Before There Were Helmets: Don Hutson

Don Hudson Packer Hall of FamerA continuation of our series on Packer greats from before the 1943 NFL helmet rule. If you missed the others in the series, you can find them here.

In an era where the run dominated and a passing offense was rarely used, Don Hutson amassed 99 touchdowns in a career that lasted just 11 season. That record stood for an amazing 44 years after he retired from the game.

And the Packers came 17 minutes away from not signing him in the first place.

It was 1935 and Hutson had wrapped up a career with Alabama. Most teams didn’t want him. They considered him far to slender to handle the NFL. However, Curly Lambeau desperately wanted to add Hutson to the Packer passing attack that was his bread and butter.

Hutson signed a contract with the Packers in 1935. The problem was, he’d also signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The determining factor that sent football’s greatest receiver to Green Bay rather than New York…

The contract with Green Bay was postmarked 17 minutes before the contract with Brooklyn.

Don Hutson arrived in Green Bay, WI (population 25,000) in the middle of the great depression. His price tag was a shocking $300 a game. That was so much money, that the Packers organization worried what people would think about paying a football player such an enormous sum. So, they actually cut Hutson two checks from separate banks making it appear to the casual observer that they were paying him $150 a game.

In his second game as a Green Bay Packer, on the very first play from scrimmage, Hutson caught a pass and went 83 yards for a touchdown against the Packers’ rival the Chicago Bears. With that play Hutson and Curly Lambeau made a statement to the league that the future had arrived and the run-only offense would soon be a quaint relic from days gone by. The passing offense would no longer be considered just a whim or a fad that would disappear. It was the offense of the future.

Over the next 11 season, Hutson set receiving records that would stand for decades. In that time he would become an innovator, creating many of the pass routes that are still used in the league today.

Even more amazing than the fact that Don was such a stellar receiver, was the fact that, unlike today’s receivers, he never got to rest during the game.

In those days, teams played both ways and when Hutson was done with his receiving duties, he stepped into the defensive backfield to play every down on defense too.

While the Packer offense in those days was very pass-heavy, the teams they met were not. Despite the fact that other teams rarely passed against the Packers, Don Hutson, as a defensive back, was able to intercept 30 passes and even return one interception for a touchdown.

Don didn’t even get a rest when the special teams were on the field as he was also the Packer’s kicker during his tenure with the team.

Don played with the team from 1935 through the 1945 season, and then, to the surprise of all Packer fans, retired earlier than anyone expected. He stayed on as an assistant coach for four seasons before leaving the Packer organization.

On December 2, 1951, the number 14 jersey became the first of five Packer jerseys to be retired, and in 1994 the Packers named their new practice facility the Hutson Center, in honor of Don Hutson, just three years before his death in 1997.

Don Hutson did more than just impact the game of football. He revolutionized it.

 


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