Don Hutson entered the league under a great deal of skepticism. The NFL of the time was “in the trenches” warfare and most thought the league was no place for Don Hutson and his slight build. The NFL was a dig your cleats in, bust someone’s nose kind of environment in which Hutson’s fast-paced elegance had no place.
Still, the visionary Curly Lambeau saw how Hutson would fit nicely into his plans for maintaining Packer dominance and ushering in a new era to the NFL.
Don Hutson began his NFL career in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression and ushered in a new era of NFL history… the passing game.
The forward pass had been around since 1917 and the days of Pop Warner’s Carlisle Indians. However, it was not largely accepted by the NFL until Curly Lambeau decided to make it a part of his offense. So, despite the doubts about Hutson’s size, Lambeau snatched him up.
Don Hutson lost no time proving that Curly Lambeau’s gamble was worth the time. His first NFL reception was an 83 yard touchdown from Arnie Herber. It was his first NFL catch and the first of nearly 100 receiving touchdowns Hutson would have in his career, and it would end up being the only score in a 7-0 Packer win over their archrivals the Chicago Bears.
Hutson was so fast that he would run routes at about 80% and then, just as the defender thought he had the right angle, would crank the speed up and be gone. He was such a talented receiver that one out of every five catches went for a touchdown. Yes… you read that right… one out of every five. Technically, Hutson had 488 catches in the NFL and 99 touchdowns which is a touchdown every 4.93 catches.
Hutson’s 99 receiving touchdowns was, understandably, a receiving record. But, what’s amazing is that the record held for 44 years after Don Hutson retired from the game. In the years that followed the Packers’ success with the passing game, receivers came and receivers went and no one could match the great Don Hutson until Steve Largent finally bested his touchdown record in 1989!
Now, if you’re like me, you’re already impressed with Don Hutson as a receiver. However, wrap your head around this little tidbit…
Don Hutson played in an era where there were no specialized offensive and defensive players. He played receiver on offense and turned right around and played defensive back on defense.
The idea that Hutson could generate 99 touchdowns in his career when he wasn’t resting half of the game is astounding. Would Steve Largent have broken Hutson’s touchdown record if he played defensive back every defensive down as well? Would Jerry Rice have been as untouchable if he had played every down in the game on both sides of the ball? I doubt it.
Don Hutson was more than just a great receiver. He was an innovator. He caught passes in an era where the pass was rarely used. There weren’t even pass routes back then, but Lambeau and Hutson created their own pass routes out of thin air and many of those routes are still used in the NFL today.