Green Bay Packers: Don Hutson was the Babe Ruth of the NFL in his Era

Don Hutson

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On February 19, 1935, one year before the NFL draft was established, the Green Bay Packers signed Don Hutson out of the University of Alabama.

The signing did not come without controversy according to a story which has been told for generations. Hutson signed with both the Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers (then a team in the NFL). League president Joe Carr had to settle the matter and he awarded Hutson to the Packers based on an earlier postmark mailed to his office, which contained Hutson’s contract.

No matter, Hutson was a perfect fit for the Packers. Head coach Curly Lambeau had established the forward pass as a big weapon that the Packers would utilize in a league that relied almost entirely on the running game.

Hutson truly changed the position of wide receiver in the NFL during his era and set records like Babe Ruth did when he was playing major league baseball.

Hutson held 18 NFL records at the time of his retirement, which tells you how dominant he was at his position. Hutson led the league in receiving eight times. In fact, the former Crimson Tide star held the all-time record for TD receptions with 99, before it was finally broken by Steve Largent in 1989. Hutson had 105 TDs overall in his career.

Hutson is third in career team scoring with 823 points.

Hutson was also a two-way player during his time in Green Bay, which was common in the NFL back then. Hutson was also a defensive back and had 30 career interceptions, including one for a touchdown.

Hutson was also a kicker with seven career field goals and 172 extra points made. No. 14 was also exceptional on other units on special teams, as he returned two blocked punts for touchdowns.

Like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, Hutson was a multiple award-winner of the NFL’s MVP award, as he won it twice in 1941 and 1942.

I learned about Hutson from my dad at the kitchen table growing up in the 1960s, as he wanted me to learn about the team he grew up watching. While I was enamored with players like Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer and Ray Nitschke, my dad grew up loving the play of Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Cecil Isbell and Clarke Hinkle.

As dominating as the Vince Lombardi Packers were in the 1960s, winning five NFL titles in seven years (including the first two Super Bowls), the Lambeau Packers also won six NFL titles.

The Packers won three of those NFL titles during Hutson’s tenure, winning in 1936, 1939 and 1944.

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Hutson is in the Packers Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hutson was All-Pro 11 times and was named to the Pro Bowl four times. The Packers also honored Hutson by retiring his uniform number (No. 14) and by dedicating their state-of-the-art practice facility across from Lambeau Field in 1994 to Hutson’s name.

Green Bay Packers: Why LeRoy Butler Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

LeRoy Butler In Super Bowl XXXI

Former Green Bay Packers great LeRoy Butler has been patiently knocking on the door of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For two consecutive years, Butler was named among the 25 modern-era semifinalists for enshrinement in Canton.

It’s a well deserved distinction for Butler, who was a four-time, first-team AP All-Pro, as well as being a four-time Pro Bowler.

Butler did not make it to the final 15 for the second consecutive year as a nominee, but it appears the door might be soon be answered in terms of Butler getting a bust in Canton. Or it could also be a case of a window may be opening soon, as Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com recently wrote.

The next safety to most likely make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Steve Atwater, formerly of the Denver Broncos. Atwater was named to the NFL’s All-Decade of the 1990s team as a first-team safety.

Guess who the other first-team safety was on that 1990s team? If you answered Butler, you are correct.

Atwater and Butler are the only two first-team players on that 1990s team not enshrined in Canton.

I talked to Rick Gosselin earlier this week and Gosselin is not only a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he sits on two important committees. One being the Seniors Committee, while the other is the Contributors Committee.

Gosselin played a big role in helping get Jerry Kramer his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. Not only did he speak out on Kramer’s behalf in the seniors meeting in August to get Kramer nominated as a senior candidate, he also gave one of two presentations for Kramer to the entire 48-person Selection Committee on February 3, 2018.

Dougherty gave the other presentation for No. 64.

Kramer was inducted later that day.

Gosselin is an avid believer that any player who is named to an All-Decade team deserves strong consideration into being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. That is why he too believes that Butler has a chance to get in fairly soon.

Speaking of All-Decade players, Gosselin also believes that wide receiver Boyd Dowler of the Packers, who was on the the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, deserves the same consideration.

Not only was Dowler on that team, but he was also on the second-team of the NFL 50th anniversary team. Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer of the Packers (third-team) are the only members of that 45-player team to not have a bust in Canton.

