NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff dies at 87

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 15:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   Former New York Giant Sam Huff is introduced during a half time ceremony of a game between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos honoring former head coach Bill Parcells at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, September 15 2013  in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Broncos defeated the Giants 41-23.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Sam Huff was one of the NFL's first defensive stars. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Sam Huff, the fearsome middle linebacker whose play defined an NFL generation, died on Saturday according to the Washington Post, eight years after he was diagnosed with dementia. He was 87.

Both a College Football Hall of Famer and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Huff grew up in a West Virginia coal mining camp and starred at the Mountaineers football program as a lineman. He eventually reached the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the New York Giants.

Huff's first NFL training camp went poorly, to the point that he left the camp after he failed to find a position where he could play. As the Pro Football Hall of Fame recounts, he was eventually coaxed back by a Giants assistant coach by the name of Vince Lombardi.

Sam Huff's career was historic in many ways

Huff later found his position thanks to one of the most significant tactical developments in NFL history, the institution of the 4-3 defense under Giants defensive coordinator and future Dallas Cowboys legend Tom Landry. Landry moved Huff to the middle linebacker position, where he would soon star as a rookie.

With a defense built on funneling plays into Huff, the Giants finished with an 8-3-1 record and won the NFL championship game. Huff was the first rookie middle linebacker to ever start an NFL championship game.

Huff continued to excel from there, leading the Giants to five more NFL championship games (and unfortunately losing them all). The Giants' 1958 championship loss to the Baltimore Colts is widely remembered as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and is credited with sparking the NFL's rise in popularity.

The linebacker's stardom helped shine a light on the NFL in multiple ways. He was the first player in the history of the league to be featured on the cover of Time magazine and his appearance on CBS' Walter Kronkite-hosted "The Violent World of Sam Huff" saw him wired for sound during an exhibition game, the progenitor for today's mic'd up segments.

Huff's Giants tenure ended in controversial fashion, as head coach Allie Sherman traded him to Washington, where he would continue to make an impact until retiring in 1968. 

Lombardi, named Washington's head coach in 1969, once again brought him back to the field a year later for one final season, Washington's first winning season since 1955.

Huff stayed busy in retirement

After his football career, Huff found several lines of work.

He spent a season as a Washington assistant coach, per the Post, before taking a job as a marketing liaison for the Marriott Corporation, which eventually made him a marketing vice president. He also worked as a color commentator, mirroring his NFL career by working for the Giants then Washington. His work in D.C. included the team's three Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s.

Huff ran for a West Virginia seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost in the primary. According to the Post, he raised horses for years with his domestic partner of more than 30 years, Carol Holden, at their farm in Virginia.

Huff is survived by Holden as well as two children with his ex-wife, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.

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