While Benny Friedman was the first great passer in the NFL, Arnie Herber was the first great passer after the league began officially gathering statistics in 1932. In particular, Herber threw a great deep ball; his yards per completion average of 16.7 is the highest figure of any NFL passer who threw at least 1,000 passes. His statistics seem dreadful today – 40% completions and a passer rating of 49.5 – but his passer rating was 46% better than the league average in his time. Today is Arnie’s birthday, April 2, 1910.
Herber was from Green Bay and sold programs at Packer games in his teens. Because of the Depression, he had to drop out of college after only one year and found work as a handyman around the Packer locker room. Curly Lambeau gave the former local hero a tryout and added him to the roster in 1930. Green Bay was a single-wing team, and Arnie played tailback without a helmet. He was short, pudgy and not much of a runner, but could fling the ball deeper than any passer in that era. Herber led the league three times in passing yards and touchdown passes in the 1930s. He had very small hands but compensated by not gripping the football at all. Instead, he simply rested it on his palm with his thumb across the laces. Cradling the ball in this way allowed him to toss rainbow spirals accurately up to 70-80 yards through the air. Teammate Clarke Hinkle said that Herber, “was more accurate at fifty yards then he was at ten,” and the Packers had the best passing game in the league. Green Bay won four titles during Arnie’s tenure, and it was a shock when he was released in 1941 because of a weight problem.
Herber was rejected for the military during World War II and resurfaced with the New York Giants in 1944. Older, heavier and slower, Arnie played against the Packers in the title game that year. His passing consistently moved the Giants down the field, but his four interceptions cinched the game for Green Bay. Herber was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966 just three years before his death at the early age of 59.
(Adapted from Quarterback Abstract)
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