Don Wells

Two things have blurred the memory of Don Wells, a fine defensive end for the Packers in the late 1940s–the team was in steep decline and his career was greatly shortened by injury problems. Wells was born on July 12, 1922 in Waycross, Georgia, but grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida where he was a schoolboy star. He earned a football scholarship to the University of Georgia and was drafted in the sixth round by the Packers in 1945.

After the War, Don joined the team in 1946 and appeared in every game for Green Bay during his first three years. He even caught two passes in his rookie season, one for a 65-yard gain against the Rams on October 6 in Milwaukee. However, he had knee surgery following the 1947 season and had knee problems reoccur in late 1948. In early 1949, Wells suffered another knee injury while working as a life guard in Florida and underwent another operation.

Due to his ailing knee, Don was released by the Packers after the third game of the ’49 season, and he was replaced by Steve Pritko. Back in Florida that off season, Wells injured his knee again in an automobile accident. He did some semipro coaching in the area and drove a beer truck before buying Don’s Grocery Store in Stuart, Florida and settling in. He died of cancer in a hospice on February 14, 1989 at the age of 66. Three days later, the Today Show aired a segment on hospice care that featured him and his caregiver. Wells was survived by a son, Dale.

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A Card for Everyone: Del Lyman

Born on July 9, 1918 in Aberdeen, Washington, Del Lyman starred at tackle for Fairfax High School in Los Angeles and then at UCLA before being drafted in the 14th round by Green Bay in 1941. At UCLA, Lyman lettered from 1938-40, and for his sophomore and junior seasons played with Kenny Washington, Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, Chuck Fenenbock and Ned Matthews. The 1939 team went 6-0-4 and was ranked seventh in the nation. Those stars were gone in ’40, when the Bruins went 1-9. Lyman himself missed most of that year due to an appendectomy.

Curly Lambeau told the Green Bay Press Gazette at the time of the draft:

I also liked the looks of Del Lyman, big left tackle of UCLA, who has been an outstanding Pacific coast lineman the past three years.

Lyman’s aggressive play earned him a slot on the team and he appeared in five of the Packers first seven games in ’41, but then was released before Halloween when veteran guard Russ Letlow was activated after missing the whole season to that point due to an ankle problem. Lyman was quickly claimed by the Cleveland Rams and appeared in four games for them to complete the season.

Lyman went into the Air Force and only briefly returned to the Rams in 1944 for two games, although he did play for the Hollywood Rangers of the Pacific Coast League in 1945. He and his brother purchased a service station in Manhattan Beach, and Del served on the city council there. He was in the news again in 1951. In July, he married “Cynthia Shaw” in Las Vegas after a whirlwind one-day romance. On October 5 of that year, he had the marriage annulled after he discovered that “Cynthia” was actually Bernice Emerick, 15 years his senior, already married and a grandmother. Oh, and she was sought by the FBI for embezzlement in Dayton, Ohio. Del concluded his big year by marrying divorcee Eva Leeds in December. He passed away at age 68 on December 19, 1986 in Santa Barbara.

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A Look Back at 1943

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The NFL struggled to hang on in 1943, with the Eagles and Steelers merging to form the Steagles and the Cleveland Rams dropping out of the league for one year. Ram players were distributed throughout the league after their names were plucked from a hat at the owners meeting. Curly Lambeau pulled ace Rams tackle Chet Adams out the cap.

Green Bay again finished second to the Bears in the West with a 7-2-1 record, scoring 264 points (second in the NFL) and allowing 172 (fourth). The Pack was 2-1-1 at home and 5-1 on the road. They were 5-0 against losing teams and 2-2-1 against winners, losing twice to the Bears.

For the second consecutive year, Don Hutson retired after the 1942 season, but Curly lured him back in August. Don would later recall to Sport Magazine two of his biggest thrills occurred in ’43:

My interception of a Cardinal pass in a 1943 game in which I made an 85-yard return for a touchdown was a big thrill, too, and so was that touchdown pass I threw to harry Jacunski.

The pick six came in a 35-14 thrashing of the Cardinals on November 14 in Milwaukee. The 38-yard touchdown toss to Jacunski happened two weeks earlier on October 31 as the first score in a 35-21 thumping of the Giants in New York. Hutson attempted 11 passes in his career (four in 1937, four in ’43 and three in ’44); this was his only completion, although he did fling two interceptions.

