Maxie Baughan, one of the most fearsome linebackers of the 1960s, who earned nine Pro Bowl nods as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, died on Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 85.
His death was confirmed in a statement by the National Football League.
For Baughan, born on Aug. 3, 1938, in tiny Forkland, Ala., during the Great Depression, glory on any national stage seemed like a long shot growing up. His father was a sharecropper turned lineman whose job entailed shimmying up telephone poles for repairs.
“You could tell when he came home, his arms would have black marks with blood in them,” Baughan said in a 2016 interview with the newspaper The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. “I decided I didn’t want to do that, so I didn’t. But I sure as heck didn’t think I was going to be playing professional football. I never dreamed of that.”
When he left home to play football for the celebrated coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech, his father handed him $20 and said, “That’s it.”
It was apparently enough.
Blending ferocity with a seeming omnipresence on the gridiron, Baughan became a two-way standout for the Yellow Jackets, starting at linebacker and center and becoming team captain. By his senior season, in 1959, he was a star. He was named a consensus All-American that year and voted the Southeastern Conference lineman of the year.
Although Georgia Tech lost the 1960 Gator Bowl to Frank Broyles’s Arkansas Razorbacks, Baughan was named one of two most valuable players in the game, along with the Arkansas safety Jim Mooty.
Although not physically imposing by N.F.L. standards, Baughan, at 6 foot 1 and 227 pounds, was picked by the Eagles in the second round of the 1960 draft. Still, the league itself was something of a mystery to him. At that point there was no team in its eastern conference further south than Washington.
“I didn’t even know the names of the teams,” he later said, “so when the Eagles drafted me, I figured, ‘OK, I’ll see what this is all about.’”
In his rookie 1960 season, Baughan stepped in as a weakside linebacker alongside the future Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, the punishing linebacker known as “Concrete Charlie” (who also played center), to bolster a punishing Eagles defense.
The team stormed to a 10-2 record that year and victory in the championship game over Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, with Baughan intercepting three passes.
He came in second in the league’s United Press International rookie of the year balloting and was named to his first of five Pro Bowl selections with the Eagles.
After a trade to the Los Angeles Rams in 1966, Baughan picked up where he had left off. The Rams’ coach George Allen named him the team’s defensive captain and signal caller. Behind the quarterback Roman Gabriel, the Rams reached the divisional round of the playoffs twice over the next five years, with Baughan cleaning up on defense behind the team’s heralded defensive line, known as the Fearsome Foursome, starring Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, Rosey Greer and Merlin Olsen.
He would notch four more Pro Bowl appearances during his Rams tenure, adding to an N.F.L. résumé that also included five years as a second-team All-Pro and one as a first-teamer.
Baughan retired in 1970 and later became the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. But his N.F.L. playing days were not quite over. In 1974, Baughan briefly served as a player-coach for the Washington Redskins, although he suited up for just two games.
He would patrol the sidelines for more than two decades, serving as a defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions and head coach at Cornell University. He capped his career as a linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens.
In that role, he mentored the future Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks of the Buccaneers and Ray Lewis of the Ravens.
Baughan is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dianne; his sons Max, Mark and Matt; and eight grandchildren.
He is a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988. The Pro Football Hall of Fame seniors committee was to meet on Tuesday to narrow the field of 12 semifinalists to three finalists for induction into the Class of 2024. Players in the senior category played their games in professional football no later than the 1998 season.
“Being just a small kid from a small town, didn’t have but one pair of shoes and didn’t have a sport coat when I went to college,” Baughan said in a television interview in 1988, recalling the profound honor he felt when he was named the Yellow Jackets’ captain. “There were some things that weren’t supposed to happen to me.”