Don Hutson (Green Bay Packers) – NFL’s First True Wide Receiver

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This episode we fire up the DeLorean and head back to explore the life and career of Don Hutson, the NFL's first true wide receiver.  Don played wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, and is often referred to as one of the greatest Packers and NFL players of all time.  He was the most dominating player of his era, and in this episode we get to learn about how Don  Hutson to the touchdown catch was like Babe Ruth to the home run.  So strap on your seatbelt, and let’s get ready to take this baby up to 88mph.

 

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Intro Music
Welcome to the Football History Dude Podcast, where each episode is a journey back in time to learn about the rich history of the NFL. Your host is Arnie Chapman. Football is his passion and he wants you to come along with him to explore the yesteryear of the gridiron. So hop on board his DeLorean and let's get this baby up to 88 miles per hour (Great Scott).

Introduction
On September 30, 1935, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the Hoover Dam. At the time, this was the tallest dam in the world. In the upcoming episode, I’m going to tell you about the life and career of the man that even the Hoover dam…could not contain.

Early life
This time as we step off our DeLorean, the date is January 31st, 1913 and we are in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. You see this is where our hero is born. Our hero this time is Donald Roy Hutson, who we are just going to go ahead and refer to as “Don Hutson” for the rest of this episode. When Don was a little guy back in the day, he was a boy scout and also played with snakes. He always said that he believes this is what gave him his quickness and agility. Which would end up making him one of the most dominating wide receivers of all time. Don went to Pine Bluff’s High School and you would think that we would talk about him being a star football player there. But, he actually didn’t start football until he was a senior. He basically only played for one year. He was a star baseball player and he ran track. This dude was super fast. He had a 9.7 speed for the 100-yard dash, which that was at the time, pretty much unheard of. And like I said, he did play football for that one year and was pretty good, but he was mostly recruited over to Alabama for being a star baseball player. He would graduate high school in 1931. And then, he would go to the University of Alabama on a partial baseball scholarship to play center field. But hey, I thought we were talking about football here, and I’m like yeah we are. But he had barely just started playing football the previous year. He had only played one in high school. So he didn’t really have the opportunity to get recruited to go and play for the University of Alabama. He would become a walk-on for the football team. But due to his insanely fast 100-yard dash time, he would end up making the team. Although he would not play much as a freshman or a sophomore, he kept on going. This was the year where he really got his college career going. You see, in this junior year he would end up getting more playing time as a starter and he would end up being voted All-American in 1934. Which is also the year he would lead Alabama to a 10-0 record and a national title. And on this team, in Alabama on the other end (they didn’t really call them wide-receivers, they called them “ends”), was a pretty famous cat in his own rights. Does the name Bear Bryant ring a bell to you? You know, the guy that would end up going on to become one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. Yeah, that guy, Paul Bear Bryant who played at Alabama with Don Hutson. But he had to pretty much play second fiddle at the time to Hutson as a wide receiver. There was a quote from Bear Bryant that went as such, “Don had the most fluid motion you had ever seen when he was running. It looked like he was going just as fast as possible when all of a sudden he would put on an extra burst of speed and be gone”. It kind of reminded me of Barry Sanders back in the day you know, press that NOS button and just speed on out of there. I don’t know where this nickname came from, but I’ve got to imagine it came from something to do with what he described him as. You see his nickname was “Alabama Antelope” which, if you remember in a couple episodes ago, Beattie Feathers was the “Bonding Antelope”. I don’t know what their affinity was with antelopes back in the day, but they were pretty much I think getting at these guys are fast and they are bouncing around all over the place and if you look one way-turn around-they be gone and all of a sudden in the end zone. It’s like what just happened? And to kind of, I guess, wrap up his college career, what I just described was a perfect explanation of (one of his) big highlights from college at the 1935 Rose Bowl. You see he would end up catching 6 passes for 165-yards and 2 touchdowns. They would defeat Stanford 21-3 on the back of Don Hutson, not through the air but through the running game like most games in the previous times have been. You see, up until this point, they were starting to build that momentum and getting inching ever so close to the aerial attack coming down from the sky. Raining down fire, and all of those kinds of things. Don Hutson is going to be at the center of all of it.

