When one thinks of modern NFL football, visions of prolific passing from strong-armed quarterbacks and balletic receptions from fleet-footed receivers come to mind.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case.
The frenetic pace of today’s offenses is completely opposite to the style of offense when the NFL was born.
That’s what made players such as Don Hutson unique.
And just like that, Don Hutson’s all-time Green Bay Packers record of 99 TD receptions will securely live on — likely for at least another decade, perhaps many.
Davante Adams, with Aaron Rodgers throwing to him, was poised take that all-time crown.
All we can say is wow. pic.twitter.com/mGR44h0ShD
— PackersHistory.com (@PackersHistory1) March 18, 2022
Hutson came into the NFL at a time when the league was still developing and the pigskin was moved primarily by running.
By the time he left the sport, Hutson had set numerous records and helped birth the modern ‘route tree’ that receivers still use today.
Long before Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, or Calvin Johnson, Hutson broke the mold of how the ‘end’ position should be used during games.
Although he may be largely forgotten due to time, Hutson deserves to be forever enshrined in the pantheon of great NFL receivers.
This is the story of Don Hutson.
Donald Montgomery Hutson was born on January 31, 1913, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Today is Alabama great Don Hutson's birthday. Hutson was a 1938 All-American WR & CFB HOF'er. @AlabamaFTBL @SEC pic.twitter.com/uXjSTD9Ler
— Vintage LSU Football (@vintagelsuftb) January 30, 2016
As the legend goes, Hutson didn’t develop his quickness and agility at a young age by playing sports.
He got those characteristics by playing with snakes.
Hutson did eventually gravitate to sports by the time he entered Pine Bluff High School.
His favorite activity was basketball and he also played baseball. Hutson didn’t try playing football until he was a senior.
“I’m like most [athletes],” Hutson said several years later. “I’d rather see football, but I’d rather play basketball.”
Although he did well on the playing field, Hutson was not one to talk about his successes.
“He wouldn’t say two words in an A-bomb attack. He doesn’t talk unless he has something to say,” said Hutson’s mother.
During his single year of playing high school football, Hutson made a name for himself by word of mouth.
Paul “Bear” Bryant, the future Alabama head coach, would travel as a young man to watch Hutson play.
“…he was something to see even then. We’d hitchhike to Pine Bluff just to watch him play. I saw him catch five touchdown passes in one game in high school,” said Bryant.
Even though he was a household name in Arkansas, Hutson wasn’t well known in other parts of the country.
That made getting a college scholarship offer difficult.
Luckily, one of Hutson’s friends, Bob Seawall, was heavily recruited by Alabama.
Seawall’s one condition for accepting a scholarship was Hutson also being accepted by the school.
Alabama in turn offered Hutson a baseball scholarship and, suddenly, he was a new member of the Tide.
Multi-Sport Athlete at ‘Bama
After Hutson arrived on the Alabama campus he played baseball as an outfielder and also ran track, running the 100 and 220-yard dashes.
He is credited with consistently winning the 100-yard dash in ten seconds or less during meets.
Hutson’s speed and running ability led to his nickname, the “Alabama Antelope.”
As a freshman, he walked onto the Tide football team.
The coaches looked at his slight frame (6’1”, 160 pounds) and didn’t give him much of a chance.
Hutson then used his track speed to convince the coaches that he was a legitimate weapon.
He didn’t see much action his first few years at Alabama, but beginning in 1933, Tide head coach Frank Thomas overhauled the offense.
He knew Hutson could be used to catch passes and the Tide also had a quarterback, Millard “Dixie” Howell, who was adept at throwing the pigskin.
Alabama had a 7-1-1 record in ‘33 and then blew the doors off opponents a year later.
In 1934, Hutson caught 19 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns during the Tide’s undefeated, 10-0 season.
Then, in the 1935 Rose Bowl, he caught six passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns and Alabama beat the Stanford Indians 29-13.
