Hutson’s Positioning

For the last several weeks, I’ve been writing up game notes for a number of games I’ve watched on film from the 1940s. One thing I’ve taken note of in particular is how Don Hutson was positioned on the line on offense, since most ends at the time lined up in-tight with the rest of the line. Giants’’ Coach Steve Owen wrote in his autobiography My Kind of Football in 1952 that “Don Hutson, greatest of all the ends, was in single wing formation with the Packers, but Curly Lambeau used him in T style, set out clear so that he had the space to outfox blockers.”

From the small sample of seven games that I watched, Owen’s observation rings true. In those games, the Packers had 450 offensive plays, of which 440 were on the films I watched. Of those 440 plays, Hutson was on the field for 299 and lined up wide or flexed out at least three to four yards on 192 of them (64.2%). On the 141 other Packer offensive plays, only 20 times was one of the other Packer ends lined up wide (14.2%). On rare occasions, Lambeau lined up one of his halfbacks wide as a flanker, but Hutson was the man Curly truly wanted to shake free.

1968tairpair  1968passmasters

1941chalktalk

1941snowball

1940shouldertoshoulder  1944aerialwizards

All custom cards colorized.

Rookie of the Decades(s)

1920s: Curly Lambeau

The best homegrown player of the decade, Verne Lewellen, was used more sparingly in his first year. Curly was the team’s backbone right from the start.

1930s: Clarke Hinkle

This decade was arguably the greatest for rookies in team history. Backs Arnie Herber, Hank Bruder, Clarke Hinkle, Bob Monnett, Joe Laws, Ed Jankowski and Cecil Isbell all came to Green Bay in the 1930s…not to mention ends Don Hutson and Milt Gantenbein and linemen Lon Evans, Russ Letlow and Charlie Brock. Hutson would be the obvious choice, but he was just getting warmed up with 18 catches in 1935. Cecil Isbell led the team in rushing and threw eight touchdown passes. Best of all, Clarke Hinkle led the team in rushing for his first three seasons, played devastating defense at linebacker and was a team leader right from the jump.

1940s: Ted Fritsch

The War decade was a time of dwindling resources for the Packers. The team’s best freshmen came in the first three seasons. While Tony Canadeo was clearly the player of the decade and demonstrated his wide range of talents in his first season, Ted Fritsch had a more impressive rookie season. Ted replaced the retired Clarke Hinkle at fullback/linebacker and led the team in rushing while converting four of five field goal attempts to lead in that category as well.

1950s: Billy Howton

The Packers spent this lost decade collecting a lot of talent, most of which would bloom in the following decade. The two rookies who shown brightest at the start were center/linebacker Clayton Tonnemaker who received All-Pro notice and receiver Billy Howton. Howton led the league in receiving yards with 1,231 and set an NFL rookie record for TD catches with 13 that would stand for 46 years. He also drew All-Pro notice in his first season.

1960s: Lionel Aldridge

The biggest stars developed in the 1960s were Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson and Gale Gillingham. However, all three were part of the supporting cast as rookies. Lionel Aldridge became one of just three Lombardi Era rookies to start in his first season, along with Boyd Dowler and Ken Bowman. Only Aldridge started for his entire rookie season, though, and he recorded five sacks. A case could be made for the impact of kick returner Travis Williams, but essentially that boiled down to four games.

1970s: John Brockington

A grim decade on the field, but some truly great rookies in John Brockington, Willie Buchanon and James Lofton, not to mention Chester Marcol, Johnnie Gray and Mike McCoy. Lofton had a very promising rookie year, but Buchanon and Brockington were defensive and offensive rookies of the year respectively. Since Brockington was second in the NFL in rushing and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, I give him a slight edge.

1980s: Brian Noble

Tom Flynn had nine interceptions and made the All-Rookie team, but was always slow. Tim Harris had eight sacks as a rookie, but was a part-time player. Tim Lewis had five interceptions and would get better. Sterling Sharpe showed great potential with 55 catches. Brian Noble moved right in and was a run-stopping wall at inside linebacker.

1990s: Vonnie Holliday

The greatest player to emerge as a rookie in this decade was Leroy Butler, and he had a good rookie year, as did Darren Sharper and Mike McKenzie later in the decade. Vonnie Holliday had the best season of his long career as a rookie opposite Reggie White with eight sacks in 12 games.

