(EDITOR’S NOTE: During the offseason we sometimes ask guest columnists to contribute opinion pieces, and historian Ken Crippen – president of the Professional Football Researchers Association and someone who has researched and written about pro football the past 30 years – was kind enough to offer this article on Lavvie Dilweg and Al Wistert.)
The Blue Ribbon panel that last year selected the Hall-of-Fame’s Centennial Class chose two finalists who ultimately were not selected -- Lavvie Dilweg and Al Wistert. Both deserve to have their cases heard by the entire selection committee, and both deserve induction.
Dilweg was one of the best all-around ends in pro football prior to the arrival of Don Hutson, the man who replaced him on the Green Bay Packers when Dilweg retired after the 1934 season. In fact, it was because of Hutson’s outstanding career that Dilweg’s name is all but forgotten. But while Dilweg was not a flashy player, his career deserves recognition.
In 1926, the 6-foot-3, 199-pound Dilweg joined the Milwaukee Badgers of the National Football League. He was an outstanding player on a mediocre team. But when the Badgers folded after one season, Dilweg signed with the Packers – and they later won three consecutive championships in the eight years he was there to become one of the greatest teams of that era.
Over his nine seasons – an unusually long career at the time – Dilweg made at least one All-Pro team every year except his final season. He was also named to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s all-decade team of the 1920s as an end, along with Guy Chamberlin and George Halas.
Now let’s compare Dilweg to the other two selections. He was consensus All-Pro six times during his career, while Chamberlin was a consensus All-Pro three times and Halas was never a consensus choice. Even if the 1930s’ All-Pro selections were removed from Dilweg’s resume, he was still a consensus choice four times in the 1920s – or more than Chamberlin and Halas combined. Yet Dilweg played only the last half of the decade (four years for Dilweg; eight for Chamberlin and nine for Halas).
Both Chamberlain and Halas were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though not strictly for their play. Both were championship coaches, and Halas was a league founder.
To give you an idea of his consistency, Dilweg was a consensus All-Pro six consecutive years, with four as a unanimous choice. From 1920 through 1950, only one other player at that position was able to match that accomplishment -- Don Hutson with 10.
Mac Speedie, a member of the Hall’s Centennial Class, had four consecutive consensus All-Pro selections, and Bill Hewitt had three. No other end who played during that time had more than two. None of that would make a highlight film, but players, coaches and the media of his day knew that Lavvie Dilweg was the best.
Not all statistics are available from the early days of the NFL. However, we do know that Dilweg had 27 interceptions from the defensive-end position … and let that sink in for a minute: He had 27 interceptions from the defensive-end position. To put that into context, let’s look at the other pre-modern era ends: Red Badgro had two, while Wayne Milner and Bill Hewitt had none.
Don Hutson had 30, but he didn’t play defensive end. He played defensive back.
Dilweg was extremely quick off the ball and had good-to-excellent straight-line speed. He was able to shed blocks easily and get into the backfield to disrupt play. But he was also quick enough to drop into coverage and stay with receivers, as well as close the distance between himself and a ball carrier.
I will echo what the editors of Total Football have said about him: “Lavern Dilweg, by nearly all contemporary accounts, was the best end in pro football almost from his first game in 1926 until his last in 1934.”
Then there’s lineman Al Wistert. He captained two NFL championship teams and won numerous All-Pro honors during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. Wistert was named to at least one major All-Pro first-team six times (consecutively from 1944-1949), including five as a consensus choice (1944-1948).
In four seasons from 1946 through 1949, major news agencies selected combined all-NFL/AAFC teams, and Wistert was named first-team on at least one all four years: 1946 (AP), 1947 (AP, Sportswriters Inc.), 1948 (Sportswriters Inc., The Sporting News), and 1949 (International News Service). No other player accomplished that feat, including the 16 Pro Football Hall of Famers who played all four of those seasons.
Furthermore, of the 10 all-NFL/AAFC teams selected from 1946 through 1949, Wistert was named to six. Only Hall-of-Famers Mac Speedie, Steve Van Buren and Bulldog Turner were named to more. Wistert was also named to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s all-decade team of the 1940s.
In The Hidden Game of Football, football historians Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn analyzed the Hall-of-Fame credentials of hundreds of players. They determined that of all two-way tackles not in the Hall of Fame, Wistert was the most deserving of enshrinement. Here are their Top 10 two-way tackles:
*Have subsequently been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
In watching film of Wistert, I see that he had excellent quickness and explosion off the snap. He also had excellent lateral movement, and his instincts were exceptional. He quickly engaged the defender, and, after release, looked for the second and third blocks downfield. He could seal and wall off defenders in any direction to open a hole for his backs.
The best example of that was the 1948 NFL championship game when the Philadelphia Eagles took on the Chicago Cardinals. Historians like to talk about Jerry Kramer’s block in the Ice Bowl, but I think Wistert’s block was more impressive. On a snowy and icy field, he took on two defenders, rotated them 90 degrees to the left and opened a huge hole for Steve Van Buren to score the winning touchdown.
As a pass blocker, Wistert showed excellent lateral movement and agility. His head was on a swivel when he was not engaged with a defender, he always looked for the block and he made great decisions. He was also quick enough to pick up missed blocks by teammates. When he played left guard, he showed enough agility to drop back and protect against the rushing right defensive end coming from the outside of the left offensive tackle.
His number was retired in 1952, and he has since been inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles’ Hall of Fame.
Both Dilweg and Wistert deserve to have their cases put forth by the senior selection committee, and both deserve induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both have waited far too long, and it is up to the senior selection committee to right that wrong.