Pros - Green Bay Packers
This is just the beginning. You see after he would end up graduating from the University of Alabama, there was a bidding war for his services. The two teams in this bidding war where the Green Bay Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was said that they both offered him $300 per game to play for them, which at the time was a ludicrous amount. But, there was a decision that was made by Joe Carr, the president of the NFL at the time that would award the Green Bay Packers the rights to Don Hutson. So when he arrived in Green Bay, he was 6’ 1”, 185 pounds and the year was 1935. You see many were not convinced that he could handle the NFL because at the time it was okay for defenders to hit the wide receiver more than 5 yards down the field. But they would soon find out that the pounders, you know the guys that wanted to get up in your grill, they were the ones that would end up getting burned the most. But, kind of, bringing it all perfect stormish kind of all together, Curly Lambeau (the coach of the Green Bay Packers at the time) was pretty much pioneering passing in the league with quarterback Arnie Herber. Yeah, that’s right, Arnie again. And, at the time, current star end Johnny “Blood” McNally. Whom we find out, in a later episode, also made the Hall of Fame. But like I said, most people were not convinced that it was worth all of this money on some little skinny, fast wide receiver guy. He’s just s sprinter. Put him on the tracks, send him over to Olympics, and send him over to wherever there at 1935 Olympics- I don’t know. And leading up to his first NFL game, Don Hutson recalled sitting in the locker room listening to the radio announcer. As he said they did before every game. This game was going to be against the Chicago Bears- this big rivalry. The dominating Monsters of the Midway- Green Bay Packers. This little tiny kind of guy, skinny as a rail who thinks he can blaze down the field. Well, that’s pretty much what the radio announcer said. Don Hutson said that he spent his entire 15-minute program just ripping into Curly Lambeau and just saying what is wrong with this guy? Why would you ever pick Don Hutson and spend all of this money on this skinny little guy and he’s just going to get hurt in the first play and all of this kind of business. Don Hutson said you know what, it’s pretty much like they were giving him no respect. He didn’t have this big hype train debut like Red Grange, or even Bronko Nagurski or any of that kind of stuff. He was pretty much this dude that they wasted all of this money on. Kind of like the first round draft pick like last year, John Ross. Super fast, first round, he ended up with negative fantasy points because they basically threw him a pass, he fumbled and lost the ball. He ended up not playing the rest of the year. They were kind of thinking that something like that might happen. But what happened next pretty much just blew everybody’s socks off. And Don Hutson would be able to hand that radio announcer the ultimate “sit down moment”. You see on the first play of Don Hutson’s career, which I said came against the Chicago Bears, he took a pass Arnie Herber 83 yards to the house (to the hizzie). At City Stadium in front of a crowd of 13,600 people. That was the first play. The first play of his entire rookie career in the NFL. And he blew past, the guy that we talked about in a couple episodes, Beattie Feathers for an 83-yard touchdown. He straight blew the top off the house. He went past everybody, like I said, he kicked on that NOS, put on the turbo speed and he was gone. Nobody saw this coming. It was even said that Beattie Feathers himself thought that,” Nobody could have caught up to that one”. But then he did, that’s Don Hutson. He has officially entered the stage to become one of the most prolific wide receivers of all time. And definitely the most dominating player of his entire era. And in that game, Pack won the game 7-0. And like I said, that was one of them sit down moments when you kind of tip your hat up there to the radio broadcaster up there in the stand and you go, a dagum. But later on, we find out that was not Don Hutson at all. He was just this kind of cool dude who no matter what you said to him he would just chill back and say, mhm. Because he would let everything that he did on the field dictate to you what you thought of this guy. Not like these pre-madonna receivers we got nowadays. You’re going to find out, that he was just by far and away the most dominating player of that era. And we’re going to mostly talk about his receiving skills. But as back in the day with most players, he was a 60-minute player. So not only was he this just dominating wide receiver, he was also a star defensive player as a safety. And one of the kind of cool stats was in his final 6 seasons. He recorded 30 interceptions and, just like I said you just gotta kick that cherry on top, also kicked extra points in field goals. So when you think about it, he had double duty. So even though his career was 11 years, he put in all that extra work. So the amount of plays that he had, had to of just you know, added up tremendously. Just makes me wonder, if he had been able to play more years because he didn’t have to deal with this, where would his stats really be. On the way to the crazy amount of stats he had, there was a