2000s: Ryan Grant

A very good decade for rookies starting with bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher in 2000, linebacker Nick Barnett in 2003, defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins in 2004 and receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in 2006 and 2008 respectively. The three big names, though, were safety Nick Collins in 2005, runner Ryan Grant in 2007 and linebacker Clay Matthews in 2009. Both Collins and Matthews made the All-Rookie team. Grant came out of nowhere to give the surging Packers a running attack that helped carry them to the conference championship game for the first time in a decade.

2010s: Bryan Bulaga

With three seasons left in the current decade, Bryan Bulaga, Eddie Lacy and Corey Linsley have had the best rookie seasons thus far. Lisnley surprisingly filled a hole at center, and Lacy was Offensive Rookie of the Year with 1,178 yards rushing, but Bulaga stepped in and stepped up at left tackle for the team’s last Super Bowl year in 2010.

1921clambeau  1932chinkle

1942tfritsch  1952bbhowton

1963tlaldridge3  1971tjbrockington

1985tbnoble2

All but the last two custom cards are colorized.

Cumulated Packers Top Rookies

I started this project with the year 1950 nearly two years ago and then backtracked to cover the Lambeau Era once I reached present day. Here’s a look back at all 96 of my selections:

Packers Top Rookies
1921 Curly Lambeau TB
1922 Whitey Woodin G
1923 Myrt Basing FB
1924 Verne Lewellen HB
1925 George Vergara E
1926 Cully Lidberg FB
1927 Claude Perry T
1928 Jim Bowdoin G
1929 Bill Kern T
1930 Elmer Sleight G
1931 Milt Gantenbein E
1932 Clarke Hinkle FB
1933 Bob Monnett HB
1934 Joe Laws HB
1935 Don Hutson E
1936 Russ Letlow G
1937 Ed Jankowski FB
1938 Cecil Isbell TB
1939 Charley Brock C
1940 Lou Brock HB
1941 Tony Canadeo HB
1942 Ted Fritsch FB
1943 Irv Comp TB
1944 Paul Duhart HB
1945 Bruce Smith HB
1946 Dick Wildung T
1947 Bob Skoglund E
1948 Jay Rhodemyre C
1949 Bob Summerhays LB
1950 Clayton Tonnemaker LB
1951 John Martinkovic DE
1952 Billy Howton WR
1953 Bill Forester LB
1954 Max McGee WR
1955 Doyle Nix DB
1956 Forrest Gregg T
1957 John Symank DB
1958 Jim Taylor FB
1959 Boyd Dowler WR
1960 Tom Moore HB
1961 Herb Adderly CB
1962 Ed Blaine G
1963 Lionel Aldridge DE
1964 Ken Bowman C
1965 Bill Curry C
1966 Gale Gillingham G
1967 Travis Williams HB
1968 Fred Carr LB
1969 Dave Hampton HB
1970 Mike McCoy DT
1971 John Brockington FB
1972 Willie Buchanon CB
1973 Tom MacLeod LB
1974 Steve Odom WR
1975 Johnnie Gray S
1976 Mark Koncar T
1977 Mike Butler DE
1978 James Lofton WR
1979 Rich Wingo LB
1980 Gerry Ellis FB
1981 Cliff Lewis LB
1982 Phil Epps WR
1983 Tim Lewis CB
1984 Tom Flynn S
1985 Brian Noble LB
1986 Tim Harris LB
1987 Johnny Holland LB
1988 Sterling Sharpe WR
1989 Chris Jacke K
1990 Leroy Butler DB
1991 Esera Tualo DT
1992 George Koonce LB
1993 George Teague S
1994 Craig Hentrich P
1995 Aaron Taylor G
1996 Tyrone Williams CB
1997 Darren Sharper DB
1998 Vonnie Holliday DE
1999 Mike McKenzie CB
2000 Mark Tauscher T
2001 Bhawoh Jue S
2002 Marques Anderson S
2003 Nick Barnett LB
2004 Cullen Jenkins DT
2005 Nick Collins S
2006 Greg Jennings WR
2007 Ryan Grant RB
2008 Jordy Nelson WR
2009 Clay Matthews LB
2010 Bryan Bulaga T
2011 Randall Cobb WR
2012 Casey Hayward CB
2013 Eddie Lacy FB
2014 Corey Linsley C
2015 Damarious Randall CB
2016 Blake Martinez LB

Rookies1921clambeau  to Rookies2016bmartinez

Game Notes: Packers vs. Detroit Lions 12/2/1945

The Packers 1945 season finale on December 2 at Briggs Stadium would also prove to be Don Hutson’s final NFL game. Hutson had been retiring annually since 1941, but this one finally stuck. Unfortunately, the game was a downbeat lead-in to the team’s future without its biggest star.

