Sam Huff, one of the NFL’s most iconic figures of the 1950s and 60s and one who helped pioneer the way defense was both viewed and regarded, died Saturday at the age of 87. According to the Associated Press, the Huff family attorney confirmed the news. Huff had suffered from dementia since 2013.
The son of a coal miner from Edna, West Virginia, Huff went from a working-class upbringing to fame and notoriety as a member of the New York Giants. The No. 30 overall pick in the 1956 NFL Draft, Huff became a revolutionary defensive player as the middle linebacker and key component of defensive coordinator Tom Landry’s new 4-3 defense, a scheme designed specifically to capitalize on Huff’s athleticism and use it to stop Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown. Huff’s impact on the Giants was immediate, as they won the 1956 NFL Championship.
Huff played in six championship games in total for the Giants, including “The Greatest Game Ever Played” against the Baltimore Colts in 1958. As pro football became more popular and gained mass appeal, Huff became the very face of NFL defensive football. He was only the second professional football player to ever appear on the cover of Time Magazine in 1959, and starred in CBS News’ The Violent World of Sam Huff in 1960, where he was wired for sound.
“Sam was one of the greatest Giants of all-time,” read a statement by Giants owner and team president John Mara. “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.”
After the Giants lost three straight NFL Championship games under coach Allie Sherman in the early 1960s, Huff was traded to Washington — a highly unpopular move that Huff vowed vengeance over.
“As long as I live,” Huff wrote in his autobiography, “I will never forgive Allie Sherman for trading me.”
Huff would go on to play five seasons in Washington, with his most satisfying…