Eddie LeBaron was one of the most legendary quarterbacks in Washington Redskins history.
The diminutive 5’7″, 168-lb. LeBaron, who served in the Marines during the Korean War, earned the nickname “The Little General” during his pro football career.
LeBaron never let his stature compromise his quarterbacking skills. The four-time Pro Bowl signal caller threw for 13,399 passing yards and 104 touchdowns in his 11-year NFL career.
Eddie LeBaron’s 1,365 passing yards in 1958 also led the National Football League that year.
LeBaron also became the Dallas Cowboys’ first starting quarterback when he joined their inaugural roster in the 1960 NFL season. He mentored eventual three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Don Meredith during their time together in Dallas.
After LeBaron retired in 1963, he became an accomplished attorney and NFL executive.
Truly, Eddie LeBaron proved little guys like him can play quarterback—arguably the hardest position in all of professional sports.
Edward Wayne “Eddie” LeBaron, Jr. was born in San Rafael, CA on January 7, 1930.
LeBaron knew he was made for the gridiron during his preschool days. His uncle, a St. Mary’s College football player, gave him a football when he was four or five years old.
As soon as Little Eddie received his gift, he went to the field and began throwing and kicking his brand-new football, per The Washington Times‘ Robert Janis.
LeBaron also took his football to a nearby grammar school that accommodated 18 kids whose age levels ranged from first to eighth grade.
Because LeBaron played football with the kids at the school, the institution soon accepted him as an underaged five-year-old first grader.
According to The Washington Times, LeBaron advanced to third grade one year earlier than expected because there were no other students in his second-grade class.
Consequently, Eddie LeBaron attended Oakdale High School when he was just twelve years old. He was a Jack of all trades for the Oakdale Mustangs, who utilized the single wing formation back then.
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Eddie LeBaron Oakdale
Craig Penrose Woodland
Bill Munson Lodi
Tony Eason Delta
Ken O'Brien Jesuit
Virgil Carter Folsom
Randy Fasani Del Oro
Tony Graziani Downey
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J. T. O'Sullivan Jesuit
Seneca Wallace Cordova
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The 5’7″, 150-lb. LeBaron played tailback, defensive back, and kicker during his high school days, per Star Magazine’s Jeff Sullivan (via DallasCowboys.com).
Big Things Come in Small Packages
The diminutive LeBaron already had a powerful throwing arm during his days at Oakdale High. The 15-year-old high school senior remembered throwing a football 75 yards downfield at a track and field event. Nobody on the Mustangs roster could throw longer than he did.
LeBaron remained undaunted despite his small stature.
“Size was never a factor for me,” LeBaron told The Washington Times in the spring of 2008.
Eddie never let his height become a hindrance during his subsequent stints at the College of the Pacific and the National Football League.
LeBaron graduated high school when he was just 16 years old. He earned his diploma at that age because he started school early.
Eddie LeBaron was accepted to Stanford University but ultimately decided to attend the College of the Pacific instead. Around eight or nine of his high school teammates had committed to the Pacific Tigers football team.
Plus, the thought of playing for Tigers assistant football coach Larry Siemering was too good to pass up for LeBaron. Siemering coached high school football in the Northern California area and earned a sterling reputation among LeBaron’s peers.
Ironically, Eddie LeBaron’s and Larry Siemering’s paths would cross again in Canada some eight years later in the pro football ranks.
For now, LeBaron brought his act just 33 miles west of Oakdale, CA, and he became one of the best quarterbacks in Pacific Tigers football history.
College Days with the Pacific Tigers
Eddie LeBaron attended the College of the Pacific (now known as the University of the Pacific) in Stockton, CA from 1946 to 1949.
LeBaron played for legendary Pacific Tigers head football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, who would eventually join the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
Not only that, but Stagg would also become a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.
LeBaron’s true freshman year coincided with Stagg’s final year as the Tigers’ head football coach in 1946.
Although the two men spent just one season together at the College of the Pacific, they grew close and forged a tight friendship that lasted until Stagg’s death at the age of 102 in 1965.
Almost three years prior to Stagg’s death, LeBaron spoke at his 100th birthday party in 1962.
LeBaron spent a lot of time at Stagg’s small house which was located roughly three blocks from school. Stagg shared some insightful stories with the young quarterback whenever he visited.