Tulsa rookies Clyde Goodnight and Nolan Luhn opened the game at the ends for the Packers. After an exchange of punts, Don Hutson came in as a substitute the second time the Packers got the ball and caught a pass as the team drove down the field. On a jet-sweep-style end-around Hutson gained 15 yards down to the Lions five. However, two plays later, the same play resulted in a Hutson fumble and a turnover.

In the second quarter, a short Green Bay drive propelled by a Joe Laws 20-yard burst up the middle lead to a 15-yard field goal by Hutson and a 3-0 Green Bay lead. The next Packer drive featured a couple of sweeps by Bruce Smith to reach the Red Zone, but the Pack turned the ball over on downs at the end of the half.

Things deteriorated in the third quarter. Detroit featured the short punt formation in this game and accumulated 249 yards passing. The first Lion possession of the half was driven by passes, including a very odd two-handed basketball pass from blocking back Bill Callihan to end Jack Matheson for 15 yards over the middle. A Bob Westfall one-yard touchdown plunge culminated that drive to give Detroit the lead 7-3. On the Lions’ next chance, another two-handed basketball chest pass from Callihan to Matheson helped move the team to the Packer 25 where tailback Chuck Fenenbock hit wingback Andy Farkas for a 25-yard touchdown to end the scoring, 14-3. Two more Packer drives in the fourth quarter ended abruptly by turning the ball over on downs and by interception. On Green Bay’s last gasp, Hutson caught the last two passes of his career from Irv Comp in the closing minutes.

As to Hutson’s positioning, Don lined up for 36 plays on offense. On 23 of them, he was split wide or flexed away from the interior line. On the 27 offensive plays when Hutson was not on the field, neither Packer end was spread wide even once.

The Lions’ win was the first time they had beaten the Packers in 11 games and allowed Detroit to slip past Green Bay into second place in the West for the year. The first time the two teams played in 1945, the Packers pounded the Lions 57-21, with Hutson catching four touchdown passes and kicking five PATs in the second quarter to set a league record of 29 points in one quarter. That would have been the game on which to go out.

1945dhutson  1945icomp

1945cgoodnight  1945nluhn

1945jlaws2  1945bsmith

All custom cards colorized.

Tools of the Trade

August 8 is a birthday shared by two Packer teammates from the 1950s: defensive tackle Jerry Helluin and guard Jim Salsbury. Neither was drafted by Green Bay; both came via trade.

Helluin was drafted out of Tulane by the Browns in the third round in 1951. After finishing his college eligibility, the 290-pounder spent two seasons with Cleveland before being acquired by Liz Blackbourn for a fourth round pick in 1954. With his size, he was a formidable presence in the middle of the Packer defensive line, but had no speed to pursue the action. Nonetheless, he started for four seasons in Green Bay until a should separation in the 1958 preseason sat him down for a year. Vince Lombardi cut him in September 1959 and then acquired Henry Jordan – also from Cleveland and also for a fourth round pick – ten days later. Helluin finished his career starting for the AFL champion Oilers in 1960.

Jim Salsbury was an All-American guard at UCLA and was drafted in the second round in 1955 by Detroit. A year later, the Lions traded All-Pro Dick Stanfel and made Salsbury a starter. However, in 1957, Jim was one of four Lions acquired for Packer quarterback Tobin Rote in a blockbuster trade by Blackbourn. All four former Lions – Salsbury, tackles Norm Masters and Ollie Spencer and halfback Don McIlhenny – moved into the Packer starting lineup. Salsbury was a two-year starter in Green Bay but retired from football before the start of the 1959 season. He went into real estate and raised six children with his wife Glenna who has worked as a public speaker. He died in 2002 from a blood infection.

