Don Hutson Was Almost Literally Unstoppable
NFL.com writer and former Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt is in the midst an interesting offseason project: he’s ranking the top players at every position, regardless of era.
A few days ago, he released his list of wide receivers and a bunch of people with no grasp of NFL history lost their collective minds as Brandt ranked Don Hutson as the second best wide receiver ever.
Brandt, who at 84 is in theory old enough to have actually seen Hutson play, certainly knows better than most what Hutson contributed to the game, but for those on the internet who don’t know how to operate their Google machines, let’s spell it out:
Don Hutson almost literally invented the position of wide receiver and played it more dominantly than anybody ever has.
Hutson dominated the game
Prior to Hutson’s arrival in Green Bay, throwing the ball was considered more of a lark than a real offensive strategy. With Hutson and big-armed quarterbacks Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell on the roster, the Packers changed all that, piling up passing yards and wins as they dominated the 1930s and 1940s.
Over his eleven year career, Hutson led the league in receiving touchdowns nine times, receptions eight times, and receiving yards seven times. He literally rewrote the record books for receiving yards. Check out how the single-season record for receiving yards changed over Hutson’s career.
Nobody could cover Don Hutson, no matter what they tried
His statistical dominance belies how truly frightful he was as an opponent. Nobody had ever seen anything like Hutson before, so nobody had the slightest idea of how to defend him. Double and triple teams didn’t work, so teams tried to just stick their best athlete on him and hope for the best.
That failed too, often in spectacular fashion. In the 1963 book Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Arthur Daley recounts one particularly notable way that Hutson evaded a defender.
The Packers were set to face off with the Cleveland Rams. Cleveland’s head coach, Dutch Clark, assigned his fastest defender, Dante Magnani, to shadow Hutson.
On one fateful play, Hutson revealed he had other plans::
Suddenly, Hutson shifted into high gear. Magnani almost blew a fuse in an effort to stay with him, but stay with him he did. Down that imaginary diagonal line sped Hutson until he reached the 10-yard line.
Then, Don gave it the jet propulsion. In some inexplicable fashion, Magnani also gave a superhuman burst and stayed with him.
At the same breakneck speed Hutson ran at the right goal post and hooked the upright with his left arm. His feet left the ground and his momentum spun him around the post. Just as he wheeled in the opposite direction to face the field, he reached out his right arm and caught the touchdown pass that Cecil Isbell floated to him.
That was Don Hutson for you.
Hutson used skills like that to lead the NFL in scoring a record five consecutive seasons. In the several generations since Hutson retired, only Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has come close to matching that output, leading the league four consecutive seasons from 2012 through 2015.
Oh, and on top of that, Hutson turned out to be a pretty great defensive back as well. He only played in the defensive backfield for the final six years of his career, but managed 30 interceptions in that span.