game, possibly his greatest game in the NFL. It came on October 7th, 1945. You see he scored 4 receiving touchdowns and kicked 5 extra points, for a total of 29 points. This all came in the first quarter of the game. The coolest thing is, leading up to the game, the opposing team decided that they were going to try to double-team them or triple team them. Which at the time was unheard of. You never even bother putting more than one person on a receiver, because what’s the point? They’re really not throwing the ball too much. But he was just that dominant of a player. He struck the fear into the opponents. Like I said, nobody could keep up to this guy. So they put more than one dude on him. They probably even just left Larry over there in the sidelines saying, yeah go ahead if they want to throw it to him, whatever because we’ve got to deal with this guy; We’ve got to put more than one guy on him. But even though Don Hutson could have been like, “Yeah, I scored 29 points in the first quarter, eat that man. He was still humble. When asked about it, there was a quote that went as such, “Well, the wind was blowing hard and straight down the field and you couldn’t throw the ball 20 yards the other way. Those defenders just couldn’t get that in their heads”. Basically saying it was kind of, it just happened. It's not, I am to the touchdown catch that Babe Ruth was to the home run. Where, I am way up here and everyone is way down there, like the second guy isn’t even close to me. He just stayed humble. But then he had another game. But then he had another game against the New York Giants where he had 14 catches for 237 yards. I mean, right now that would be an amazing game, especially for Fantasy Football. But he had it way, way, way back in the day where 237 yards was like a really good year for most wide receivers back then. But again, an ESPN article kept pointing out that this dude was humble. I mean he wasn’t like these prissy pants wide receivers for the past 20 years. He just went about his business. He did his job, that’s all. Even though up to this point in time he was the most dangerous weapon the league had ever seen. It was like these mad scientists were in the back alley and they’re all creating this super secret weapon, like a science fiction kind of thing. That nobody had ever seen. In fact they were cheating because they stole some technology from the aliens and they would just unleash it into the league. Just think that, and put it into the form of Don Hutson. There you go, that’s what it was. And because of this, he will continue to get paid. I mean it would break the bank. One place that I found in his final season was he made a salary of $15,000, which was the highest in the league. That’s not anything compared to nowadays, but back then that was big stuff. One of the reasons why, was because he led the NFL in receiving yards 8 of his 11 seasons. I mean, 9 of them he led the league in touchdown receptions. Jerry Rice is second at 6 times, but he also played twice as many seasons almost as Don Hutson. And he didn’t play defense. And it was in an era where passing was a thing. But what was more amazing is Hutson is listed as the first place for the consecutive seasons leading the league in passing reception touchdowns at 5. But then he’s also second place at 4 in a row. So to kind of break it down for his statistics, lets go to his greatest season, which was in 1942. In this year, again remind you that in 1942 the league is just kind of just starting to get into passing. And they’re like, what’s this thing, this ball floating through the air? And this other guy throws out his hands and he sticks to his hands and he kind of just runs in the end zone. What is this foreign thing? I don’t get it; it’s like Greek technology or something like that. Don Hutson was at the head of the pack – the Packers that is. You see in 1942, he had 74 receptions for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns. I mean that was unheard of. To give you a perspective on how otherworldly, dominating, just crazy mind bending of an accomplishment this was, the second guy (the second best wide receiver that year) had 27 receptions for 571 yards and 8 touchdowns. Which at the time was still really good. So he basically more than doubled every single total in receptions, yards and touchdowns that the second guy had. But that wasn’t all, because he also had 7 interceptions, 33 extra points and a field goal. Not to mention, all of the different kind of tackles that he had. I mean if I was in an IDP league, this dude would have been gold. It would have been one of those things where I could have said ok, starting lineup- Don Hutson. I don’t have to play anyone else because every week he’s gonna beat the other guys. I mean, look at it, look how many points he has. And again, to kind of put this into perspective of how much better he was than everybody, in 1942 he caught more passes than the entire Detroit Lions team. He had more reception yardage than 2 of the NFL teams. He also had more touchdowns than 6 of those teams combined. He was the most dominate player in an era that I have talked about so far in this podcast, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to come close to finding a player that is this much further ahead and is shoulders above the rest of the competition in any era that I cover.

