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Classic Camp Phenoms

Jul 19, 2009, 9:12 PM EST

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They’re as much a part of summer as sunburn, triple-digit heat index readings, and mosquito bites. Every August, young players hopeful of making an instant impact in the NFL pop up at Redskins training camp. These phenoms create a buzz among reporters and the fans. Sometimes the player winds up being a star and sometimes it’s all sizzle and no steak.

The original camp phenom was quarterback Sammy Baugh, the Washington Redskins first draft pick in 1937, the team’s first year in Washington. His reputation as a gunslinger from Texas was already established and he arrived in a ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots. A crowd of about 3,000 gathered to watch his first training camp practice in California. Coach Ray Flaherty drew up a play on the blackboard and drew an X. “When the receiver gets to here,” Flaherty said, pointing to the X, “you hit him in the eye.”

Baugh responded, “Which eye?”

Baugh went on to lead the Redskins to the NFL title that year, the first of two they would win during his Hall of Fame career.

Arriving with considerably less fanfare in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1969 was Kansas State running back Larry Brown, the team’s eighth-round pick in that year’s draft. Almost nobody noticed him, with one important exception—Vince Lombardi. The legendary coach liked Brown’s raw skills, but he noted in a coach’s meeting that the back was a step slow getting off the ball. “Does that Brown hear?” asked Lombardi.

Tests revealed that he didn’t, at least not in one ear. Once he was fitted with a special helmet that transferred sound from the side with the bad ear to the side with the good one, more observers began to take note of Brown. In a preseason game a few days after getting the helmet, Brown scored two touchdowns. Back in Carlisle, everyone began to notice his powerful running style and he earned a starting job. Brown went on to rush for 888 yards in his rookie season and 5,875 in his seven-year career.

One summer phenom who didn’t have a stellar Redskins career was quarterback Babe Laufenberg. In fact, the 1983 sixth-round draft pick never took a regular-season snap for Washington. After spending two seasons on injured reserve, he was in a battle with Jay Schroeder for the backup QB spot. In training camp, he earned the respect of all, including Joe Gibbs. He gave it his all in training camp. “I’ve got a world of respect for Babe,” said Gibbs. “No one we have has worked harder or had a better attitude. He deserved this opportunity.”

His opportunity came at RFK Stadium in a preseason game with the Redskins trailing New England by six. With 1:04 left, Laufenberg led a drive from Washington’s 26. Going four for five for 59 yards on the drive, Laufenberg earned a loud roar from the crowd when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Clint Didier with four seconds left to give the Redskins the win.

Babe won the battle, but lost the war. A few days after the comeback win, Gibbs decided that Schroeder had more potential and Laufenberg was cut.

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