him so good?
“The thing that made him a great football player and a great person was the World War II part of his life. He was from the old school Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where you work and you work and you work. He took that part and turned it into a great football career.”
What are you favorite memories from your time with the Eagles?
“Some of the friendships I made. Don Burroughs. Norm Van Brocklin. When I first met Norm Van Brocklin, I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He was an elder as far as I was concerned and called him ‘Sir.’ He called me ‘Cracker!’ He called me ‘Cracker’ and I called him ‘Sir.'”
You played pro football both before and after the NFL-AFL merger. What was that like?
“All of a sudden, the AFL was getting recognition and it looked like they might make it. I was in that class — I think it was the first draft they had. I didn’t know what was happening. All of a sudden they tell you, ‘Hey, you’ve been drafted.’ I think I was drafted by Minnesota. They called and said they had another draft and said I was drafted by Texas, so it’s wishy-washy. That was one of the reasons I wanted to stay in the NFL, because I didn’t want that wishy-washy stuff. But hey, it lived through with Lamar Hunt and those kinds of people.”
Why did you end up leaving the Eagles?
“I didn’t think too much about leaving. Then all of a sudden, I got a call saying I was traded to Los Angeles. It was ironic because before they asked where I wanted to go, and I said New York. That’s where the money is! Then, they trade me to Los Angeles; that’s only 500 miles away! Then, I met George Allen, and I knew it was a good deal. Getting to play for George Allen was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Then you became a player-coach for Washington, right?
“In 1971, I was on injured reserve for the Redskins. Then in 1972, I went to Georgia Tech for two years [as a coach]. In 1974, George Allen called me and said, ‘Why don’t you come back up here with us and be a player-coach?’ I said, ‘George, I can’t walk, much less run.’ That’s when I came back to the Redskins.”
When you look back at your football career from your earliest days playing to your last days coaching, what sticks out?
“The biggest thing is the start I got in Philadelphia. The people, right from the very start, from Norm Van Brocklin calling me ‘cracker’ to playing next to a guy named Chuck Bednarik and how we worked and what was important to him, I wanted that to be important to me. It helped me be a good football player. There were five guys on our football team from the University of Georgia and one from Georgia Tech. They took me under their arms and led me through the NFL. I was happy and lucky.”