The Greatest

104 years ago today in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the greatest Packer of all was born, Don Hutson.  Until Brett Favre came along, there was no debate about that assertion of Hutson’s status in Green Bay, although now we can throw Aaron Rodgers into the mix as well. Favre also rivalled Hutson in retirements, as Don announced his retirement five years in a row before finally sticking to it in 1946.

The spindly 6’1” 180-pound Arkansas speedster attended the University of Alabama on a partial baseball scholarship and was a walk-on to the football team, where he paired with Paul “Bear” Bryant as the Tide’s ends. He was named an All-American as a senior in 1934, and was signed by Curly Lambeau for the Packers in 1935. While Hutson played a little on opening day against the Cardinals in 1935, His first start came a week later at home against the Bears, and he began establishing his legend from the game’s first offensive play when he snagged an 83-yard bomb from Arnie Herber for the game’s only score.

Over the next 11 years, he led the league eight times in receptions, seven in receiving yards and nine times in receiving touchdowns. He led the Packers to four title games and three championships. He caught 74 passes and 17 touchdowns in an 11-game season in 1942. He was named NFL MVP in 1941 and 1942. He scored 29 points in one quarter against the Lions in 1945. He retired the all-time leader in passes caught, yards receiving, touchdowns receiving, touchdowns scored and points scored…18 major league records in all. The list of accomplishments is seemingly endless.

There is also the way Don did it. Lambeau described his ace poetically, “Hutson 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’d 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 and fell trying to cover him.”

In Sports Illustrated, Paul Zimmerman perhaps got closer to capturing Hutson’s style by comparing him to a more recent Arkansas pass catcher, “Hutson was more like [Lance] Alworth – the same explosive speed, the same hunger for the ball downfield, a monster at the point of the catch. He wasn’t as compactly built, but, yes, he reminded me of Alworth:  the explosion going for the ball, then the glide after the catch. The two greatest receivers I’d ever seen [Rice and Alworth] became three.”

Add in the fact that Hutson is generally credited with developing many of the standard pass patterns of the game, such as the down-and-out, stop-and-go and post patterns, and you have a colossal pioneer of the game. Former teammate Tony Canadeo told ESPN, “He had all the moves. He invented the moves. And he had great hands and speed, deceptive speed. He could go get the long ones; run the little hitch, the down-and-out. He’d go over the middle, too, and he was great at getting off the line because he always had people popping him.”

When you then consider that he played defense as well, Hutson begins to appear Ruthian in stature. While he was not the most effective defensive end at 180 pounds for the first four years of his career, he became a great defensive player when he switched to safety in 1939, intercepting 34 passes in his last seven years.  In 1994, the Packers dedicated their new training facility in his name. He passed away in 1997.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)

mayohutson  nflmvpdhutson2

Custom cards are colorized.

In the Words of Dr. Z: Dave Robinson

Previously, I ran an entry quoting from Paul Zimmerman’s essential A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football  on Herb Adderley. Dr. Z. looked to another Packer Hall of Fame defender from that period, Dave Robinson, for expert testimony on playing linebacker.

When you’re a super athlete like Dave Robinson, the Packers’ great left linebacker, the route is generally more direct. His game is “keys,” the little tips a player might give when he pulls out of the line or starts his block, the little clues to the play that will follow.

“I love hitting blockers as well as ballcarriers,” he says, “but you have to be selective in who you are hitting, because all the fakes are aimed at linebackers. And that’s where your keys come in.

“You can take one key and go with it all season, but you’re going to be just average, or less. If you have two keys to work from, you’ll be better. Three keys, you might be outstanding. If the tight end Is on my side, for instance, I have to check the tight end, the near tackle, the near guard, the far guard, the near back and the far back. But I’ve got less than a second to do it, so I just do the best I can.

“You’ve got to be careful of the phony key, too. A man who blows a play might give you a phony key, because he isn’t going where he should. That’s why it’s important to have more than one key. They can throw one wrong key at you, one fake, but it’s very hard to coordinate two. How do you get a key? One way is to hit the man when he’s not trying to block you. The tight end wants to block me on a running play, so he’s resigned to getting hit. But if I bust him when he doesn’t have to hit me, he’s going to learn not to like it.

