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)

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