Hutson led the NFL in receptions (47) receiving yards (776), TD catches (11) and points (117). It was his fourth year in a row leading the league in scoring. Jacunski was second on the team with 24 receptions.

With Cecil Isbell retired, Tony Canadeo became the main tailback. He led the team with 875 yards passing and nine touchdown passes as well as with 489 yards rushing. Rookie Irv Comp tallied 662 yards through the air and threw seven touchdowns, in addition to leading the team with 10 interceptions on defense. Hutson picked off eight passes, and Joe Laws, who was second in rushing with 232 yards, nabbed seven. Charley Brock picked off four.

Hutson and Canadeo were named All-Pro, as were tackles Baby Ray and Chet Adams. Charley Brock received second team notice.

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A Look Back at 1942

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The boys started heading off to war in 1942. Green Bay lost Clarke Hinkle, Ed Jankowski, Hal Van Every, George Paskvan, Carl Mulleneaux, George Svendsen, Smiley Johnson, Charles Schultz, Lee McLaughlin, Alex Urban, Ed Frutig, Herman Rohrig and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith to the military. They almost lost Don Hutson, too, when he tried to retire following the ’41 season only to have Curly Lambeau talk him into coming back.

Green Bay had enough depth to maintain an 8-2-1 second place finish in the West but were not close to the undefeated Bears. The ‘42 Packer offense set a record for pro teams using the Notre Dame Shift offense by averaging 27.2 points per game. However, the Bears were averaging over 34 points per game, and the Green Bay defense dropped to eighth in points allowed. Chicago crushed them by a cumulative 82-35 score. Again, the Packers were 7-0 versus teams with losing records and just 1-2-1 against the rest. They were 4-1 at home and 4-1-1 on the road.

That offense was driven by Don Hutson and Cecil Isbell at their highest points. Isbell led the league in completions, yards passing (2,021) and touchdowns (24…against just 14 interceptions). Tony Canadeo was second on the team with 310 yards in the air. Hutson led the league with 74 receptions for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns, all record totals. Don also led the team with seven interceptions and the NFL with 138 points, another record total. Isbell and Charley Brock contributed six interceptions a piece as well.

Rookie Ted Fritsch led Green Bay with 323 yards rushing, trailed by Canadeo (272) and rookie Chuck Sample (255). Andy Uram was second in receptions with 21 and scored on a 98-yard kickoff return, the third 90-yard play of his Packer career.

Isbell and Hutson were both named All-Pro, and veteran guard Buckets Goldenberg received second team notice. Hutson repeated as the league MVP in ’42.

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Lambeau on Hutson

When I was young, the news cycle was much slower. There were two major sports magazines known for fine photography and good writing: Sports Illustrated, a weekly, and Sport, a monthly. Sport hung on in diminished capacity until 2000, while Sports Illustrated, in diminished monthly capacity now, is dying before our eyes. 

In the December 1960 issue of Sport, Larry Williams wrote a lengthy piece called The Ghost of Green Bay under the banner of “The Stars of Today and Yesterday, and the subject was Don Hutson. It is quite a detailed article, based on interviews with Don, his mother and his friends and teammates. In it, Curly Lambeau remembers his greatest star: 

Some folks thought Don was too skinny to play pro ball. Some scouts told me he was good enough to take a chance on. Some friends who saw that Rose Bowl game said he was unbelievable. Some of the coaches around the league said he was a football freak—a guy who could do one thing and one thing only. I knew personally that he was a complete football player, from my own observations. That’s why I broke my neck to get him. 

He 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, go the other, reach up like a dancer and gracefully squeeze the ball and leave the scene of the accident—the accident being the defensive backs who tangled their feet up and fell trying to cover him. 

That’s a nice description of a great player. 

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A Look Back at 1941

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The 1941 season concluded on Pearl Harbor Sunday, the last NFL season before World War II. The Packers had completed their schedule with a 10-1 record on November 30, so the entire Packer team travelled to Chicago on December 7 to scout the 9-1 Bears in their season finale against the crosstown Cardinals. The Bears prevailed 34-24 to set up a playoff match on December 14 at Wrigley Field between two teams that had only lost to each other.