Two of the all-time greats – Bear Bryant & Don Hutson at Alabama. @AlabamaFTBL pic.twitter.com/8Ew35G6bOh
— Vintage LSU Football (@vintagelsuftb) January 10, 2016
Bear Bryant, by then the “other end” on the team, marveled continuously at his teammate’s ability to operate in the open field.
“Don had the most fluid motion you had ever seen when he was running,” said Bryant. “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.”
Hutson’s outstanding production in 1934 led to accolades such as All-American, All-Southern, and a national champion.
The Heisman Trophy was first awarded in 1935.
However, in 2009 the National Football Foundation made a list of who they would have selected to win the award if the Heisman ceremony had begun in 1889 (the first year “All-Americans” were selected).
Their 1934 “winner” was Hutson.
Green Bay Signs Hutson
When Hutson left Alabama he hadn’t really considered a career in pro football.
Unlike today, the NFL in the 1930s was a small-time operation.
College football was king and most of the men playing pro ball were either gluttons for punishment or did it for small change.
They certainly didn’t play for glory.
However, the NFL was emerging as a must-see event in some places throughout the country.
Green Bay Packers coach Curly Lambeau reached out to Hutson as did the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Both franchises offered to pay Hutson a decent salary so he signed with both teams.
On this day, 86 years ago, the Packers signed standout Alabama end Don Hutson.
He went on to achieve:
▫️3 NFL Championships
▫️All-Pro for 8 straight seasons
▫️2x NFL MVP
▫️Pro Football Hall of Famer
▫️Member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time team. pic.twitter.com/orcIYB0mn4
— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) February 19, 2021
Since he couldn’t be in two places at once, NFL President Joseph Carr decided for Hutson.
Carr looked at both of Hutson’s contracts and noticed that he had signed the contract with Green Bay first.
Therefore, Hutson would be playing for the Packers.
Hutson and the Packers Hit the Ground Running
Green Bay was paying Hutson the princely sum of $300 per game, one of the highest contracts in pro football.
So as not to upset his new teammates, the Packers were creative in how they paid Hutson.
“Each week they’d give me a check for $150 from one bank and $150 from another so nobody would know how much I was getting paid,” Hutson said.
Lambeau had big plans for his new end.
He wanted to pair him with fellow end Johnny “Blood” McNally and have quarterback Arnie Herber throw them both the ball.
Hutson’s first NFL reception came in the second game of the 1935 season against the Chicago Bears.
On the first play of the contest, Herber reached back and sent a pass Hutson’s way
83 yards later, Hutson came down with it and scored a touchdown.
The score turned out to be the only one of the game in the Packers’ 7-0 win.
Hutson would score six touchdowns during his rookie year, which would lead the league.
In addition to leading the league in yards per game, he also led the NFL with the longest touchdown reception of the season during the game against Chicago.
The Packers Win Two Titles
In Hutson’s second year as a pro, the Packers went 10-1-1 and won the NFL Championship over the Boston Redskins 21-6.
Today in 1936: Packers claim NFL crown with 21-6 win over Boston Redskins at New York's Polo Grounds. Don Hutson and Milt Gantenbein each get a receiving TD from Arnie Herber, while Clarke Hinkle runs for a game-high 58 yards on 16 carries. pic.twitter.com/I5vPGYcIeD
— Packers History (@HistoricPackers) December 14, 2021
Hutson scored the first touchdown of the game on a 48-yard pass from Herber.
That season he led the NFL in several categories including receptions (34) and touchdowns (eight).
The following year, Green Bay went 7-4 and missed the playoffs.
Hutson’s production didn’t slow down though.
That year he led the league with 41 receptions and seven touchdowns.
In 1938, the Packers returned to the NFL Championship only to lose to the New York Giants 23-17.
For the fourth year in a row, Hutson led the NFL in touchdowns (nine) as well as yards per game and total yards.
"For EVERY pass I caught in a game, I caught a THOUSAND in practice."
– Don Hutson pic.twitter.com/gmSBHfZH0E
— FNF Coaches (@fnfcoaches) May 5, 2018
He was named to the NFL’s first-team All-Pro Team for the first of eight times.