One of LeBaron’s fondest memories of Stagg was the latter purchasing some land near the campus grounds. He eventually donated it to the school because he thought the students might need it sometime in the future.
LeBaron also remembered Stagg as a thrifty individual, per Sullivan.
LeBaron remembered Stagg employing the spread single-wing formation—a scheme that was similar to the Wildcat formation in contemporary football lingo.
— Mike Klocke (@Klocke_Mike) April 1, 2015
Stagg wanted his quarterbacks to take on a more active role in blocking on the gridiron. LeBaron thought that didn’t make any sense. However, he admitted Stagg was a great innovator who’s responsible for many of today’s football strategies including the lateral and spread punt formation.
All-Around Big Talent
LeBaron promptly picked up from where he left off in high school. He played offense, defense, and special teams for the Tigers from 1946 to 1949. He was a quarterback, safety, punter, and kicker during that four-year time frame.
With Eddie LeBaron clicking on all cylinders, the Tigers won all eleven of their games in 1949. They outscored the opposition by a remarkable 52.6 points per game, per Sullivan.
LeBaron finished his college football career on a high note. He earned All-American honors as a senior in 1949.
LeBaron also earned consideration for the 1949 Heisman Trophy. However, the accolade went to Notre Dame Fighting Irish end, Leon Hart.
Eddie LeBaron could have remained in the Northern California area for his pro football career. the All-America Football Conference’s San Francisco 49ers drafted him in 1948.
However, when the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, that draft was nullified, per The Washington Times.
Detroit Lions head coach Bo McMillin, who coached the first Senior Bowl in 1950, also sent LeBaron feelers. However, LeBaron, who turned down the 49ers’ contract offer, told McMillin he wasn’t interested in playing in the professional ranks.
Despite Eddie LeBaron’s initial resistance to playing pro football, he defied the odds and became one of the greatest quarterbacks in Washington Redskins history.
Pro Football Career
The Washington Redskins selected Eddie LeBaron as the 123rd overall pick of the 1950 NFL Draft.
Before LeBaron played his first down in the National Football League, he had to serve his country first.
According to Sullivan, the United States Marines called LeBaron to active duty for the Korean War while he was scrimmaging for the East-West Shrine Game as his college football days wound down.
LeBaron, who emerged as the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, followed a tight schedule over the next few weeks.
LeBaron flew back to the nation’s capital for Redskins training camp. He and his Washington teammates then flew to the opposite side of the country to play an exhibition match against the Los Angeles Rams in California.
The Redskins then flew north to play the San Francisco 49ers three days later. LeBaron reported to boot camp the moment the Redskins and 49ers played their final down.
“You remember the specifics even 60 years later because the stakes of going into combat were that high,” LeBaron said (via Star Magazine and DallasCowboys.com).
LeBaron put in the work and quickly ascended the military rankings. He became a second lieutenant in August 1950 and left the military as a first lieutenant two years later.
Lt. LeBaron was injured twice during his nine-month deployment in Korea. Consequently, the Marines honored him with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, per The Washington Times.
— Veterans Affairs (@DeptVetAffairs) April 3, 2015
After LeBaron left Korea, he became an instructor at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
LeBaron compared serving as a war commander to a quarterback leading a group of men into battle. He said the major difference lay in throwing an interception on the gridiron as opposed to witnessing one of his men falling in the line of duty.
From the Battlefield to the Gridiron
The 5’7″, 168-lb. LeBaron re-committed himself to pro football and reported to Redskins training camp once the Korean War ended in 1952. He remained in top form two years after Washington drafted him in 1950.
LeBaron filled in intermittently for aging legendary Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh in Washington’s first three games before taking over the starting duties for the remainder of the season. He finished his rookie season strong with nine touchdown passes in Washington’s final three outings.
LeBaron finished the 1952 NFL campaign with 1,420 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes, and 15 interceptions. The Redskins won four games and missed the postseason for the seventh consecutive year.
Nevertheless, Eddie LeBaron won 1952 NFL Rookie of the Year honors. During his first year in Washington, LeBaron noticed Redskins owner George Preston Marshall ran the organization from top to bottom although he hired Richard McCann as his general manager, per The Washington Times.
LeBaron remembered Marshall complaining about his players’ greed. He paid each of the Redskins players an average annual salary of $5,000. His team payroll amounted to roughly $175,000 in 1952.
When Eddie LeBaron became the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons in the late 1970s, the players earned approximately ten times more than what he and his Redskins teammates made in his rookie year.