I mean we’re gonna find out and if you want to make sure that you don’t miss each week the new episode that hits, please head to your favorite podcast player of choice and mash that little subscribe button so each week you get the newest hottest off the press episodes of The Football History Dude. And if you want more details on this particular episode, you can head on over to TheFootballHistoryDude.com/episode10.

Now getting back to Don Hutson, the guy that I say is just head and shoulders above the rest. There was a video back on YouTube, of course, where they had a little documentary about Don Hutson. Where Peter King from Sports Illustrated was trying to basically describe how much better he was than everybody. He said the only thing I could kind of compare it to Wilt Chamberlain and just everything that he did compared to everybody else in basketball, or maybe Wayne Gretzky. And he said that I guess Babe Ruth and the home runs compared to everybody else at the time would kind of come close to Don Hutson and his touchdown grabs. But even then it’s contentious where Don Hutson was still the most dominating person, a player in a sport, of maybe any era. It’s kind of hard to figure out. It’s just definitely leaning that way where it’s possible he was the most dominant just player, period of any sport of all time. But we’ll continue to research that and we’ll figure it out as we go. If you have any suggestions, please send them my way. You can go TheFootballHistoryDude/Contact or you can hit me up on Twitter, @FHDude. But as we close this long storied NFL career of Don Hutson, which lasted 11 years, he would retire in 1945. His statistics were 488 catches for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns. At the time, the second place dude only had 190 catches for 3,309 yards. And the second place TD receptions were 62 less than the 99 that Don Hutson had. It would take 44 years before anybody would even break that record of 99. Steve Largent did it when he grabbed his 100th reception touchdown. But that was in the passing era. So it’s kind of like one of those things where, I guess you could say, apples to oranges or apples to apples and you know, dominos to Cheetos and stuff like that. But it didn’t even come close to what Don Hutson did on the amount of catches that he had at his time frame. On his way, he earned the MVP in 1941 and 1942. My guess is he could have earned the MVP almost every year. But, the league still wasn’t really accepting that pass catchers were the ones that could lead you to the promise land. But he did, in fact three times during his career the Packers won the NFL Championship in 1936, 1939 and 1944. And there really wasn’t a dude that could describe to you the impact that Don Hutson had more than his coach Curly Lambeau. So I’m going to offer you a quote that came from Curly Lambeau himself and it went as such, “He would glide downfield, leaning forward as if to steady himself close to the ground. Then, as suddenly as you gulp or blink an eye, he would feint one way and go the other, reach up like a dancer, gracefully squeeze the ball and leave the scene of the accident – the accident being the defensive backs who tangled their feet up and fell trying to cover him”. There you have it, Curly Lambeau described basically, coming creating problems and getting out of there. Reminds me of this one picture I saw of this cat, he’s like standing up and like “walk in, mess stuff up, walk out”. And that’s what he did, walked into the game, caught that ball and messed those dudes up, turned them around and scored a touchdown. And he would end up scoring a touchdown one in every 5 catches. Nobody even comes close. He had a touchdown in almost every single game on average of his entire career. It was like .86, this is crazy- crazy talk. Any era that was not bread for passing were handing the ball off to a dude smashing into a wall, was still the in thing. So yes, he was a pioneer for the passing pattern. And he was the dude that changed the way that the game was forever played and what you and I now know as the National Football League. And after retirement, he served as the Assistant Coach for Curly Lambeau for 3 more seasons. Then he would serve on the club’s board of directors from 1952 – 1980, and elected director emeritus. But this after football stuff wasn’t really what he was known for.

