Eddie LeBaron isn’t a name that all Washington fans are familiar with. After all, it’s nearly seventy years ago since he quarterbacked in Washington. On a day of remembrance though, he’s a good player to take a look back at.
LeBaron was with the Washington Football Team from 1952 to 1959. For the two years previous to arriving in Washington, he was a Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant in the Korean War.
Edward Wayne LeBaron Jr. was born January 7, 1930 in San Rafael, California. According to LeBaron himself, he was playing football from a very young age:
“My uncle, who played football at St. Mary’s College gave me a football when I was only 4 or 5 years old. I was immediately out in the fields throwing it and kicking it. There was a little grammar school across the vineyards from where we lived. The school house had 18 kids and classes went up to the eighth grade. I used to go over there and play with the kids. I took my football because they didn’t have one.”
LeBaron started attending Oakdale High School when he was just 12 years old. He was playing tailback and safety, punting and drop kicking extra points for the school’s football team by 13.
After high school, he was accepted to Stanford but chose College of the Pacific in Stockton, because many of his friends were there. He would eventually completely re-write the school’s record books.
Despite being just sixteen years old upon entry, he lettered all four years from 1946-1949. He was an All-American in his senior season for the Tigers, and the team were undefeated (11-0). They led the nation in total offense (502.9 yards a game), and set a then NCAA single-season scoring record of 575 points. That’s over 50 points per game (52.3)!
LeBaron set school records in career touchdowns (59), touchdowns in a season (23), and longest punt (74 yards). He also had the most yardage off interception returns in a game (119). The rugged, undersized LeBaron was a 60-minute player, playing quarterback on offense, safety on defense, and also being the punter.
While still a junior at College of the Pacific, LeBaron joined the Marine Corps Reserve.
He was selected by Washington in the tenth round of the 1950 draft. However, while still a junior at College of the Pacific, LeBaron had joined the Marine Corps Reserve. When the Korean War broke out in July of 1950, LeBaron was called to active duty and had to leave training camp.
The Littlest General
After completing Marine Basic School at Quantico, Virginia in March 1951, he was sent to South Korea in April. In September, he served as a rifle company platoon commander with B Company, 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division during the fighting for Hill 673 in the Battle of the Punchbowl. LeBaron was wounded twice and was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism. He was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1952. Due to his diminutive size, 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m), and leadership skills from his military service, he was sometimes known as the “Littlest General”.
Back To Football
He was discharged after being wounded in combat, and able to return to football, and to Washington. He would start his rookie season behind the legend, Sammy Baugh.
Baugh was in his sixteenth and final season for Washington though, and the gunslinger would yield to the Littlest General by the fifth game of the season.
LeBaron responded by being the NFL’s Rookie of the year for 1952.
After picking up an injury in his second season in Washington and having to split duty with Jack Scarbath, LeBaron jumped to the Western Interprovincial Football Union – the predecessor to the Canadian Football League. His college coach Larry Siemering had been named head coach of the Calgary Stampeders, and lured him away for the 1954 season.
Siemering was fired the following season, and LeBaron was back with Washington for the 1955 season.
He would earn three Pro Bowl berths (1955, 1957, 1958), over the next four seasons in Washington. In 1958, he was the league’s top rated passer with 1,365 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Following the 1959 season, LeBaron announced he was retiring to focus on a law practice. He had impressively completed his law degree in the off-seasons, while playing for Washington.
Another Reason To Not Like Them Cowboys
As if it wasn’t enough that Dallas blackmailed their way into the league by stealing Washington’s Fight Song, they fired an immediate shot across the bow by luring LeBaron out of retirement for their inaugural 1960 season.
That’s probably a less than accurate statement given that Washington was handsomely rewarded for the transaction and agreed to a trade. It reads better to add venom though, when it pertains to the Cowboys.
Dallas actually sent their first round and sixth round draft choices in the 1961 NFL Draft, for a player that was retired. Washington leaped at the opportunity, and was even able to grab quarterback Norm Snead with that first round pick.
LeBaron picked up pretty much where he left off.
Life As A Cowboy
The Littlest General actually scored the Cowboys’ very first touchdown in their first exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers. LeBaron started 10 of 12 games for Dallas in 1960, despite them having rookie, but eventual Hall-of-Famer, Don Meredith on the bench.
LeBaron started 10 of 14 games in 1961, but Meredith was pushing for time more and more. By 1962, LeBaron was down to five starts and the year after that, he started the first game before conceding to Meredith for the rest of the season.
He retired following the 1963 season.
In 12 seasons, he threw for 13,399 yards and 104 touchdowns. Another Pro Bowl selection while in Dallas (1961) gave him four in total, and he holds the distinction of being the shortest quarterback to ever be selected to the Pro Bowl.
On to The Next Chapter
LeBaron practiced law after finishing football, but was soon lured back to the game. He was a football announcer for CBS Sports from 1966 to 1971.
Still nowhere near done with the game, he was named general manager of the Atlanta Falcons in 1977. After five years as general manager, he was promoted to executive vice president in 1983.
LeBaron left the Falcons for a job with the National Football League in 1987, and ran the strike games that year. But in 1988, he left the NFL after being involved in some capacity for nearly 35 years.
Life After Football
He moved back to California to become the managing partner of the law firm of Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro. He served there until 1997 when he retired.
LeBaron then got into real estate development and owned vineyards in Northern California. He served as the president of the Nevada and Georgia Golf Associations and was also on the board of the Northern California Golf Association.
He was married to Doralee since 1954. They had three sons – Edward Wayne III, Richard, and William – and also had five grandchildren.
The Littlest General passed away peacefully of natural causes in 2015 at the age of 85.
May he rest in peace.
Semper Fidelis, Lt. LeBaron.
Photo Credit: From the Google Time / Life Photo Archive project. Photo by Hank Walker.