Blocking Back

For nine years now, John Kuhn has been a popular figure in Green Bay despite not being in the position to accumulate yards as a modern day fullback who gets on the field almost solely to block. 80 years ago, the Packers had another popular blocking back, albeit 55 pounds lighter than Kuhn, who lasted nine years with the team – Hank Bruder. Bruder played both offense and defense, but it’s funny how similar the meager offensive statistics of the two are as of this writing:

G             AT           Rush      YPA        TD           Catches                Yards     YPC        TD           Scrimmage Yards

Kuhn     131         189         577         3.1          14           78           529         6.8          8              1,106

Bruder  98           265         778         2.9          7              31           487         15.7        6              1,265

Bruder was known as “Hard Luck Hank” at Northwestern, where he injured the nerves in his hip, tore knee ligaments, broke his leg and contracted smallpox. Still, he was team captain as a senior and an All-Conference back who signed with Curtly Lambeau in 1931. The Milwaukee Sentinel said of Bruder before the Packers broke training camp that September, “Hank won’t set the league afire with his plunging or his open field work, but he’s big and tough and ought to be the high class, rough and tumble blocker that the Packers have needed.”

After a 14-10 win over the Giants in New York on November 22, 1931, the New York Times raved, ”In the second half the Giants defense began cracking under the pile driver pounding of Hank Bruder of Northwestern University fame. Bruder’s terrific punch came into play both offensively and defensively and it was his headlong dive into the Giant phalanx that turned the tide the other way.”

The New York World Telegram added, “The second Packer backfield, with Russ Saunders and Hank Bruder doing the ball carrying, was instrumental in producing the winning touchdown…there was no holding the lightning fast Saunders or the hard plunging Bruder.”

In 1936, Curly Lambeau extolled Hank to the Milwaukee Journal, “He is a great pass receiver, is smart on defense, a good punter, a smashing tackler, a good passer and a real hard blocker. He has no weaknesses. He is the most valuable man on the team.” Perhaps a bit over the top, but Bruder was a solid team player.

For his part, Bruder piped up, “I like to carry the ball and, like everyone else, I like the write-ups. But I like most to win those football games. I never knew how a lineman played or how he felt until I became a blocking quarter[back]. But I like to play football. I like the body contacts, like to ‘hit them where they live,’ like to get the other guy. I would play in the line if they would let me. In fact, a couple of times I have asked for a chance to play guard.”

Hank played on championship teams in 1931, 1936 and 1939 in Green Bay. He was traded to Pittsburgh for guard Lew Midler in 1940 and broke his ankle late in the year against the Giants, essentially ending his career. A few years later, tailback Cecil Isbell lamented, “I hadn’t been up in Green Bay long when I saw Lambeau go around the locker room and tell players like Herber and Gantenbein and Bruder that they were all done with the Packers…I vowed it would never happen to me.”

1929chabruder  1936hbruder  1939hbruderc

Three colorized custom card designs for Hank Bruder.

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