We continue our “Packers 100” countdown looking at the best wide receivers in franchise history. Green Bay Packers football is just 91 days away. You can find the full countdown here.
1. Don Hutson
Credited with revolutionizing the modern-day NFL passing game, the number-one Packers’ receiver of all time attributed his quickness and agility to playing with snakes during his formative years in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
, commonly known as the “Alabama Antelope,” entered professional football before the inception of an annual draft. Nack in those days, college prospects were free to choose who to sign with if they were presented with multiple offers.
Green Bay’s head coach signed the young SEC phenom to a contract in 1935, but so did the Brooklyn Dodgers. Luckily for Lambeau his contract arrived to league offices a mere 17 minutes before that of his competitors, which made Hutson a Packer for life.
The starting split end took the league by storm with his blazing speed and ability to wiggle his way out of trouble with his change-of-direction prowess that often saw helpless defenders run into each other or get their feet tangled as the lithe Hutson ran to daylight.
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Quarterback and his new rookie wideout wasted no time in lighting up the opposition with game-breaking plays in which Hutson’s cannon-armed signal caller unleashed his patented rainbow-like throws.
The duo hooked up for an 83-yard score on Hutson’s first play from scrimmage in a 7-0 win over the Chicago Bears.
Opponents had no answers for the six-foot-one, 183-pound gazelle that was lightning fast off the snap, but also possessed a second gear that allowed him to separate from defenders and take it to the house.
Hutson became the first NFL receiver to catch 40 passes in a season and later topped that by being the first one to reach 50 receptions. What’s more, No. 14 led the league with six touchdown receptions in his first year and would end up leading the NFL in that category in nine of his 11 seasons, including four years consecutively.
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Former teammate was one of the many who marveled at Hutson’s transcendent physical tools by stating, “He had all the moves; he invented the moves.”
The Hall-of-Fame running back’s quote wasn’t hyperbole, as Hutson was a true master of improvisation in how he devised certain pass patterns and then ran them with flawless execution.
In his later years, the innovative pass catcher recalled how he would join forces with Herber in coming up with the modern-day stop-and-go play in which Hutson would pretend to give up on a route only to accelerate past his stationary cover man.
Other routes that the shifty playmaker spontaneously brought into vogue were the buttonhook, the down-and-out and the down-out-and-back-in.
Prior to his emergence in the mid-1930s, teams rarely ventured tossing the ball downfield. It never developed into an offensive staple, but rather it was used solely as a means to catch defenses off guard.
What made Hutson’s exploits all the more remarkable was the fact that he, like other football players of his day, was a two-way athlete who lined up both at left end and at the safety position.
To no one’s surprise, the physical gifts that made Hutson an uncontainable force as a receiver allowed him to excel as a defensive back by recording 30 interceptions over the course of six seasons in the defensive backfield.
Hutson also performed place-kicking duties and played outfield for the Albany Senators in 1937 and minor league baseball for the Pine Bluff Judges from 1940 through 1942. His first love was, in fact, baseball. Football, as it turns out, wasn’t in his long-term future plans when he received his scholarship to play in Tuscaloosa.
The iconic Packer showed no visible signs of rust as he entered the latter stages of his marvelous career by totaling more receiving touchdowns than eight of the nine other professional teams. His receiving-yards, on the other hand, outnumbered those of four NFL franchises.
While some may argue Hutson’s legendary standing in the history of the game by pointing out that he played in an era when the NFL’s overall talent level had been diluted due to many professional football players being drafted into military service during World War II; one can counter that the eight-time first-team All Pro never benefitted from many of today’s rules that favor offenses. Hutson had to constantly battle against opponents that could body up on him and use all sorts of obstructive tactics at all points of the field.
After earning MVP honors in 1941and 1942, the University of Alabama product achieved the distinction of being the first-ever player to break through the 1,000-yard threshold.
Beyond achieving unprecedented individual feats, Hutson’s on-field efforts contributed to a successful run on the part of the Packers in the form of four Western Division Championships in 1936, 1938, 1939 and 1944 and three NFL Championships in 1936, 1939 and 1944.
After years of offering hints of his imminent retirement, Hutson finally followed through and officially called it a career in 1945. All told, Hutson walked away from football holding 22 records, many of which have since been broken, but his everlasting legacy as the wide receiver that broke the mold and opened up the passing game remains permanently etched in the game’s rich history.
The fear of not being able to leave football physically intact reportedly tormented Hutson in his down time in between seasons because he was a business-minded entrepreneur at heart who had visions of running his own profitable ventures. It’s no secret that he never made more than $15,000 in any of his years as an active player.
Following two more seasons with the Packers organization as an assistant coach, the 38-year-old decided to spend his time managing his Green Bay-based bowling alley on a full-time basis.
In 1950, Hutson opened his own car dealership in Racine, Wisconsin until retiring as a business owner in 1984 and living out the rest of his years in Rancho Mirage, California until his death in 1997 at the age of 84.
If one were to ever carve out a Mount Rushmore of Green Bay Packer greats, one of those faces would undoubtedly belong to Hutson for the both his impact on the fortunes of his franchise and the effect he had on the entire sport of football.
Hutson was and always will be unequivocally recognized as the true father of the NFL’s modern passing game.