How would a free-spirited character like Johnny Blood fare in today’s hypersensitive environment? How often would he befacing fines and suspensions from team and league administrations? How much fun has gone out of the game?
His life was a remarkable celebration of the joys of hearty drinking, convivial women and late night fun. Paul Hornung, Joe Namath and any other subsequent colorful playboys of note are only pale imitations of the Vagabond Halfback. He was truly a multifaceted character. Clarke Hinkle found him oddly literate — reading Chaucer and Shakespeare some times and cheap pornographic fiction others. McNally graduated from high school at age 14 when he wrote in his yearbook, “Dear God, how sweet it is in spring to be a boy.”
On the playing field, he was a man before his time. He was the best receiver and defensive back of the early days of the NFL. Moreover, he was touchdown maker in a low scoring era. When he retired in 1939, he had scored more touchdowns (49 — 38 with Green Bay) than any other NFL player, except his Packer teammate Verne Lewellen who had scored 51. The 38 touchdown passes he caught (29 with the Pack) were then the league record, but that would be broken within two years by Don Hutson. Unofficial counts of interceptions list Blood as the league record holder with 40 until Emlen Tunnell passed him in 1953. He was perhaps the fastest player of his day with sure hands and great leaping ability. Once he got the ball, he was an elusive runner with a nose for the goal line. On defense he was a hard and certain tackler. Overall, he was a vibrant, adventurous leader other players would gladly follow both on and off the field.
I wanted a life in which I could do something I enjoyed and still have leisure to do other things I enjoyed. Football was an escape, certainly, but an escape into something I enjoyed. In the off-season I would ship out to the Orient as an ordinary seamen and enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Islands. Or I would winter on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. Understand, I was not afraid of work. I had sufficient energy that work did not bother me at all. I was a hard worker. To me, freedom did not mean being able only to do the nondifficult but, rather, to do what I chose to do. One winter in Catalina I worked three shifts. I worked in the brickyard all day, making bricks. I worked the next eight hours in a gambling hall as a bouncer. And the next eight hours I “honeymooned” with a redhead.
— Myron Cope, The Game That Was
He fought authority at every turn, but always with a smile and not in anger. He was 6’2″ and 190 pounds in his prime with jet black hair, a handsome face, and a winning attitude. Furthermore, he was extremely intelligent, ever charming, and never lacking female companionship. To put this in cinematic terms, he was the classic antihero rebelling against societal norms who is so often seen on the silver screen. As he once told journalist Jim Klobuchar, “I’ve always seen myself as an outrider. You’ve seen the movies where a guy goes out by himself and hits the bush, a little away from the crowd. Well I think that was me.”
(Adapted from my book, Packers By the Numbers)
All custom cards are colorized.