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Sam Huff


Athlete and sportsman Robert Lee ‘‘Sam’’ Huff (October 4, 1934-November 13, 2021), born at Edna near Morgantown, grew up in Coal Camp No. 9, the fourth of sixth children. His father and two of his brothers worked in the coal mines. He was an all-state football player at Farmington High School and married Mary Fletcher his senior year. He was recruited by West Virginia University head coach Art ‘‘Pappy’’ Lewis. Huff and Bruce Bosley bolstered a fearsome defense that led WVU to a 38-7 record between 1952 and 1955, including three consecutive wins over rival Penn State.

In the National Football League, he was one of football’s most feared middle linebackers. Huff’s New York Giants played in six championship games in eight years but won only one (1956). From 1964 to 1967, Huff played for the Washington Redskins, then owned by West Virginia native George Preston Marshall. He became known for his battles against running backs like Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns and Jim Taylor of the Green Bay Packers. As he said in 1968, “We made defense famous.”

In 1959, Huff was named the NFL’s top linebacker and became the second pro football player to appear on the cover of Time magazine. In 1960, CBS placed a radio transmitter inside his shoulder pads so that television viewers could hear his voice and impacts on the field. The special, narrated by future news anchor Walter Cronkite, was called “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” After a one-year retirement, Huff returned as a player-coach for the Redskins in 1969 under coach Vince Lombardi. After one last season, his 13th in the league, Huff retired again. He returned to Farmington and ran for Congress in 1970 but lost the Democratic primary to incumbent Robert Mollohan. The three-time All-NFL linebacker was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He divorced Mary in the late 1980s. They had two sons and a daughter.

In 1987, Huff and his partner, Carol Holden, founded the West Virginia Breeders Classic at Charles Town. The annual horse racing event, which began with five races and a purse total of $200,000, has grown significantly. In 2001, there were eight races with a purse total of $1 million. In addition, the event is televised nationally. Huff and Holden owned Sam Huff-Sporting Life Stable in Middleburg, Virginia, near Charles Town Races, where the West Virginia Breeders Classic is held each October.

Huff also worked as a broadcaster and lived on his farm in Middleburg.

Huff died in a hospital in Winchester, Virginia. He was 87.

Written by Stan Bumgardner


  1. Charleston Gazette, 12/19/1973.