Bob and Rick Gosselin

Bob Fox and Rick Gosselin. (Daniel Kramer photo)

When I told Gosselin last year that I was planning on doing a series of articles about Packers who I believe belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rick told me to make sure that I included Dowler, Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

Back to Butler now. First of all, the former Florida State Seminole star is one of only four defensive backs in NFL history to have at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks. Butler had 38 picks and 20.5 sacks in his 12-year career with the Pack.

The other three are Charles Woodson (65/25) formerly of the Packers and Oakland Raiders, Ronde Barber (38/28) formerly of the Tampa Bay Bucs and Brian Dawkins (37/26) formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was enshrined into the Hall in 2018.

Woodson looks to be a definite first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2021.

Atwater, who was among the final 15 players this year in the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting had 24 interceptions and five sacks, while John Lynch, formerly of the Bucs and the Broncos, and who was also among the final 15 players in the voting, had 26 picks and 13 sacks.

Lynch has been a finalist six times.

Butler, Atwater and Lynch also all played for Super Bowl champions in their careers.

Butler played a key role in the 35-21 win by the Packers over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers were down 14-10 in the game when defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur decided to create more pressure on quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the Pats.

Shurmur directed Butler to start blitzing. Butler sacked Bledsoe once, plus his aggressiveness created even more sacks and pass pressure on Bledsoe. The Packers had five sacks in the game (three by Reggie White) and also caused Bledsoe to throw four interceptions.

In the great legacy of the Packers, Butler played in more games (181) than any other defensive back in team history. Besides his 38 picks and 20.5 sacks, Butler also had 13 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries.

No. 36 always seemed to be around the ball.

Butler also created the “Lambeau Leap” in 1993, when in a game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Butler took a lateral from White who had recovered a fumble, and No. 36 took it all the way to the end zone for a score.

It was Butler’s first career touchdown and because of the excitement, Butler leaped into the stands at Lambeau Field. The “Leap” has become a fixture now after the Packers score a touchdown at home. Not all players do the “Leap” after a score, but most do.

LeRoy Butler Lambeau Leap

There is no doubt that Butler has the résumé to definitely become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The door or window seems to be opening for Butler and other safeties like Atwater and Lynch (as well as Troy Palamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers) to get a bust in Canton. Of the 318 members now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are just 11 pure safeties who have been inducted, with the latest being Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens and Johnny Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Two of those 11 safeties played with the Packers. One was Emlen Tunnell, who spent most of his career with the New York Giants, while the other was Willie Wood, who Tunnell was a mentor to early in Wood’s career.

Another former Green Bay safety who deserves to be in Canton is Bobby Dillon.

The bottom line is that Butler will eventually get a bust in Canton. I base that comment because of what I have heard from Gosselin, who has one of the more powerful voices among the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While I was crusading for Kramer to get his rightful enshrinement among the best of the best in Canton over several years, Gosselin reassured me that Kramer would eventually get in and indeed it finally happened. Rick told me the same thing earlier this week about Butler.

When Butler is finally enshrined, you can bet that Packer Nation will “leap” for joy!

Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson, the Forgotten Man

Phil Bengtson

Everyone who knows the history of the NFL and the history of the Green Bay Packers, know that under head coach Vince Lombardi, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, including three in a row from 1965 through 1967, plus were victorious in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

There were many reasons for that achievement, notably the presence of Lombardi himself, who now has the Super Bowl trophy named after him and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.  The players were very talented as well, as 13 Lombardi era Packers were also inducted into the Hall of Fame, most recently Jerry Kramer.

There are a few more players that probably should be inducted into the Hall as well.  Boyd Dowler, Ron Kramer, Gale Gillingham, Fuzzy Thurston and Don Chandler come to mind.

But there is a coach that rarely gets mentioned, probably because he was the one that took over for Lombardi in 1968 as head coach.

That man is Phil Bengtson.  Most people recall that Bengtson had a 20-21-1 record in his three years as head coach.  Bengtson was also general manager in 1969 and1970 after Lombardi left.

There were reasons for Bengtson‘s head coaching record, but let us take a look first at his record as the de facto defensive coordinator from 1959 through 1967, although he never held that title.