LeBaron regressed considerably due to a knee injury in 1953. He had 874 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and 17 interceptions in eight games for Washington in his second pro football season.
The Redskins won six games in 1953 and missed the postseason bus yet again.
Moving to Canada
LeBaron took his act north of the border and signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union (which preceded the Canadian Football League) in 1954.
Eddie took the opportunity to reunite with Stampeders head coach Larry Siemering, who had succeeded Amos Alonzo Stagg as his head coach in college.
LeBaron refuted the notion he had left the Redskins because of a strained relationship with Washington head coach Curly Lambeau and a reduced salary.
According to the Lodi News-Sentinel’s March 24, 1954 issue (via Google News), LeBaron’s annual salary with the Stampeders hovered in the $15,000 range.
It turned out LeBaron, who had never planned on playing pro football on a long-term basis at the time, wanted to look for possible employment opportunities in Canada after he plays out his contract with the Stampeders.
“Another reason I hope to go to Calgary is to look over the country for possible business opportunities,” LeBaron told the Lodi News-Sentinel.
LeBaron married his girlfriend, Doralee, the same year he left for Canada in 1954.
Eddie LeBaron enjoyed his one-year tenure with the Stampeders. He eventually grew accustomed to the faster, three-down play in Canada.
1954 Calgary Stampeders head coach Larry Siemering (left), assistant coach Don Campora (right), star players: 73. End Rupe Andrews (team’s top receiver 904 yards), 93. QB Eddie LeBaron (1815 yards), 97 HB Eddie Macon (tops in KO ret. 302 yds., int. 7, fumble ret. 3. pic.twitter.com/prMRPoOObo
— Daryl Slade (@Stampeders1945) June 12, 2020
LeBaron and his teammates played some of their games in snowy field conditions. He recalled the Stampeders were a good football team when the weather was good. Otherwise, they were a below-average squad.
LeBaron played quarterback, defensive back, and punter for Calgary in 1954. He had 1,815 passing yards, eight touchdown passes, and 24 interceptions in his lone season as Stampeders’ signal caller.
The Stampeders fired Siemering after they failed to qualify for the postseason. Coincidentally, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall dismissed Lambeau and replaced him with Joe Kuharich as head coach.
Return to the States
The door was wide open for Eddie LeBaron’s return to the nation’s capital in 1955.
LeBaron hit it off with Kuharich, who coached the University of San Francisco during Eddie’s time with the Pacific Tigers. They had some memorable battles on the college gridiron from 1948 to 1949.
Fifty-three years later, LeBaron told The Washington Times that he liked Kuharich’s demeanor and his player management skills. The Redskins had a combined 26-32-2 record during Kuharich’s five years at the helm from 1954 to 1958.
Eddie LeBaron considered the 1955 game against Otto Graham’s Cleveland Browns his best in Redskins burgundy, gold, and white.
LeBaron had three total touchdowns as the Redskins recorded their first-ever win against the Browns. He also earned the first of his four career Pro Bowl berths in the 1955 NFL season.
LeBaron played decent football as his career in Washington wound down. His 1,365 passing yards led the National Football League in 1958.
LeBaron’s last year with the Redskins coincided with Mike Nixon’s first as Washington’s head coach. He described Nixon as a laid-back coach who declined his invitations to watch game film with him so he could “beat the traffic,” per The Washington Times.
During LeBaron’s pro football career in Washington, he had a funny episode with President Dwight Eisenhower after playing golf at Burning Tee in Bethesda, MD.
“We ended up showering together in the locker room afterward, which was strange considering he was President of the United States,” LeBaron told Star Magazine (via DallasCowboys.com).
Eisenhower then invited LeBaron to have lunch with him at the White House afterward.
Eddie LeBaron earned a law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1956. He intended his 1959 NFL season to be his last so he could focus on a career in law. In fact, he was ready to work for a law firm in Midland, TX at the season’s end.
However, fate had other plans for Eddie LeBaron.
Although LeBaron did move to the Lone Star State in 1960, it wasn’t as a lawyer. He resumed his career as an NFL quarterback at the urging of Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm and head coach Tom Landry.
This time around, LeBaron joined the expansion Cowboys in the 1960 NFL season. He became the first starting quarterback in franchise history, per Sullivan.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) January 7, 2022
When LeBaron began scrimmaging with the Cowboys, the taller offensive linemen obstructed his field of vision considerably.