Although Green Bay was second in the league in scoring and points allowed, the one-sided playoff game demonstrated that the 30-point-a-game Bear T formation was a machine that rolled over everything in its path. Green Bay had eked out a 16-14 win over Chicago at the beginning of November when Curly Lambeau installed a seven-man line, but that was an aberration. In the playoff, the Packers took an early lead of 7-0 after recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Chicago 18 and driving in for the score. However, the Bears scored the next 30 points in the game, including 24 in the second quarter, to turn the match into a rout.

For the regular season, the Packers were 5-1 at home and 5-0 on the road. They were 7-0 against teams with losing records and 3-2 against those with winning ones. Veteran star Arnie Herber was cut before the season, so Cecil Isbell took full charge of the offense. Isbell led the NFL in pass attempts, completions, yards (1,479) and touchdowns (15). Hal Van Every was second in passing yards for the Pack with 195.

Clarke Hinkle led the team in rushing yards with 393 and was trailed by Isbell’s 317 and Andy Uram’s 258. Uram also had a punt return touchdown of 90 yards. Don Hutson led the NFL in catches (58), receiving yards (738) and TD receptions (10). Lou Brock, a halfback that Lambeau liked to split wide as a flanker, was second on the squad with 22 receptions. All the ends aside from Hutson combined for just 20 catches.

Hutson also led the league with 95 points scored. Hinkle was second on the team with 56 points. Van Every led the team with three interceptions. Hurson also won the Joe Carr Trophy as the NFL’s most valuable player for ’41.

Isbell, Hutson, Hinkle and tackle Baby Ray were all named All-Pro, with center George Svendsen, guard Pete Tinsley and end Ray Riddick receiving second team notice. Tony Canadeo and George Paskvan were the top rookies.
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A Card for Everyone: Leotis Harris

Born on June 28, 1955 in Little Rock, Arkansas, guard Leotis Harris starred for the Razorbacks in his home state before being drafted in the sixth round in 1978 by the Packers. A year later when starting right guard Mel Jackson was lost to injury, Leotis moved into the starting lineup and stayed there for five years as a fairly solid performer.

In 1983, Harris was trying to fend off Tim Huffman in the starting lineup when he suffered a knee injury on October 9 against the Lions. Leotis missed the rest of ’83 and spent 1984 on the injured reserve list under new coach Forrest Gregg. Harris tried to revive his career in ’85, but was cut in August, ending his time in the NFL.

Harris returned to his home state, where he was elected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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A Look Back at 1940

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One of the major points of my book Pioneer Coaches of the NFL is that 1940 was the year that pro football began on the trajectory that would first overtake the college game and eventually baseball as the nation’s sport of choice. The reason being that 1940 was the year the Bears went all in on the modern T formation that would open up the game. Soon both the pros and colleges would follow that same path. Curly Lambeau’s career had hit its peak, and the defending champion Packers were no longer the best team in football. After going 11-12-1 against the Bears in the 1930s, the Packers would be routed by a 4-16-1 mark against their chief rivals in the ‘40s.

Green Bay was still a good club that finished second in the West with a 6-4-1 mark and second in scoring with 238 points. They stayed in the race until the final week of the season. They were 4-2 at home and 2-2-1 on the season closing five-game road trip. Strikingly, though, the Pack was 5-0-1 against losing teams, but just 1-4 against all others.

Cecil Isbell led the team with 1,037 yards passing, eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was followed by Arnie Herber’s 560 yards for six scores and seven picks and rookie Hal Van Every’s 199 yards, four TDs and six interceptions.

Clarke Hinkle led in rushing with 383 yards, followed by Isbell and Andy Uram with 270 apiece. Don Hutson, of course, led the team with 45 catches for 664 yards and a league-leading seven touchdown receptions. Carl Mulleneaux was second with 16 catches and six scores. Hutson also led the team and the league with six interceptions (trailed by Lou Brock with five and Dick Weisgerber with four) and 57 points (followed by Hinkle’s 48 and Mulleneaux’s 42).

Hutson, Hinkle and center Charley Brock all were named first team All-Pro, while Isbell and Mulleneaux received second team notice. Hinkle passed Cliff Battles to become the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher during this season.

