Countdown to Canton: The time has come for LaVern Dilweg to finally reach Canton

Ron Borges

No one remembers LaVern Dilweg anymore, but those who faced him never could forgot him. That’s because he was, in the long-forgotten opinion of those who knew him best, the best defensive end they ever saw.

None of us were there, of course, when LaVern Dilweg ruled his position between 1926 and 1934. So let’s hear from two Hall of Famers who were and who remembered him achingly well.

First, there's Red Grange, the Hall-of-Fame running back for the Chicago Bears who many believe saved the NFL from bankruptcy and extinction with his 1925 cross-country barnstorming tour that included eight games in 11 days and a total of 19 in 67. He called Dilweg, “the greatest end who ever brought me down.”

And then there was the opinion of Hall-of-Fame fullback Bronco Nagurski, who once said Dilweg was “one of the top five players in the history of the NFL”

That’s why Dilweg is among the 20 senior finalists for the NFL’s Centennial Hall-of-Fame class. Of those 20, only 10 will make it. Lavvie Dilweg seems as qualified as any and, in the opinion of people long gone but who knew him best, better than most.

“Dilweg faded out of the picture just about the time the seven-man line went out of fashion, but without question he was the greatest end the seven-man-line-type-of- defense ever developed,” Hall-of-Fame coach Curly Lambeau said in 1945.

So what did he do during his nine-year professional career to garner such universal acclaim? Well, for one, he made the All-Pro team eight times, missing only in his final season. Of those eight, five were first-team All-Pro. And of those, five four were by unanimous vote.

Seems few of those who observed him in his time had doubts who LaVern Dilwig was. He was the best in the business at his position.

Dilweg is one of only two members of the 1920 all-decade team NOT in the Hall of Fame, and, oddly, was selected All-Pro more often than two of his former Packers' teammates, Cal Hubbard and Johnny “Blood’’ McNally. The latter are both enshrined in Canton.

Why Dilweg isn’t is impossible to fathom. Because in his time, which is all one can be judged by, he was unanimously viewed as the best two-way end in pro football. Isn’t that the very definition of a Hall of Famer? That he dominated in his day?

Although record-keeping was spotty in pro football’s early days, Dilweg is officially credited with 23 receptions for 443 yards and a remarkable 12 touchdowns. That’s a score every other time he caught the ball! He also averaged 19.3 yards per catch at a time when the forward pass was in its infancy, and the ball was shaped like a watermelon and weighed nearly as much as one.

Unofficially, Dilweg also made 27 interceptions during his career, a number topped at the time only by Blood. Yet as reliable as he was as a receiver, LaVern Dilweg was more importantly a fierce blocker and tenacious tackler. Those were the skills most valued by an end in pro football’s early years, and he did both more consistently than his peers.

Far more than simply pile up opposing ball carriers and personal success however, Dilweg also anchored the defense on three consecutive NFL championship teams for the Packers (1929-31). That helped to create pro football’s first dynasty.

If all that doesn’t make him Hall-of-Fame worthy it is impossible to fathom what the criteria might be. But if you care to add good use of free time consider this: Dilweg graduated from Marquette Law School and passed the bar in 1927, his first season in Green Bay. For the remainder of his career he played football in the mornings and worked as a lawyer every afternoon.

"Everybody was very understanding,’’ Dilweg once explained. “If I needed a continuance because of a road trip, I'd generally get it. Most of the men in my day did nothing in the afternoons, but I was able to use law as a living, with football as a helper.’’

Dilweg would go on to serve a term in the United States House of Representatives, work as a Big-10 referee and was appointed to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission by then-President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

One could argue LaVern Dilweg did more important things in his life than play pro football, but you can’t argue he did them better because according to his peers and his resume he was the best end in the NFL between 1920 and 1934. Doesn’t being the best make you a Hall of Famer?

Link to LaVern Dilwig’s original State Your Case: https://mavensports.io/nfl/talkoffame/nfl/state-your-case-lavvie-dilweg-is-long-overdue-for-canton-CDtU5rwG_0Gg4zJSLTCeKwCenen

Comments (2)
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brian wolf
brian wolf

Those interceptions and TDs are hard to ignore...

If Lewellen/Dilweg can't get in, why should anyone ? Haha

A tough call on a coinflip, but I would be okay if both made it.

bachslunch
bachslunch

Ron, fine article. Lavern Dilweg is for me the single biggest Senior snub of all. Fine honors profile of 6/-/20s, looks terrific in the limited sample size over at Ken Crippen’s film study site, a monster on both sides of the line of scrimmage. I really, really hope he finally gets his due as a HoF inductee. And if he and Verne Lewellen both make the final ten inductee list, it’ll be like Christmas Day for me.