Green Bay went 9-2 in 1939 and faced the Giants again in the title game.
This time, the Packers avoided a repeat let-down and thumped New York 27-0.
Hutson led the NFL in four statistical categories including 34 receptions.
That season was Hutson’s first of four straight years where he was named an All-Star.
As Hutson was continually setting new standards in pass-catching, he was also becoming a football innovator.
Don Hutson was leaps and bounds ahead of his time. This video makes Don Hutson look like a man among boys. I think even if he played today, Don would be a prolific receiver in the NFL.
Have a great Monday and #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/hsJzIGH5cM
— The Green Bay Guy (@TheGreenBayGuy) February 19, 2018
Where many of the ends at the time would simply run straight forward and hope to elude their defender, Hutson made a series of feints to throw off defenders.
To make matters worse for opponents, Hutson was great at faking one way and going the other while at top speed.
“Hutson is the only man who can feint in three directions at once,” former Philadelphia coach Greasy Neale once said.
Additionally, Hutson was one of the first receivers to help develop what is now known as the receiver route tree.
If you are a wide receiver and your high school coach has not taught you the Route Tree then you are not a complete wide receiver or Tight End. pic.twitter.com/JFC3Di7Va8
— Next Level Athlete Training (@AthleteLevel) January 11, 2021
He met with his quarterbacks and fellow receivers and worked on a number of patterns so that the QB would know where they were headed and could throw to an exact spot.
“It is still an individual thing, a question of running the pass pattern correctly,” Hutson commented in later years. “Pass patterns have probably changed less than anything else in football.”
One of the most effective routes Hutson developed was called the “chair” route.
Simply put, Hutson ran forward for a set number of yards, then took a hard left or right for a few steps, then ran straight up the field.
Diagrammed on paper, the route looks like a giant chair.
What also set Hutson apart from fellow players and future pros was his defense and special teams’ work.
The NFL at the time permitted only limited substitutions which meant most players played both sides of the ball.
For a number of years, Lambeau had Hutson line up at defensive end where, with his small frame, he was beaten up early and often.
Hutson took a beating on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Unlike modern receivers, Hutson was literally an ‘end’ meaning he lined up at the end of the line next to the tackle.
That meant he would sometimes block opposing linemen when he wasn’t running for a pass.
Mercifully, Lambeau moved Hutson further away from the tackle late in Hutson’s career.
Lambeau also moved Hutson to the secondary beginning in 1939 where he snagged 30 passes over a six-year period.
Hutson was used by the Packers as a kicker for many years as well.
Several times he led the league in either extra points made or field goals.
In short, Hutson would eventually make 172 total extra points and seven field goals in his career.
Hutson is an MVP
The Packers suffered through a 6-4-1 record in 1940 while Hutson had 45 receptions and led the NFL with seven touchdowns.
Aug. 29, 1940: Don Hutson catches 3 TD passes in a victory Curly Lambeau would call the biggest of his career.
📰: https://t.co/KTAYtNg2WP #Packers100 pic.twitter.com/efDTYD6zrd
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) July 18, 2018
Then, in 1941, Green Bay went 10-1 but lost in the Divisional Playoff to Chicago.
Hutson humiliated the competition in ‘41 by leading the league in six categories including receptions (58) and touchdowns (10).
His receptions marked the first time a receiver caught more than 50 passes during a season and Hutson was named the NFL’s MVP.
In 1942, Hutson was widely acclaimed as the best receiver in the young history of the NFL when he caught an astounding 74 passes for 1,211 yards (another first for a receiver) and a whopping 17 touchdowns.
He led the league in each category as well as several others including yards per game with 110.1.
Despite the fact that the Packers missed the postseason, Hutson was named the league’s MVP for the second year in a row.
The MVP selection committee noted that Hutson won the award not just based on stats.
“Also considered were his (Hutson’s) nuisance value as a disrupter of enemy defenses and his ability to transform the Packers into a confident, powerful aggregation in clutch situations.”
