GREEN BAY, Wis. – Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of Green Bay Packers legend Don Hutson.
Hutson was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1963. You could argue no player dominated any sport like Hutson dominated the young NFL.
Said his Hall of Fame presenter, Dante Lavelli: “Don Hutson set records for pass catching and scoring which only legislation can wipe out. He is a football yard stick. Each bright new receiver is hailed as a second Don Hutson and later perhaps as a better than Hutson. Then time turns the page on that player and Don is left to wait the next comparison to come and go.”
Hutson played 11 seasons, from 1935 through 1945. The statistical superiority borders on silly. According to Pro Football Reference, when Hutson retired after the 1945 season:
- He had 488 receptions. At the time, Jim Benton was second on the all-time list with 190 receptions, Charley Malone was third with 137 and Joe Carter was fourth with 132. That’s a combined 459 receptions – 29 fewer than Hutson.
- He had 7,991 receiving yards. At the time, Benton was second on the all-time list with 3,309 yards, Carter was third with 1,989 yards and Malone was fourth with 1,932 yards. The combined total from those three players, 7,230 yards, was still 761 yards less than Hutson.
- He had 99 receiving touchdowns. At the time, Johnny Blood – another Packers legend – was second with 36 receiving touchdowns, Benton was third with 33 and Bill Hewitt was fourth with 23. Their combined total of 92 receiving touchdowns was seven less than Hutson.
- He had 105 total touchdowns. That was more than the combined total of 99 touchdowns scored by the next two players, fellow Packers legends Verne Lewellen (51) and Blood (48).
“Don had the most fluid motion you had ever seen when he was running," Hutson’s teammate at the University of Alabama, the equally legendary Bear Bryant, once said. “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.”
To say Hutson was ahead of his time would be stating the obvious. During Hutson’s era, pro football mostly was 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Not with Hutson. In his 11 seasons, he led the NFL in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times (but yards per game eight times) and receiving touchdowns nine times.
“I just concede him two touchdowns a game, and I hope we can score more," Bears legend George Halas once said.
In 1942, he recorded the NFL’s first 1,000-yard receiving season. He obliterated that threshold with his 74 receptions for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns in 11 games. At the time, no other player had more than 707 yards in a single season. By himself, Hutson had more receiving yards than four of the other nine teams.
The 17 touchdowns crushed his old record of 10. The Chicago Bears were the only team that season that scored more times through the air than Hutson.
Hutson’s 1942 was akin to Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign of 1927. Extrapolated over the old 16-game format, that would equate to 108 catches for 1,761 yards and 25 touchdowns. Pushed to today’s 17-game format, Hutson’s numbers would equate to 114 receptions for 1,872 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Even today, his 17-touchdown season ranks as the sixth-best in NFL history. Randy Moss (23 in 2007), Jerry Rice (22 in just 12 games in 1987), Davante Adams (18 in 2020), Sterling Sharpe (18 in 1994) and Mark Clayton (18 in 1984) rank as the best all-time.
Hutson’s 99 career receiving touchdowns ranks 11th in NFL history. His record stood for 44 yards, with Steve Largent catching his 100th and final touchdown pass in 1989.
Playing against the Detroit Lions in 1945, Hutson caught four touchdowns. In one quarter. Along with five extra points, he scored 29 points in that second period – a record that might live forever. The Associated Press described it as “aerial scoring orgy.”
Hutson holds several other NFL records, including five seasons overall and four seasons consecutively as the league’s scoring champion. Hutson led the NFL in touchdowns eight times; no other player achieved that feat on more than three occasions. Hutson led the NFL in touchdown receptions a record five consecutive times? No. 2 on the list? Hutson with four.
Oh, and he led the NFL with six interceptions in 1940 and added a career-high eight in 1943.
Hutson’s name lives on in Green Bay with the indoor practice facility named in his honor. Ron Wolf was the general manager at the time. During a ceremony marking its opening, Wolf said: “I don't know if there is such a thing as royalty in professional football, but this is the closest I've ever come to it.”
NFC North Insiders
Get ready for the 2022 NFL season with our 12-part NFC North Insiders series, with stories running every Saturday and Sunday until training camp. Next week: The best- and worst-case scenarios for the Packers’ and their divisional rivals.
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