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Eddie LeBaron dies; 'Little General' of 1950s Washington Redskins was 85

University of the Pacific football player Eddie LeBaron

University of the Pacific football player Eddie LeBaron Jr., who was a college football Hall of Famer, former NFL quarterback and war hero, died of natural causes April 1, 2015. He was 85. This photo is from Nov. 11, 1949. Newsday's obituary for Eddie LeBaron Jr.
Photo Credit: AP

Eddie LeBaron, the Washington Redskins' "Little General" of the 1950s who, despite his size, won over skeptics and became one of the top quarterbacks in the National Football League, died April 1 at an assisted-living facility in Stockton, California. He was 85.

In his 11 years in the NFL, LeBaron never won a championship -- in fact, he played on only two winning teams -- but he remains one of the most remarkable players in football history.

At 5-foot-7, he was tiny for a quarterback even in 1950, when the Redskins drafted him. He tied with Davey O'Brien, a Philadelphia Eagles player in 1939 and '40, as the shortest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Before LeBaron played a regular-season game, he was called up for active duty in the Marines. As a combat officer in the Korean War, he received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star before returning to play for the Redskins.

LeBaron took over the starting quarterback job in 1952. After a disappointing season in 1953, he headed to the Canadian Football League for a year. He returned to the Redskins in 1955 and led the team to an 8-4 record, the Redskins' first winning season since 1948.

In 1958, he led the league in yards per attempt, besting such future Hall of Famers as Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr.

LeBaron's final season with the Redskins was in 1959, the same year he graduated from law school at George Washington University, sixth in his class. He planned to retire from football, but when the NFL expanded, the coach of the newly formed Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, coaxed LeBaron back. He was the Cowboys' first quarterback and played four more years before retiring in 1963.

LeBaron threw 104 touchdown passes in his NFL career and was named to four Pro Bowl teams.

A California native, he had attended the College of the Pacific in Stockton (now the University of the Pacific). In his final three seasons there, he was a first-team "Little All American" -- a designation for small colleges, not a player's size. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

In the 1960s and 1970s, LeBaron was a football broadcaster for CBS while practicing law full time. He became the general manager of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons in 1977 and held other front-office jobs for the team until 1985. He practiced law until 1997.

During his playing career, LeBaron helped establish the players' pension fund. He also worked as a volunteer counselor for Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as recently as 2013.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Doralee Wilson LeBaron of Stockton; and three sons.


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