Friday, January 21, 2011

Don Hutson: Packer Legend

Don Hutson, Green Bay Packers

Dear George,

We’re very excited that the Green Bay Packers are playing Chicago this Sunday for the NFC championship. Menominee, my hometown, is a mere 45 miles north of Green Bay, right in the midst of Packerland, and everybody there is fanatic about the Packers. Katja and I got married during the Vince Lombardi era, and my parents took us to games at Lambeau Field each time we came home in the Autumn, including the famous Ice Bowl in which the Packers defeated Dallas for the NFL Championship in minus fifteen degree weather. We mourned Brett Favre’s departure for a couple of years, but now we’ve shifted our loyalties to Aaron Rodgers. Like most kids in Menominee at the time, I’d followed the Packers in the late 1940s, even though the NFL was nothing like it is today. My boyhood hero was Don Hutson who many regard as the greatest Packer of all times.

Here are some facts. Don Hutson grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He played only one year of high school football and was better known among his peers for his collection of pet rattlesnakes. He weighed only 160 pounds, but he got to go to the University of Alabama because one of his heavily recruited classmates told the coach he would only come there if Hutson came too. Hutson went, became an All-American in his junior and senior years, and wound up more celebrated than Alabama’s other starting end, Paul (Bear) Bryant (one of football’s most famous coaches).

The NFL had no draft back then, and new players could sign with any team they chose. Curly Lambeau, coach of the Packers, went to the Rose Bowl each year to scout promising prospects. In the January 1935 Rose Bowl game Don Hutson caught seven passes, two of them for touchdowns, and Alabama upset Stanford, 29-13. While most NFL players at the time were paid $100 a game, Lambeau signed Hutson for $175 a game. It was kind of a fluke. Hutson had also signed a contract with the Brooklyn team, but the Packer contract arrived by mail 17 minutes earlier at NFL headquarters, and so the commissioner honored it.

Hutson played with the Packers for 11 seasons from 1935 to 1945. He was an end on offense, a safety on defense, and the team’s kicker. On the first play in his first pro game Hutson scored an 83-yard touchdown reception against the Bears. His Packer teams won national championships in 1936, 1939, and 1944, and Hutson was voted to the NFL’s All-Pro team in 9 of his 11 seasons. A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he still holds the records today for leading the league in receptions for most seasons (8) and most consecutive seasons (5), most seasons leading in scoring (5) and leading in touchdowns (8), most points scored in a quarter (29), and the highest career average for wide receiver in touchdowns per game (0.85). These records are astonishing when one realizes that this was an era when teams usually passed only on third down and then only when they needed long yardage.

Curly Lambeau & Staff, 1947 (D. Hutson on left)

When Hutson retired in 1945, he was earning $15,000 a year, a huge salary at the time. He spent two years as an assistant coach for the Packers, then became wealthy as the owner of an auto dealership and bowling lanes in Racine, Wis. The Packers named their indoor practice facility “the Don Hutson Center” in 1994. General manager Ron Wolf said, “He most certainly was the greatest player in the history of this franchise.” In 1999 Sporting News ranked Hutson sixth on their list of the 100 Greatest Football Players of all times. Hutson was a very quiet man and never spoke much about his accomplishments. According to the NY Times, his mother remarked, “He wouldn’t say two words in an A-bomb attack. He doesn’t talk unless he has something to say.” Don Hutson died in Rancho Mirage, CA, on June 26, 1997. He lives on in many football fans’ memories.



Sources: Wikipedia; NY Times obituary (6-27-97);

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-Ami G (1-21): Don't forget to root for the Jets, too!

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