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Ed Jankowski

Born in Milwaukee on June 23, 1913, Ed Jankowski was a schoolboy star at Milwaukee East who enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1933. Wisconsin was just 7-17 in Jankowski’s three varsity years, so things did not always go smoothly. In 1934, he briefly left the team in September after altercations with Badger Coach Doc Spears, but returned to work his way into the starting lineup for the struggling team that season. Like something out of 1930s B-movie, a September 1936 Capital Times headline read “Await Report on Ed Jankowski’s Exam Today.” Eddie had failed a Political Science class and was trying to make it up before the start of his senior year under new coach Harry Stuhldreher. Fortunately, he passed and got to play one last year in Madison.

Curly Lambeau made Jankowski the Packers top draft choice in 1937, and he had his best season as a rookie, backing up Clarke Hinkle at fullback/linebacker and finishing second on the team in rushing. As a rookie, Eddie scored touchdowns on runs of 46 and 36 yards as well as on an interception return of 27 yards against the Bears. He finished off that pick-six by crashing headfirst into the brick wall in the Wrigley Field end zone. The Green Bay Press Gazette noted, “The collision would have killed any man who wasn’t raised on concrete hash.” In the season finale that year against Washington, though, Jankowski was whipsawed by two Redskin blockers and suffered what may have been a skull fracture.

Eddie spent his entire five-year career behind the All-Pro Hinkle and then enlisted in the Navy following Pearl Harbor. After getting out of the service, he coached Whitefish Bay High School from 1947-51 and led the team to three Milwaukee Suburban Conference championships before suddenly resigning in 1952. Jankowski worked in the beverage industry for years, although he also served as a part-time assistant line coach for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1961. He passed away on July 20, 1996 in Madison.

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Summing Up the 1930s

The 1930s was Curtly Lambeau’s best decade. Not only did the Packers win four NFL titles, but also went to a championship game in a fifth and lost another title due to ties in a sixth season. Here are the overall standings of the league in that decade:

Chicago Bears (2)                           85-28-11               .730

Green Bay Packers (4)                   86-35-4                 .704

New York Giants (2)                       80-39-8                 .661

Detroit Lions (1)                              73-39-9                 .640

Washington Redskins (1)              46-36-8                 .556

Brooklyn Dodgers                           40-67-9                 .384

Chicago Cardinals                           35-67-9                 .356

Cleveland Rams                               10-22-1                 .318

Pittsburgh Pirates                            22-55-3                 .294

Philadelphia Eagles                         18-55-3                 .257

 

Arnie Herber was the league’s leading passer of the decade by a wide margin, throwing for 6,472 yards and 63 touchdowns (and 83 interceptions). Those totals nearly doubled those of Ed Danowski of the Giants who was the decade’s second leading passer. Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman came too late in the ‘30s to challenge Herber’s numbers. Bob Monnett was the second leading Packer passer of the time with 2,227 yards, 28 TDs and 26 interceptions.

On the ground Clarke Hinkle led the franchise with 3,082 yards rushing. He trailed Washington Cliff Battles for the decade lead, but would pass Battles in 1941 to become the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher until Steve Van Buren, in turn, would pass him in 1949. Second to Hinkle in Green Bay was Monnett again with 1,488 yards and then Joe Laws with 1,239.

Don Hutson, of course, was the league’s leader in catches (159), receiving yards (2,902) and touchdown catches (36). Washington Charley Malone caught 114 passes in the period. Second on the Packers was Johnny Blood with 102 catches and 30 touchdowns. Reliable Milt Gantenbein snagged 80 passes for 1,348 yards.

Hinkle led the team with 275 points, followed by Hutson’s 236 and Blood’s 194. Blood led the team in interceptions with 21, followed by Hinkle’s 18 and 15 by Laws and Hank Bruder.

24 Packers were named to a first or second team All-Pro team during the ‘30s. Leading the way was Hinkle with five firsts and three seconds. Those with at least two first team appearances were: Hinkle (5-3) Hutson (4-1), Mike Michalske (4-0), Cal Hubbard (3-0), Lavie Dilweg (2-2), Nate Barrager (2-2), Tom Nash (2-1), Lon Evans (2-1) and Herber (2-0).

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