Another Championship then Retirement
Before the 1943 season began, Hutson announced his retirement due to an ongoing chest injury.
He would then reconsider and return to Green Bay to lead the NFL in five categories including receptions (47) and touchdowns (11) as the Packers went 7-2-1.
In 1944, Hutson led the league in receptions (58) and touchdowns (nine) as well as several other categories.
He also spent the season as a player/coach after initially announcing his retirement for a second time.
The Packers went 8-2 in ‘44 and defeated the Giants 14-7 in the NFL Championship Game.
Hutson successfully kicked both extra points in the contest to contribute to his third world championship.
A year later, Hutson chose to hang up his cleats for good after serving as a player/coach again and leading the NFL with 47 receptions.
How ahead of his time was Don Hutson?
This was career rec yards list when he retired in 1945:
1. Don Hutson 7,991
2. Jim Benton 3,309
3. Joe Carter 1,989
4. Charley Malone 1,932
5. Ray McLean 1,759
Oh, and he also played defense & special teams pic.twitter.com/VLCHW3xIa1
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) May 18, 2021
In 11 years, Hutson caught 488 total passes for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns.
Additionally, he rushed for three touchdowns, scored two touchdowns on blocked punts, and had an interception return for a touchdown for a career total of 105 scores.
Hutson was a three-time NFL champion, two-time MVP, eight-time first-team All-Pro, four-time NFL All-Star, eight-time NFL receptions leader, seven-time NFL receptions leader, nine-time NFL touchdown receptions leader, five-time NFL scoring leader, and (remarkably) NFL interception leader in 1940.
He was later named to the NFL’s 1930s All-Decade Team and the league’s 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary Teams.
Don Hutson is one of the 10 wide receivers selected to the #NFL100 All-Time Team!
🧀 6x First-Team All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl selection
🧀 3x NFL Champion
🧀 488 receptions, 7,991 receiving yards, 99 receiving TDs
🧀 Led NFL in receptions 8 times, rec. yards 7 times, rec. TDs 9 times pic.twitter.com/rCnMxpUcUn
— NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2019
Hutson would be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and his jersey number 14 was retired by the organization.
Several of Hutson’s league records remained in place for several decades.
“I love to see my records broken, I really do,” he said in 1989. “You get a chance to relive a part of your life, the whole experience.”
It is a testament to his skills and accomplishments that Hutson’s name still tops the leaderboards in many NFL categories for receivers.
Post Retirement and Death
Once Hutson officially retired from the game, he remained in Green Bay as an assistant coach through the 1948 season.
He then got into business, which was something that had long interested him.
“At the University [of Alabama], I was the only athlete in the business school,” Hutson said in 1989. “The only reason I wanted to play pro sports was to get a stake.”
After graduating from Alabama, and during his first few seasons in Green Bay, Hutson partnered with Bryant in a dry cleaning business that eventually faltered.
When he wasn’t playing football, Hutson owned and operated a bowling alley in Green Bay.
He then gravitated to car dealerships after his football career and was successful in that endeavor as well.
“I never aimed for automobiles,” said Hutson in 1989. “That just happened to be the thing I got into. I just wanted to run a business, any business.”
In 1951, Hutson was inducted as a charter member into the College Football Hall of Fame and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 also as a charter member.
Hall of Famer Don Hutson was born OTD in 1913. Hall of Fame Enshrinement Class of 1963. Hutson is considered to have been the first modern receiver and is credited with creating many of the modern pass routes used in the NFL today. pic.twitter.com/Cgu6dnRRKD
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 31, 2019
He moved to Rancho Mirage, California after retiring from the business world and passed away on June 26, 1997, at the age of 84.
Hutson is still remembered by football historians and his name in the record books stands as a reminder of his greatness.
“In the years to come whenever forward-pass catching is mentioned, one name will always be mentioned first – Don Hutson, without a doubt the greatest pass catcher the game of football has ever known and probably the greatest it will ever know,” former coach Clark Shaughnessy wrote in 1943. “No one but Superman could perform the feats Don Hutson has performed in catching passes.”
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