1954bjhelluin  1957tjhelluin2

1957tjsalsbury2  1958tjsalsbury3

Custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1949

Rookies1949bsummerhays

For his final season in Green Bay, Curly Lambeau used 10 rookies, nine of whom came from the draft, but none made a lasting impression. Nevada quarterback Stan Heath came in round one, Villanova tackle Lou Ferry in round two, Utah linebacker Bob Summerhays in round four, SMU end Joe Ethridge in round six, UNLV end Dan Orlich in round eight, Wisconsin-Milwaukee halfback Ken Kranz in round 21 and Texas Tech end Bill Kelly in round 23. Oklahoma guard Buddy Burris was originally drafted in the fifth round and Utah guard Ralph Olsen in the 32nd round of the 1947 draft. USC halfback Jack Kirby signed as a free agent.

Top pick Stan Heath was a disaster, completing 26 of 106 passes for one touchdown and 14 interceptions. He and Ferry, Ethridge, Kranz, Kelly, Olsen and Kirby spent just one season in Green Bay, although Ferry did spend five years with the Cardinals and Steelers.

Summerhays, Orlich and Burris all lasted as Packers through the 1951 season, all primarily on defense. Burris was a former All-American but was injured and not the same player in the pros. Orlich gained much more fame in retirment as a world-class skeet shooter who is in that sport’s Hall of Fame. Summerhays was originally deemed to be Doc Blanchard’s successor at West Point in the 1940s until he got married and was drummed out of the service. After resurfacing at Utah, he joined the Packers and became a starting linebacker; in a pick ‘em situation, Bob Summerhays was the Packers’ top rookie in 1949.

1949lbburris  1949ldorlich

1948lsheath2  1949llferry

All custom cards are colorized.

1962 College All-Star Game

After winning his first NFL title in 1961, Vince Lombardi earned the right to have his Packers open the 1962 preseason with the College All-Stars at Soldier Field on August 3, 1962. Two Packer draftees were on the All-Stars’ roster: LSU fullback Earl Gros and Missouri guard Ed Blaine. Future NFL and AFL stars on the squad coached by Otto Graham included: John Hadl, Roman Gabriel, Merlin Olsen, Lance Alworth, Gary Collins, Curtis McClinton, Mike Lucci, Paul Winston, Frank Buncom and Irv Goode. Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis was unable to play due to his leukemia, and fellow runner Ronnie Bull missed the game due to a 103-degree fever. Packer rookies trying to make a good impression in the game included Howie Williams, Gary Barnes, Ernie Green, Paul Dudley, Jack Novak, Oscar Donahue, Bob Joiner, Richard Davis and Peter Schenk. Only the first two would make the team.

Hadl started at quarterback for the Stars and drove the team 80 yards in 13 plays on the strength of four straight completions, including a 22 yarder to Alworth and an 18 yarder to McClinton. Gros plunged in from the two to give the Stars the early lead. Bart Starr answered with a 22-yard TD strike to Boyd Dowler to even the score. The Stars got a field goal in the second quarter but ended the half trailing 14-10 after a Starr TD pass to Ron Kramer for four yards.

Hadl took the lead back in the third quarter on a 22-pass to Ohio State end Charlie Bryant. The Packers again answered with a Starr-to-Dowler 22-yard TD pass, but led by just 21-20 after three quarters. In the final stanza, Starr blew the game open with two more TD passes of 20 and 35 yards to Max McGee. John Roach led the last scoring drive that culminated with a three-yard TD run by Elijah Pitts to make the final score 42-20.

While Starr completed 13 of 22 passes for 255 yards and an All-Star Game record five TDs, Paul Hornung gained just 33 yards in six carries and Jim Taylor 42 in 13 carries. Starr repeatedly victimized 5’8” cornerback Angelo Daberio of Notre Dame and 5’11” defender Henry Rivera of Oregon State to bury the Stars. Hadl completed six of 10 passes, mostly on rollouts and also punted for the Stars, earning the game MVP award.  Earl Gros gained 16 yards on six carries and caught one pass for 14 yards, while Ed Blaine didn’t play till the second half. His roughing the punter penalty on Max McGee led to the Packers’ final touchdown.

The Packers awarded the game ball to Ernie Davis.

1962tegroscas  1962teblaine3  1962tgbrnes

1962thwilliams

1962tegreen

1962todonahue

1962tpdudley

1962tbjoiner2

All custom cards but Blaine, Barnes and Donahue are colorized.