Green Bay Packers legendary split end Don Hutson is known around Green Bay as having his number, one of five numbers, retired at Lambeau Field, having the team’s indoor facility named in his honor, and being one of the NFL’s greatest players of his era. Only few Packer fans may know he was the NFL’s first true dominant receiver, and was a sore thumb among offensive weapons in the NFL. During Hutson’s 11-year NFL career (1935-1945), the running game was the bread and butter of an NFL offense. Hutson, a skinny wide receiver from Alabama, changed the future of aerial assaults in the NFL.
Born in January 1913 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Hutson was a standout athlete at Pine Bluff High School. Hutson was a track and field star and a great centerfielder on Pine Bluff High’s baseball team, but he didn’t start on the school’s football team until his senior year.
After high school, Hutson accepted a partial baseball scholarship to the University of Alabama, and was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide football team. As a senior in 1934, Hutson was a 1st-team football All-American. In the Rose Bowl, Hutson capped off his college career by catching six passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-13 win over the Stanford Cardinal, en route to a National Title.
Hutson, who reportedly ran a 9.7-second 100-yard dash, was regarded as one of the nation’s best college football players. Many NFL teams though shied away from offering Hutson a contract, fearing his 6’1", 185-pound frame couldn’t handle the rigors of professional football.
Hutson received contract offers from the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and Green Bay Packers. Hutson signed both contracts, and both arrived at the NFL league office on the same day. NFL President Joseph Carr decided that Hutson would play for the Packers because Hutson had signed the Packers’ contract 17 minutes before signing the Brooklyn Dodgers contract.
In his rookie year, on the first play from scrimmage in Hutson’s second career NFL game, Packers’ quarterback Arnie Herber connected with Hutson on an 83-yard touchdown pass against the Chicago Bears. The NFL’s first dominant receiver had arrived.
One year later, Hutson helped the Packers win their 4th NFL title, defeating the Boston Redskins, 21-16. Hutson was an offensive dynamo, and he wreaked just as much havoc as a safety for the Packers’ defense. In 1940, Hutson led the NFL with six interceptions. In 1943, he intercepted eight passes in ten games. Hutson was also the Packers’ kicker on special teams. In 1941, 1942, and 1945, he led the NFL in extra points made and attempted.
As a receiver in 1941 and 1942, Hutson was the first player to catch 50 passes in a season and record 1,000 receiving yards in one season, respectively. Hutson won the Joseph F. Carr Trophy for NFL’s Most Valuable Player both seasons.
In 1942, Hutson caught an NFL-record 17 touchdown passes in 11 games. The record stood for 42 years, until Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mark Clayton broke it in 16 games. Comparing the two seasons, Packer quarterbacks had attempted 330 total passes during the 1942 season. In 1984, Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino had completed 362 passes.
In 1945, Hutson scored 29 points (four touchdowns and five extra points)…in one QUARTER of a game. Hutson, arguably the most dominant football player in his era, retired after the 1945 season and became an assistant coach on Curly Lambeau’s staff for the next three seasons. At the time of his retirement, Hutson held 18 NFL records.
Hutson was a 9-time NFL All-Pro, a 3-time NFL Champion, and caught 488 passes for over 7,000 yards in his career. In only 117 career games, Hutson scored 105 total touchdowns (99 receiving, 3 rushing, 3 defensive). Hutson averaged 0.85 touchdowns per game in his 11-year NFL career, the best average for a receiver in NFL history.
Hutson scored 811 career points (105 touchdowns, 160 extra points, 7 field goals), and intercepted 30 passes in his career. Hutson still holds eight NFL records, and his 99 career receiving touchdowns is the most in Green Bay Packers’ team history. Hutson is credited to this day for creating receiving routes such as “z-outs”, “button hooks”, “hook-and-go’s”, along with numerous moves to get off of the line of scrimmage and create space.
In 1951, the Green Bay Packers retired Hutson’s number 14 jersey during a December 2nd game at City Stadium, the first number ever retired by the Packers.
In 1999, the Sporting News ranked Hutson as the 6th greatest NFL player of all-time, the highest rank for a Green Bay Packer and a pre-World War II player. In 2012, NFL Network named Hutson the greatest Green Bay Packer of all time. NFL.com has also previously ranked Hutson as the 9th greatest NFL player of all-time.
Hutson, who has a park in Pine Bluff named in his honor, died in 1997. Hutson’s legendary status still lingers in Green Bay, and rightfully so. Of all the great wide receivers throughout NFL history, Don Hutson has leverage over every one of them, because he was the player who started it all and ultimately changed the game forever.
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