When we look at the Packers in the Vince era, Lombardi ran the offense and Bengtson ran the defense.  Of the 13 Lombardi era Packers that made it to the Hall of Fame, seven were on the defense.  They were middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, outside linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Emlen Tunnell, who spent most of his career in New York as a Giant, but was with the Pack from 1959 through 1961.

There is no question that the Packers had the best defense in the NFL during that era.  The Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns all had outstanding defenses as well in that period, but no defense was more consistently good than the Packers.

Bengtson was able to plug in players and make them very effective when other players moved on.  Early in the Lombardi era, Bengtson had folks like defensive tackle Dave “Hawg” Hanner, defensive end Bill Quinlan, outside linebacker Dan Currie, outside linebacker Bill Forrester, cornerback Hank Gremminger, cornerback Jesse Whittenton, safety Johnny Symak and Tunnell as starters for periods of time.

Phil with Vince and others

All were very productive.  But over time those players were replaced by players such as defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, safety Tom Brown, defensive back Doug Hart, cornerback Bob Jeter, as well as Adderley and Robinson.  The excellence continued.

In the Bengtson era on defense under Lombardi, the Packers were always in the top 10 ranking, including being in the top 5 seven times and were ranked No. 1 twice.  That is quite a résumé, especially when you add the five NFL titles and the two Super Bowl wins.

But a lot of fans think of Bengtson as a head coach only, after Lombardi resigned as head coach in 1968, and stuck around one year as general manager before heading to Washington to become head coach and general manager there for the Redskins in 1969.

If one looks at the 1968 season, Bengtson was hamstrung by a team that was aging, some key injuries, some bad luck and a very poor kicking game as the team had a 6-7-1 record.

In 1968, the Packers had a lot of starters that were over the age of 30.  Quarterback Bart Starr had the second best passer rating of his career at 104.3 in 1968, but he was only able to start nine games because of injuries, most notably a shoulder injury.

The team lost several very close games in 1968, including five by a touchdown or less. Most of those losses came from a very inconsistent and ineffective kicking game.  Chandler retired after the 1967 season and his successors, Mike Mercer (7-of-12), Chuck Mercein (2-of-5), Erroll Mann (0-of-3) and Kramer (4-of-9) were a combined 13-of-29 in terms of successful field goals.  The Packers also missed three extra points that year.

The Minnesota Vikings won the NFL Central in 1968 with an 8-6 record.  The Packers had a chance to repeat again, as Bengtson had his defense ranked No. 3, but the other shortcomings doomed the team to their record.  Bengtson deserved better.

In 1969, the Packers finished 8-6, as Bengtson once again had his defense ranked high at No. 4.  But the Vikings ran away with the NFL Central title on their way to Super Bowl IV vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, the team the Packers beat 35-10 in Super Bowl I.  The Chiefs fared better this time beating the Vikings 23-7.

Starr once again only started nine games because of injury issues in 1969.  The main problem for the Packers once again was their paltry kicking game as the Packers were 6-of-22 in field goal attempts.  Bottom line, just like 1968, with a better kicking game, who knows how the Packers would have finished in 1969.

Backup quarterback Don Horn flashed that season, as he was 4-1 as a starter and ended the season in magnificent fashion, as he threw five touchdowns passes against the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game of the season at Lambeau Field, plus threw for 410 yards.

The wheels sort of fell off in 1970 though, as aging process of the roster was in full bloom and new players were being plugged in.  Starr was a shadow of his former self with a passer rating of 63.9.  Once again the kicking game was mediocre at best, as the Packers were only 15-of-28 in field goals.

Even the vaunted Packer defense failed Bengtson, as the Packers finished 16th in total defense, in the first year of the NFL/AFL merger.  Bengtson resigned in December of 1970 and was replaced by Dan Devine in 1971.

Phil and Vince

Bengtson received his proper due in 1985, as he was named to the Packer Hall of Fame.  Still, Bengtson deserves more recognition for all that he did for those great Packer teams of the 1960’s.

But the very large shadow of Lombardi somewhat concealed Bengtson‘s very successful tenure as the defensive guru of the Packers.  But Lombardi himself knew how important Bengtson was to the Packers.

That is why he named his loyal lieutenant Bengtson as his successor.

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame ever adds a wing where they honor assistant coaches or coordinators, Bengtson would definitely have the track record to get into Canton.

Bottom line, Bengtson is forgotten by some when people reminisce about the legendary success of the Packers of the 1960’s.  But he shouldn’t be.