Hutson, Don(ald) Montgomery

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HUTSON, Don(ald) Montgomery

(b. 31 January 1913 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; d. 26 June 1997 in Rancho Mirage, California), football player credited with revolutionizing the running of pass patterns and generally considered to be the best wide receiver in football history.

Hutson was one of three sons born to Roy B. Hutson, a conductor on the Cotton Belt Railroad, and his wife, Mabel Clark, a homemaker. As a student Hutson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and attended Pine Bluff High School. Pine Bluff fielded formal athletic teams only for football and basketball, and Hutson played both sports, although he played football only as a senior. Graduating in 1931, Hutson was invited to attend the University of Alabama with his highly recruited friend Bob Seawall.

During his sophomore and junior football seasons (1932 and 1933) at Alabama, Hutson saw little playing time until late in the 1933 season, and for the two seasons he compiled a total of just seven pass receptions for seventy-eight yards. Meanwhile, he was also playing centerfield for Alabama's baseball team and running for the track team; competing in the 100 yard and 220 yard dash. In 1934 Alabama fielded a football powerhouse and was considered one of the best teams in the history of Southern football. Hutson caught 19 passes for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns, and was named a consensus All-America end.

In the postseason during his last year at Alabama, Hutson and his team bombed Stanford 29–13 in the Rose Bowl game on 1 January 1935. In the game, Hutson exploded with six pass receptions for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns that covered 54 and 61 yards. In the aftermath of his Rose Bowl performance, Hutson was contacted by many professional football teams, and he signed contracts for $175 per game with both the Green Bay Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National Football League (NFL). President Joe Carr awarded Hutson to Green Bay on the basis of its contract being postmarked minutes earlier than the contract with Brooklyn, and in later years Hutson always considered himself fortunate to have gone with the pass-oriented Packers.

Hutson's NFL career started impressively as he and the Packers played the Chicago Bears in their second game of the season in October 1935. On the first play from scrimmage, Hutson outmaneuvered and then outran Beattie Feathers of the Bears to haul in a long touchdown pass on an eighty-three-yard scoring play for the only tally of the day. When the two teams met again later that season, Hutson caught two touchdown passes, including another game-winner. Hutson finished his rookie season of 1935 with 18 receptions for 420 yards, and on 14 December 1935 he married Julia Richards; the couple later had three daughters. In 1936 Hutson became recognized as one of the league's premier receivers as he led the NFL in receptions and was named to the All-Pro team. The Packers rolled to the 1936 league championship with a 21–6 win over the Boston Redskins as Hutson scored on a forty-three-yard pass.

Hutson, nicknamed "Alabama Antelope," was six feet, one inches tall, 180 pounds, and played wearing small shoulder pads and no hip pads. He had the speed of a sprinter—9.7 seconds for the 100-yard dash. He ran effortlessly while leaning well forward, and had great deception and maneuverability at full speed. Hutson is usually credited with being the first wide receiver to run pass patterns with sharp cutting angles while feinting continuously. Opposing teams attempted to cover Hutson with two and sometimes three defenders, but the techniques he brought to his position, along with a great pair of hands, made him nearly unstoppable. It was said that if he could touch the ball he would make the catch. Hutson also played defensive safety, totaling thirty career interceptions, while also handling Green Bay's placekicking duties from 1940 to 1945.

The 1937 season witnessed the start of one Hutson streak, as he registered pass receptions in ninety-five consecutive games between 1937 and 1945, and in 1938 he began a run of eight consecutive seasons as an All-Pro selection. Statistically, Hutson's greatest season was 1942 when he tallied 74 pass receptions for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns—the first time a receiver had exceeded 1,000 yards—although, admittedly, the quality of play in the NFL was down because so many players were away during World War II. His 1942 season was highlighted by three-touchdown performances against the Cleveland Rams and Chicago Cardinals, and 8 receptions for 147 yards against the Bears.

Hutson's 1941 and 1944 seasons were equally impressive. He logged 58 catches for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1941; in 1944 he added another 58 receptions that were good for 866 yards and 9 touchdowns. Also in 1941, Hutson notched a brilliant three-touchdown effort in a come-from-behind win over Washington that propelled the Packers into a Western Division playoff game.

In 1944 Green Bay won its third NFL championship during Hutson's eleven-year career, and represented professional football in the 1945 College All-Star Game in Chicago. Hutson had been a member of the College All-Stars in the 1935 game, before turning in three sparkling appearances in the annual classic for the Packers (1937, 1940, and 1935). In the 1940 game Hutson had three touchdown receptions (eighty-one, thirty-five, and thirty yards) against the collegians, and he capped things off in the 1945 game with an eighty-five-yard interception return for a touch-down. The 1945 season was Hutson's last in professional football, and his final campaign was highlighted on 7 October 1945 as he logged four touchdown receptions and a total of twenty-nine points in the second quarter against the Detroit Lions.

Hutson retired after the 1945 season and then served two years as an assistant coach for the Packers. He left football in 1948 and turned his attentions to his bowling establishment in Green Bay. In 1950 Hutson and his family moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where he opened a Chevrolet and Cadillac automobile dealership. He retired from business in 1984. Hutson died at Rancho Mirage, California, where he had lived during his retirement years.

When Don Hutson retired from professional football, his personal league records required nearly a full page in the NFL guide, and many were still standing more than a half-century later. One of the greatest players in pro football history, Hutson was an innovator who transformed his position, and he remains the prototype wide receiver against whom all others are measured. Hutson finished his NFL career with 488 pass receptions that were good for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns; while he led the NFL eight times in receptions, pass-receiving yards seven times, touchdowns eight times, total scoring five times, and was named to the All-Pro team nine times. Among his many honors, Hutson was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, and to the NFL seventy-fifth anniversary team in 1994. In 1994 the Packers named their new indoor practice facility after Hutson.

Accounts of Hutson's exploits appear in most works on professional football history, including interviews that appeared in George Sullivan, Pro Football's All-Time Greats: The Immortals in Pro Football's Hall of Fame (1968); Myron Cope, The Game That Was: The Early Days of Pro Football (1970); and Richard Whittingham, What a Game They Played: Stories of the Early Days of Pro Football by Those Who Were There (1984). For a detailed review of Hutson's pro seasons, see Larry D. Names, The History of the Green Bay Packers, Book II: The Lambeau Years Part Two (1989). Obituaries are in the Milwaukee Journal and the New York Times (both 27 June 1997).

Raymond Schmidt

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Hutson, Don(ald) Montgomery

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