Dallas wide receiver Lee Murchison told The Los Angeles Times in 2015 that LeBaron reminded his teammates to do everything they could to be at that precise spot where he threw the ball.
LeBaron also served as a mentor to rookie Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith in Dallas’s inaugural NFL season in 1960.
For some reason, Landry allowed LeBaron and Meredith to alternate downs for the Cowboys that year.
“Don didn’t like it, but I did,” LeBaron told The Washington Post in 2008. “It gave me a chance to talk to the coaches and select plays during the game.”
LeBaron, who served as Cowboys’ player representative for the NFL Players’ Association, admired Landry dating back to the latter’s days as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. His admiration for Landry grew even stronger during their time together in Dallas.
Finishing Up a Great Career
Landry impressed LeBaron with his tenacious film study habits. In a game against the L.A. Rams on September 30, 1962, Landry told LeBaron the Rams had a tendency to put eight players in the box. That, in turn, left the middle susceptible to a long gain.
Should that happen, Landry told LeBaron to call an audible at the line of scrimmage.
To his astonishment, LeBaron saw the Rams put eight men in the box during one play. He then called an audible for Cowboys fullback Amos Marsh who gashed the Rams’ defense for an 85-yard touchdown run, per DallasCowboys.com.
The Cowboys prevailed over the Rams, 27-17.
From 1960 to 1963, LeBaron accumulated 5,331 passing yards, 45 touchdown passes, and 53 interceptions for the Cowboys in 52 games.
Dallas averaged just three wins per year during that four-season stretch. They missed the postseason each time.
Eddie LeBaron retired following the 1963 NFL season. He racked up 13,399 passing yards, 104 touchdown passes, and 141 interceptions in his 11-year NFL career.
Post-Football Life and Death
When Eddie LeBaron hung up his cleats following the 1963 NFL season, Cowboys head coach Tom Landry wanted him to become a playing coach. However, LeBaron felt it was time to move on.
“Tom wanted me to become a player-coach, but I told him, ‘I’m an old quarterback and a young lawyer; it’s time to move on,” LeBaron said (via Star Magazine and DallasCowboys.com).
Although LeBaron politely declined Landry’s offer, the two men remained good friends long after Eddie retired. When LeBaron was serving as general manager and executive vice president for the Atlanta Falcons from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, he maintained his close friendship with Landry.
Landry was at the pinnacle of his success as Dallas Cowboys head coach when LeBaron became a Falcons executive for nine seasons. The two men enjoyed playing golf together after LeBaron retired from the NFL.
Landry had a shy disposition. However, LeBaron told Star Magazine (via DallasCowboys.com) that his former Cowboys head coach had a dry sense of humor not too many people saw.
A Busy Retirement
After LeBaron retired from the NFL in 1963, he moved to Nevada where he managed a cement plant Cowboys founder Clint Murchison, Jr. while studying for the Nevada Bar exam.
LeBaron launched his own corporation specializing in corporate law shortly afterward. He was a member of the NFL Competition Committee along with Schramm, Paul Brown, and Don Shula.
LeBaron also worked as a CBS Sports football announcer from 1966 to 1971.
Eddie LeBaron became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980. He moved to Sacramento, CA eight years later to work for the Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro law firm.
After serving the firm for nine years, LeBaron ventured into real estate and purchased three vineyards in Northern California. The vineyards became collectively known as “LeBaron Ranches.”
LeBaron served as a member of the board of governors of Tom Brown, Inc. and the Northern California Golf Association. He also served as the president of the Nevada and Georgia Golf Associations, per The Washington Times.
LeBaron and former president George W. Bush were friends. They were both members of Tom Brown, Inc.’s board of governors.
Bush wasn’t the only former president Eddie LeBaron rubbed elbows with. According to the Dallas Cowboys official website, he met all of the presidents since the Harry Truman administration began in 1945.
The U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame enshrined LeBaron in 2008. He is also a member of the 80 Greatest Redskins and the Washington Commanders Ring of Fame.
Sadly, Eddie LeBaron passed away on April 1, 2015. His son Wayne told The Los Angeles Times he succumbed to natural causes. Eddie LeBaron was 85 years old.
LeBaron left behind his wife Doralee, their three sons Edward Wayne III, Richard, and William, along with five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.