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 moment coming when he beat the Giants in a 72-41 victory over his old team. Huff briefly retired after the 1967 season, but came back for 1969 under coach Vince Lombardi before retiring for good.
Huff spent the bulk of his post-playing career in Washington, first serving as the team's linebackers coach before taking up a long career as a radio broadcaster. After initially working for the Giants, Huff became a color analyst for Washington's broadcasts in 1975, and he served in that role until his retirement after the 2012 season.
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Washington Ring of Fame inductee Sam Huff," read a statement by Washington Football Team owners Dan and Tanya Snyder. "Anyone who knew Sam knew what an amazing person he was. He was an iconic player and broadcaster for the franchise for over 40 years and was a great friend to our family.
"He represented the franchise with honor and respect on the field and in the booth and was beloved by our fans. Tanya and I would like to extend our deepest condolences to all of Sam's family and friends during this time."
In all, Huff made five Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro six times during his illustrious career, and he was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1950s. Huff is a member of both the Giants' Ring of Honor and Washington's Ring of Fame, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.