“And he might do something about it – set up a little bit off the line, lean, something like that –to avoid being hit. When he does that, I’ve got a key. I can tell when he’s supposed to block me and when he wants to do something else. Backs can give me a key, too, the way they tilt.

“Oh I might be off one blocking hole, but I’ve got the general area pinpointed. Once I do, I’m free to play football. That’s what the whole idea is, to get me into the area of play so I can play football.”

1963tdrobinson2  1965pdrobinson2

1968tdrobinson2  1973tdrobinson

Custom cards for 1963 topps, 1965 Philadelphia, 1968 Topps and 1973 Topps.

Ending the Drought: Super Bowl 31

20 years ago today, the Packers ended the longest championship drought in franchise history by beating the New England Patriots 35-20 in Super Bowl XXXI. In between the team’s victory over the Raiders in SB II and the win over New England stretched 28 mostly futile years of frustration for Packer fans. However, other teams have gone through worse as this table of all 32 NFL franchise demonstrates:

Team Non-title streak Years Post-

Seasons

% Post -season Years Longest Playoffs Drought Losing season streak
Arizona Cardinals 69 1948-2016 9 13% 25 9
Detroit Lions 59 1958-2016 12 20% 12 10
Philadelphia Eagles 56 1961-2016 20 36% 17 7
Minnesota Vikings 56 1961-2016 28 50% 7 3
Tennessee Titans 55 1962-2016 19 35% 8 6
San Diego Chargers 53 1964-2016 15 28% 13 7
Buffalo Bills 51 1966-2016 14 27% 17 9
Atlanta Falcons 50* 1966-2015 13 26% 12 8
Cleveland Browns 49 1965-95 1999-2016 15 31% 14 9
Cincinnati Bengals 49 1968-2016 14 29% 14 6
New York Jets 48 1969-2016 13 27% 11 3
LA Rams 47 1952-98 18 38% 11 9
Kansas City Chiefs 46 1971-2016 15 33% 15 6
Miami Dolphins 43 1974-2016 18 42% 8 4
New Orleans Saints 42 1967-2008 6 14% 20 12
Pittsburgh Steelers 41 1933-73 3 7% 23 8
New England Patriots 41 1960-2000 10 24% 13 7
Washington Redskins 39 1943-81 7 18% 25 9
Denver Broncos 37 1960-96 11 30% 12 10
Seattle Seahawks 37 1976-2012 12 32% 10 4
Oakland Raiders 36 1981-2016 9 25% 14 7
Indianapolis Colts 35 1971-2005 12 34% 9 9
Chicago Bears 31 1986-2016 10 32% 6 5
San Francisco 49ers 31 1950-80 4 13% 12 4
New York Giants 29 1957-85 8 28% 17 8
Green Bay Packers 28 1968-95 5 18% 10 5
Tampa Bay Bucs 26 1976-2001 7 27% 14 14
Washington Redskins 25 1992-2016 5 20% 6 3
Pittsburgh Steelers 25 1980-2004 13 52% 4 2
Jacksonville Jaguars 22 1995-2016 6 27% 9 6
San Francisco 49ers 22 1995-2016 9 41% 8 6
Carolina Panthers 22 1995-2016 7 32% 5 3
Dallas Cowboys 22 1995-2016 9 41% 4 3
Chicago Bears 21 1964-84 3 14% 13 7
St. Louis Rams 17 2000-16 4 24% 12 10
Green Bay Packers 16 1945-60 1 6% 15 4
Houston Texans 15 2002-16 4 27% 9 5
Baltimore Ravens 11 2001-11 7 64% 2 1

Please note that the table includes the worst stretch for each franchises plus a handful of secondary title-less periods of at least 16 years for some squads. Within these fallow periods, the Packers percentage of making the playoffs is unimpressive, although the Steelers, Cardinals, Saints, Bears and 49ers have done even worse.

Green Bay’s worst streak of ten years without appearing in the postseason from 1983-1992 is bad, but does not compare to the Cardinals, Redskins and Steelers…although a good portion of those 20+ year streaks (and non-playoff percentage) occurred before the expanded playoffs began in 1967. The painful 20-year streak by the Saints, though, occurred entirely within the expanded format. The Bills have the longest current streak at 17 years.

