This episode we fire up the DeLorean and head back to explore the life and career of Don Hutson, the NFL’s first true wide receiver. Don played wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers and is often referred to as one of the greatest Packers and NFL players of all time.
He was the most dominating player of his era, and in this episode, we get to learn about how Don Hutson to the touchdown catch was like Babe Ruth to the home run. So strap on your seatbelt, and let’s get ready to take this baby up to 88mph.
Introduction to Don Hutson
On September 30, 1935, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the Hoover Dam. At the time, this was the tallest dam in the world. In the upcoming episode, I’m going to tell you about the life and career of the man that even the Hoover dam could not contain.
Early life This time as we step off our DeLorean, the date is January 31st, 1913 and we are in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. You see this is where our hero is born. Our hero this time is Donald Roy Hutson who we are just going to go ahead and refer to as “Don Hutson” for the rest of this episode. When Don was a little guy back in the day, he was a boy scout and also played with snakes.
He always said that he believes this is what gave him his quickness and agility. Which would end up making him one of the most dominating wide receivers of all time. Don went to Pine Bluff’s High School and you would think that we would talk about him being a star football player there. But, he actually didn’t start football until he was a senior.
He basically only played for one year. He was a star baseball player and he ran track. This dude was super fast.
College Days at Alabama
He had a 9.7 speed for the 100-yard dash, which that was at the time, pretty much unheard of. And like I said, he did play football for that one year and was pretty good, but he was mostly recruited over to Alabama for being a star baseball player. He would graduate high school in 1931. And then, he would go to the University of Alabama on a partial baseball scholarship to play center field.
But hey, I thought we were talking about football here, and I’m like yeah we are. But he had barely just started playing football the previous year. He had only played one in high school. So he didn’t really have the opportunity to get recruited to go and play for the University of Alabama.
He would become a walk-on for the football team. But due to his insanely fast 100-yard dash time, he would end up making the team.
Although he would not play much as a freshman or a sophomore, he kept on going. This was the year where he really got his college career going. You see, in this junior year he would end up getting more playing time as a starter and he would end up being voted All-American in 1934. Which is also the year he would lead Alabama to a 10-0 record and a national title.
And on this team, in Alabama on the other end (they didn’t really call them wide-receivers, they called them “ends”), was a pretty famous cat in his own rights. Does the name Bear Bryant ring a bell to you? You know, the guy that would end up going on to become one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.
Yeah, that guy, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who played at Alabama with Don Hutson. But he had to pretty much play second fiddle at the time to Hutson as a wide receiver. There was a quote from Bear Bryant that went as such, “Don had the most fluid motion you had ever seen when he was running. It looked like he was going just as fast as possible when all of a sudden he would put on an extra burst of speed and be gone”.
It kind of reminded me of Barry Sanders back in the day you know, press that NOS button and just speed on out of there. I don’t know where this nickname came from, but I’ve got to imagine it came from something to do with what he described him as. You see his nickname was “Alabama Antelope” which, if you remember in a couple episodes ago, Beattie Feathers was the “Bonding Antelope”.
I don’t know what their affinity was with antelopes back in the day, but they were pretty much I think getting at these guys are fast and they are bouncing around all over the place and if you look one way-turn around-they be gone and all of a sudden in the end zone. It’s like what just happened?
And to kind of, I guess, wrap up his college career, what I just described was a perfect explanation of (one of his) big highlights from college at the 1935 Rose Bowl. You see he would end up catching 6 passes for 165-yards and 2 touchdowns. They would defeat Stanford 21-3 on the back of Don Hutson, not through the air but through the running game like most games in the previous times have been.
You see, up until this point, they were starting to build that momentum and getting inching ever so close to the aerial attack coming down from the sky. Raining down fire, and all of those kinds of things. Don Hutson is going to be at the center of all of it.
New Shiny Toy for Green Bay Packers
This is just the beginning. You see after he would end up graduating from the University of Alabama, there was a bidding war for his services. The two teams in this bidding war where the Green Bay Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was said that they both offered him $300 per game to play for them, which at the time was a ludicrous amount. But, there was a decision that was made by Joe Carr, the president of the NFL at the time that would award the Green Bay Packers the rights to Don Hutson. So when he arrived in Green Bay, he was 6’ 1”, 185 pounds and the year was 1935.
You see many were not convinced that he could handle the NFL because at the time it was okay for defenders to hit the wide receiver more than 5 yards down the field. But they would soon find out that the pounders, you know the guys that wanted to get up in your grill, they were the ones that would end up getting burned the most.
But, kind of, bringing it all perfect stormish kind of all together, Curly Lambeau (the coach of the Green Bay Packers at the time) was pretty much pioneering passing in the league with quarterback Arnie Herber. Yeah, that’s right, Arnie again. And, at the time, current star end Johnny “Blood” McNally. Whom we find out, in a later episode, also made the Hall of Fame.
But like I said, most people were not convinced that it was worth all of this money on some little skinny, fast wide receiver guy. He’s just s sprinter. Put him on the tracks, send him over to the Olympics, and send him over to wherever there at 1935 Olympics- I don’t know.
And leading up to his first NFL game, Don Hutson recalled sitting in the locker room listening to the radio announcer. As he said they did before every game. This game was going to be against the Chicago Bears- this big rivalry. The dominating Monsters of the Midway- Green Bay Packers. This little tiny kind of guy, skinny as a rail who thinks he can blaze down the field.
