November 1, 2009
Packers end Don Hutson was one of the players who revolutionized pro football. He was the first true deep threat, making him the prototype of the modern wide receiver. In becoming the dominant pass receiving threat of his time, he was an innovator who used moves and methods that would become standard fare, but were unique in the NFL of the late 1930s and ‘40s (opposing defenses were forced to defend against him in new ways as well, such as double and triple coverage). At the time of his retirement after the 1945 season, he dominated the receiving records.
The game against the Chicago Cardinals at Green Bay’s City Stadium on November 1, 1942 was one of those record-setting occasions. Hutson caught five passes for 207 yards, three of them for touchdowns. The final score was 55-24 in favor of the Packers, although early in the second quarter the Cardinals were leading 17-7. That was before Hutson caught his first touchdown pass, covering 40 yards, from tailback Cecil Isbell. Isbell hit Hutson for a second score, covering 73 yards, before halftime. The third TD came in the fourth quarter, on a 65-yard pass play from Isbell that put Green Bay safely ahead 41-17.
It was typical in the single- and double-wing offenses of the time for the tailback to handle most of the passing, and Isbell was one of the best in the NFL in the early ‘40s. On this day, thanks to the long throws to Hutson, he set a new record for passing yards in a game with 333. In fact, several league records fell in this game. Overall, the Packers set a team record with 427 yards through the air. The combined total of 79 points established a new standard, as well as the combined 11 touchdowns scored. And Hutson, who also handled placekicking duties, set a new record by booting six extra points.
In surpassing the 200-yard mark in receiving yards, he almost broke the record that he had set two weeks prior against the Cleveland Rams (209 yards on 13 receptions). As it was, he was the first receiver to have two 200-yard games in a season, and when it was all over he became the first to reach the thousand yard mark in pass receiving yards (1211). His 74 receptions and 17 receiving touchdowns were also new records at the time, as was his total of 138 points scored (the record for receiving TDs wasn’t broken until 1984). No other receiver in the NFL in 1942 caught more than 27 passes (Pop Ivy of the Cardinals) or accumulated more than 571 yards (Ray McLean of the Bears).
To be sure, Hutson was fortunate to play for the Packers under Curly Lambeau, a head coach who was one of the first to make the passing game central to his offensive strategy. He also benefited from the loss of players to the military due to World War II.
However Hutson, who came into the NFL in 1935, had already established himself as the pre-eminent pass receiver in the game before ’42. He had led the league in pass receptions four times (it was his own record of 58, tied with Philadelphia’s Don Looney, that he broke in 1942), pass receiving yards four times as well, and pass receiving touchdowns six times. So, while he was able to enhance his statistics during the war years, his reputation had already been secured before that.
Hutson ended up winning his second consecutive Joe F. Carr Trophy as league MVP following the ’42 season. The Packers ended up with an 8-2-1 record, putting them in second place in the Western Division behind the undefeated Chicago Bears – the one team they (even with Hutson) couldn’t beat.