Eddie LeBaron, the NFL’s shortest football player in history, has died in an assisted living facility in Stockton, Calif.. He was 85.
Known affectionately as the “Little General,” the football legend died of natural causes, LeBaron’s son confirmed to the New York Times. In the 1950s, Eddie – only 5 foot 7 and barely ever over 160 pounds – was a top quarterback for the Washington Redskins, the first quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, a lawyer, family man, and a war hero.
“When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a football player, a Marine, and successful in business,” LeBaron said in a newspaper interview in 2006, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Eddie Lebaron was born to a ranching family in San Rafael, Calif, in 1930, and by 16 was admitted to the College of the Pacific in Stockton, where he was quickly given the distinction of first team “Little All-American” (which was not a jab at his height), added the Washington Post.
From there, Eddie was drafted to the Redskins. Before he could touch a pig skin, however, he served in combat in the Korean War as a Marine, was wounded twice, and got two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
When LeBaron got home, he became a star, despite his height. It was a trifling detail to Eddie; he was quickly regarded as the game’s deftest ball handler and went down in NFL history as one of its greatest players.
“Size was never a factor for me. Most of the guys I played with thought that if you could do it, you did it. They didn’t care how big you were.”
Eddie played the game for 11 years. In 1955, the Redskins earned an 8-4 record – their first winning season since 1948; the streak lasted until 1969. By 1958, LeBaron became the league’s best at passing efficiency.
In 1959, LeBaron threw his final game with the Redskins and had planned to retire and practice law; that same year he graduated from George Washington University. But the NFL wouldn’t have it. They formed a new team, the Dallas Cowboys, and LeBaron became its first quarterback.
Four years later, he finally left the field, with 104 touchdown passes and nine touchdowns. Eddie was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
“The greatest little football player that ever lived was Eddie LeBaron,” Chuck Bednarik, the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker said once.
Through the 60s and 70s, LeBaron was a CBS broadcaster and lawyer, then Atlanta Falcons general manager in 1977. He finally left football in 1985, then law in 1997.
“I came over the top, and I got very, very few balls knocked down. The big thing was the ability to move. If you have the ability to move and the intelligence to know how to read the defenses, you can find the lanes.”
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]