The Packers worst streak of five consecutive losing seasons from 1973-77 is fairly ordinary and does not compare to the Bucs’ 14, the Saints 12, or the 10 of the Broncos, Lions and Rams. The Rams’ streak is currently running.

Aside from the 28-year length of the championship-less streak, it was not the worst period in team history, though. Even if we shorten the period to the 24 years before the arrival of Ron Wolf turned the franchise around, the winning percentage from 1968-91 was .423 (146-201-9). Sadly, the 11-year dark ages from 1948-58 “boasted” a winning percentage of .288 (37-93-2).

25 years of watching teams run by Wolf and Ted Thompson, coached by Mike Holmgren, Mike McCarthy and others and quarterbacked by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers has blurred the memory of the lost decades of the 1970s and 1980s, but they were truly dispiriting.

1996sbtd

Custom card in 1961 Fleer style.

Packers Top Rookie: 1922

rookies1922wwoodin

During the Packers’ second year in the National Football League, 16 of the 27 players who appeared for the team were league rookies. For ten of the 16 rookies, 1922 would be the full extent of their NFL careers. These 10 one-year pros were linemen Pahl Davis, Rip Owens, Joe Secord and Carl Zoll; backs Tommy Cronin, Eddie Glick, Gus Gardella and Biff Taugher; and ends Doc Faye and Rex Smith. (Reference sources differ as to whether Zoll actually ever appeared in a league game.)

Of the other six rookies, three would spend just this one season with Green Bay before continuing their NFL careers elsewhere. Tackle Peaches Nadolney moved on to Milwaukee; back Dutch Lauer would play with Rock Island, Toledo and Detroit as well; and end Pat Dunnigan would play later for Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Three rookies would play more than one season in Green Bay. Back Stan Mills stayed two seasons and center Wally Nieman two. However, 5’10” 210-pound guard Whitey Woodin would spend 10 seasons with the Packers, including the 1929-31 championship years. Obtained from Racine in mid-October for tackle Jab Murray, the Marquette alumnus was a solid performer on both sides of the ball and is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame; Whitey Woodin was the Packers’ top rookie in 1922.

In the Words of Dr. Z: Herb Adderley

Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z, was a highly respected football writer for several New York newspapers and then Sports Illustrated for over 40 years. His A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, written in 1970, is a classic in football literature as it engagingly explains the game, its strategy, coaches and players.

Zimmerman talks informatively about a number of 1960s Packers in the book. Here are his thoughts on Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley:

There are some cornerbacks so outstanding, though, so feared, that coaches devote a special scouting report to their capabilities…Such is their disruptive potential on enemy offenses. For many years, Herb Adderley’s trademark was the long interception, the quick karate chop that could turn a game around in a few seconds.

A scouting report on Adderley is reprinted in the book and includes one scout’s advice: “Punishing tackler. Really stings ‘em…Use moving patterns on him. No curls or hooks. Plays your tendencies…Send receivers on patterns Adderley hasn’t seen lately, but it had better work the first time!”

Dr. Z continues:

Adderley’s greatness comes from his speed (he was a hurdles champion at Michigan State), his great instincts and moves, his knowledge of offense (he was an offensive halfback in college), and his size. But there’s another factor. He played on the left side, behind Dave Robinson, an All-NFL corner linebacker, and Robinson, in turn, played behind Willie Davis, an All-NFL defensive end. The great pressure that Davis exerted allowed Robinson occasionally to loosen up and drift back into the short, wide-pass lanes, where his 6’4” 245-pound frame presented a definite obstacle to the quarterback’s line of vision. This allowed Adderley greater freedom than most cornerbacks enjoy.

Dr. Z also adds some perceptive quotes from Herb:

“The thing to remember is that you’re going to get beat. If you don’t, you should be coaching, not playing. The question is, when you get beat, can you recover? You never give up on it. So someone scored a touchdown on you? You should never think about the play that’s past, except briefly, and then only how you’re going to keep your man from doing that again.”

“I’ve had more trouble with [Gary] Collins than any other receiver, and when Frank Ryan was throwing to him, This was the best combination I saw. They had great timing and you couldn’t crowd Collins. The young receivers will tip you off by looking in the direction they’re going to run. But Collins keeps his head down and keeps you guessing. Collins will also disguise his charge so you don’t know if he’s going deep or short.”