Well, that’s pretty much what the radio announcer said. Don Hutson said that he spent his entire 15-minute program just ripping into Curly Lambeau and just saying what is wrong with this guy? Why would you ever pick Don Hutson and spend all of this money on this skinny little guy and he’s just going to get hurt in the first play and all of this kind of business.
Don Hutson said you know what, it’s pretty much like they were giving him no respect. He didn’t have this big hype train debut like Red Grange, or even Bronko Nagurski or any of that kind of stuff. He was pretty much this dude that they wasted all of this money on. Kind of like the first-round draft pick like last year, John Ross. Super fast, first round, he ended up with negative fantasy points because they basically threw him a pass, he fumbled and lost the ball.
He ended up not playing the rest of the year. They were kind of thinking that something like that might happen. But what happened next pretty much just blew everybody’s socks off. And Don Hutson would be able to hand that radio announcer the ultimate “sit down moment”. You see on the first play of Don Hutson’s career, which I said came against the Chicago Bears, he took a pass Arnie Herber 83 yards to the house (to the hizzy).
At City Stadium in front of a crowd of 13,600 people. That was the first play. The first play of his entire rookie career in the NFL. And he blew past, the guy that we talked about in a couple of episodes, Beattie Feathers for an 83-yard touchdown. He straight blew the top off the house.
He went past everybody as I said, he kicked on that NOS, put on the turbo speed and he was gone. Nobody saw this coming. It was even said that Beattie Feathers himself thought that,” Nobody could have caught up to that one”.
But then he did, that’s Don Hutson. He has officially entered the stage to become one of the most prolific wide receivers of all time. And definitely the most dominating player of his entire era. And in that game, Pack won the game 7-0. And like I said, that was one of them sit down moments when you kind of tip your hat up there to the radio broadcaster up there in the stand and you go, a degum.
But later on, we find out that was not Don Hutson at all. He was just this kind of cool dude who no matter what you said to him he would just chill back and say, mhm. Because he would let everything that he did on the field dictate to you what you thought of this guy.
Not like these prima donna receivers we got nowadays. You’re going to find out, that he was just by far and away the most dominating player of that era. And we’re going to mostly talk about his receiving skills. But as back in the day with most players, he was a 60-minute player. So not only was he this just dominating wide receiver, but he was also a star defensive player as a safety.
And one of the kind of cool stats was in his final 6 seasons. He recorded 30 interceptions and, just like I said you just gotta kick that cherry on top, also kicked extra points in field goals. So when you think about it, he had double duty. So even though his career was 11 years, he put in all that extra work. So the number of plays that he had, had to of just you know, added up tremendously.
Just makes me wonder, if he had been able to play more years because he didn’t have to deal with this, where would his stats really be. On the way to the crazy amount of stats he had, there was a game, possibly his greatest game in the NFL.
It came on October 7th, 1945. You see he scored 4 receiving touchdowns and kicked 5 extra points, for a total of 29 points. This all came in the first quarter of the game. The coolest thing is, leading up to the game, the opposing team decided that they were going to try to double-team them or triple-team them. Which at the time was unheard of.
You never even bother putting more than one person on a receiver, because what’s the point? They’re really not throwing the ball too much. But he was just that dominant of a player. He struck the fear into the opponents. As I said, nobody could keep up to this guy. So they put more than one dude on him.
They probably even just left Larry over there in the sidelines saying, yeah go ahead if they want to throw it to him, whatever because we’ve got to deal with this guy; We’ve got to put more than one guy on him. But even though Don Hutson could have been like, “Yeah, I scored 29 points in the first quarter, eat that man.
He was still humble. When asked about it, there was a quote that went as such, “Well, the wind was blowing hard and straight down the field and you couldn’t throw the ball 20 yards the other way. Those defenders just couldn’t get that in their heads”. Basically saying it was kind of, it just happened. It’s not, I am to the touchdown catch that Babe Ruth was to the home run.
Where I am way up here and everyone is way down there like the second guy isn’t even close to me. He just stayed humble. But then he had another game. But then he had another game against the New York Giants where he had 14 catches for 237 yards.
I mean, right now that would be an amazing game, especially for Fantasy Football. But he had it way, way, way back in the day where 237 yards was like a really good year for most wide receivers back then. But again, an ESPN article kept pointing out that this dude was humble.
I mean he wasn’t like these prissy pants wide receivers for the past 20 years. He just went about his business. He did his job, that’s all. Even though up to this point in time he was the most dangerous weapon the league had ever seen. It was like these mad scientists were in the back alley and they’re all creating this super-secret weapon, like a science fiction kind of thing. That nobody had ever seen.
In fact, they were cheating because they stole some technology from the aliens and they would just unleash it into the league. Just think that, and put it into the form of Don Hutson. There you go, that’s what it was. And because of this, he will continue to get paid. I mean it would break the bank. One place that I found in his final season as he made a salary of $15,000, which was the highest in the league.
That’s not anything compared to nowadays, but back then that was big stuff. One of the reasons why was because he led the NFL in receiving yards 8 of his 11 seasons. I mean, 9 of them he led the league in touchdown receptions. Jerry Rice is second at 6 times, but he also played twice as many seasons almost as Don Hutson. And he didn’t play defense. And it was in an era where passing was a thing.