Hall of Fame and Achievements
He was a receiver ahead of his time by a half a century. I mean he was just like Ancient Aliens you know, where you think that they come down and they bring this technology and we hear about it, the Mayans or whoever, thousands of years down the road. And you’re like, how did they even do that, how did they put those stones, well not the Mayans, but how did they put those stones over on top of those stones and Stonehenge? They had to have alien technology and I think maybe Don Hutson was a dude that they brought back from the future because he could probably play nowadays. I mean he held 18 records at the time of his retirement. He was definitely the pioneer of what would become, the wide receiver. I mean he broke open the league- he broke it wide open. There was an ESPN article that called him the “Copernicus of Football”. Where he proved that the universe did not revolve around the run, it revolved around the pass. From henceforth we shall take the ball, toss it in the air and let some dude grab that ball and head toward the end zone. I mean he invented this modern receiving thing. Everybody out there catching the pass. I mean Jerry Rice, who is often referred to as “the goat”, has Don Hutson to thank for all of the different patterns that he used to run. He created the Z-outs, the buttonhooks, hook-and-goes, and a whole catalog of fake outs instead of just snap, hike, run, catch, maybe catch I don’t know we will see. He did it all. And for this he was inducted into the First Class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and of course when the Pro Football Hall of Fame had its inaugural class in 1963, Mr. Don’t Hutson was there. The city of Green Bay also recognized how much of an impact this dude had on the league. There’s a street that’s name, “Don Hutson Street”. And his number, 14, was the first number ever retired form the Green Bay Packers. And then in 1994, they would open an indoor state of the art practice facility that was named The Don Hutson Center. At the opening of this new practice facility, the then Packers general manager Ron Wolfe stood next to Hutson and said, “I don’t know if there is such a thing as royalty in professional football, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to it.” And to kind of wrap this whole thing up, like I said he could have boasted. He could have just told you every day to your face to look at me I’m the greatest there ever was. At my time, nobody could even put a candle to my wind. But he didn’t. There was another quote, which is the last quote I am going to leave you with, from 1989. Where he said this about his records being broken, “I love to see my records broken, I really do. You get a chance to relive a part of your life, the whole experience.” You know never said, get off my records! They’re mine! They ain't yours! He just said I just want to enjoy it. Live life like it is. He would end up passing away on June 26th, 1997.

Drop the hammer
However, it’s possible this amazing career of the pioneer of the pass-catch could have never happened. The Green Bay Packers and Brooklyn Dodgers were in a bidding war for his services out of Alabama. Don Hutson signed a contract with both teams on the same day. NFL President Joe Carr ruled in favor of the Green Bay Packers, because they had a postmark of 8:30am, 17 minutes earlier than the Dodger’s contract. The Packers, under Curly Lambeau, were beginning to revolutionize the game into a passing league. The Dodgers were still basically only a running team. If Joe Carr had ruled in favor of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Don Hutson may never have changed the receiving position….of the NFL.

Next Episode
I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Football History Dude and were able to gain some knowledge nuggets about the first true wide receiver in the NFL. If you want to connect with the show and leave your comments about this episode, head to thefootballhistorydude.com/contact or hit me up on Twitter. My handle is @FHDude. In the next episode we’re going to listen to more personal stories from listeners of the show. If you’d like to share your favorite football moment, head to myfootballmoment.com for more details. For now dudes, I’m through if you’re through.

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About the author, Arnie Chapman

My name is Arnie Chapman, and I am the host of The Football History Dude, a podcast dedicated to teaching fans about the rich history of the NFL. The show officially launched on 4/15/18, and I have not looked back. I have always been passionate about football, and learning about the history of the game has intrigued me, as well. I'm asking you to come along with me on my DeLorean to travel back in time and learn about the yesteryear of the gridiron. To get started, you can go to my website for more details.

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