“I’ve changed my style of play a little. I used to back straight up and wait for the receiver to make his move. Now I turn to the side and get ready to run. Kids coming out of school these days are so doggoned fast that if you back up they’re on you and gone. I want to play as long as I feel good and as long as I can do the job. How I feel mentally is very important, too. When the time comes that I think I can’t cover this guy or that guy, it’s time to get out of the game, because if you think that way, it’s going to happen.”

1961thadderley2  1961fhadderleydraft

1963tnopassing  1966thadderley

1967thadderley  1970thadderley

The 1961 Fleer and 1963 Topps custom cards are colorized.

Packers Top Rookie: 1921

rookies1921clambeau

Now that I’ve completed the run of the Packer Top Rookie series from 1950-2016, let’s fill in the gap of the Lambeau era from 1921-49.

In 1921, Green Bay’s professional town team, the Packers, joined the one-year old American Professional Football Association, a year before the league changed its name to the National Football League. 25 men played for the Packers in league games in that initial season. Four had played in the APFA’s first season of 1920: Cub Buck with the Canton Bulldogs, Joe Carey with the Chicago Cardinals and Emmett Keefe and Grover Malone with the Chicago Tigers. I am considering the other 21 players as rookies, although 12 of them played with the Packers in 1919 and 1920.

The 12 “veteran” Packer rookies were: Nate Abrams, Fee Klaus, Wally Ladrow, Curly Lambeau, Herm Martell, Ray McLean, Sammy Powers, Warren Smith, Buff Wagner, Cowboy Wheeler, Milt Wilson and Martin Zoll. The other nine newcomers to the APFA were: Norm Barry, James Cook, Frank Coughlin and Dave Hayes from Notre Dame; Jab Murray from Marquette; Tubby Howard from Wisconsin and Indiana; and Billy DuMoe, Adolph Kliebhan and Art Schmaehl who did not attend college.

The two best players on the team were Lambeau and Buck. Lambeau scored 28 of the team’s 70 points on the season on two touchdowns, three field goals and seven extra points. He also threw the only touchdown pass of the season (to Billy DuMoe) and captained the squad; Curly Lambeau was the Packers’ top rookie in 1921.

The GM

January 17 is Packer GM Ted Thompson’s 64th birthday. Thompson attended Southern Methodist University and then spent a decade as a lean 220-pound backup linebacker and special teams player for the Houston Oilers from 1975-84. Hired as a scout by Ron Wolf on the recommendation of former Oiler teammate Mike Reinfeldt, Thompson worked his way up to Director of Player Personnel over an eight-year period before leaving to become VP of Football Operations for the Seahawks in 2000. Five years later he returned to Green Bay to resurrect a slipping franchise and has spent a successful dozen seasons heading the Packer operation. Let’s recall some of his best and worst moves:

Top Draft Picks (first or second round)

  1. Aaron Rodgers 2005-1
  2. Clay Mathews 2009-1
  3. Nick Collins 2005-2
  4. Jordy Nelson 2008-2
  5. Bryan Bulaga 2010-1

Top Draft Gems (fourth round or later)

  1. Josh Sitton 2008-4
  2. J. Lang 2009-4
  3. Mike Daniels 2012-4
  4. Corey Linsley 2014-5
  5. Mason Crosby 2007-6

Top Undrafted Rookie Free Agents

  1. Sam Shields 2010
  2. Tramon Williams 2006
  3. Atari Bigby 2005
  4. Jarrett Bush 2006
  5. Tim Masthay 2010

Top Free Agent Moves or Trades

  1. Charles Woodson 2006
  2. Ryan Pickett 2006
  3. Ryan Grant 2007 (for a 6th round pick)
  4. Julius Peppers 2014
  5. John Kuhn 2007 (waivers)

Worst High Draft Picks

  1. Derek Sherrod 2011-1
  2. Justin Harrell 2007-1
  3. Jerel Worthy 2012-2
  4. Brian Brohm 2008-2
  5. Datone Jones 2013-1

Worst Moves

  1. Signing Jeff Saturday 2012
  2. Losing Cullen Jenkins 2011
  3. Losing Casey Hayward 2016
  4. Signing Seneca Wallace 2013
  5. Failing to supplement his drafts with more quality free agent signings2010tthompson

Custom card in style of 1960 Topps.