On November 1, 1946, the Chicago Tribune reported that George Halas had his Bears drill for an extra hour on defenses for the retried Don Hutson in preparation for that week’s Chicago-Green Bay tussle. Two days later, the Chicago Herald-Tribune reported that a anonymous Bear coach suspiciously wondered after a Green Bay personnel move, “That’s queer business asking waivers in midseason on a guy who hasn’t been injured. Whom are they making room for?”
Both Coach Curly Lambeau and Hutson himself scoffed at the notion and questioned the source of the rumor. Why would the Bears conjecture that Hutson would come out of retirement for that crucial midseason match between two Western Conference contenders? Perhaps because Hutson retired and unretired more times than Brett Favre. Let’s take a look:
At the end of the 1941 season, Hutson openly talked of retiring, but ultimately re-signed with Green Bay on August 8, 1942, a few days before the start of training camp.
On January 30, 1943, the Associated Press reported on Hutson’s retirement from the game and quoted Don saying, “Some fellows make a ceremony of announcing their retirement every year. I meant it last year but decided to try one more season. This time I intend to make it stick.”
Eight months later, Curly Lambeau announced on August 7, again a few days before training camp, that Hutson had signed to play in 1943. At that point, Lambeau expressed an interest in luring retired passer Cecil Isbell back as well, but that proved fruitless.
Hutson announced he was retired on December 8, 1943 following the season’s concluding game against the Bears. When Packers training camp opened on August 21, 1944, Hutson was still retired, working solely as a coach trying to fine-tune tailback Irv Comp and the passing game. Two weeks later on the eve of the Packers September 4 opening preseason game against the Redskins, Lambeau again announced that Don was coming back, “Now we’re right up in the front line again. They’ve got to beat us. Everything has panned out great so far. We’ve got more zipper than we’ve had in several years. Some of our new boys have exceeded expectations, and most of our old fellows have showed they haven’t lost a thing. And now we have Don. We were a little doubtful about things at first, but not anymore. We’re definitely going to be a first rate contender again.” He was right; Green Bay won the championship that year.
Following that 1944 championship game, Hutson retired again, with the New York Times noting his “fourth annual retirement” and quoting him asserting, “If I play another game here, you can push me off the top of the Empire State Building, and I’ll give you thirty minutes in which to collect a crowd” Hutson did indeed play in the Packers’ next game, the College All-Star Game on August 30, 1945, but again insisted it was his last appearance. Lambeau even brought in retired raconteur Johnny Blood, on leave from the Army, to serve as “morale” coach in August. Ever the showman, Blood told Hutson in front of the press, “See here, Don, I played professional football until I was 36. Now, you’re only a lad of 32, and I’ve been disturbed at reports you are thinking of quitting. These bothered me much more than any fears of the Japs while I was overseas.”
A month later, still retired, Hutson wavered a few days before the opener against the Bears, “I meant my retirement to stick when I said no. A couple of things came up on our trip east, though, and this Bears game is so all-important in our plans for the season, that maybe I’ll have to play. Just this one. We’re going to have a pretty good team again later. Maybe I can help in this spot because it means so much. But maybe things will straighten out in the next day or two that I won’t have to play. We probably won’t know until Saturday.” On Saturday, September 29, the Chicago Tribune, reported Curly Lambeau’s brief announcement, “Don Hutson plays tomorrow against the Bears!”
When the 1945 season concluded on December 2, so did Hutson’s playing career…for the fifth and final time. In this context, George Halas’ cautious preparations of facing Hutson again in November 1946 don’t seem so paranoid after all.
Custom card in style of Topps 1962.