Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Greatest of All-Time

Jerry Rice finally retired from the NFL after 20 glorious seasons. So what better occasion than to sit back and look at the career of the greatest receiver that ever played professional football ...

Don Hutson.

You will not hear Hutson's name mentioned in the upcoming days as writers and broadcasters tumbled all over themselves with glowing praise of Rice being not only the greatest receiver of all-time, but maybe the greatest player of any sport, ever. You will hear how it took Rice six days to create Heaven and Earth, and on the seventh day he rested.

It needs to stop.

Rice is one of the greatest receiver since the 1950s and is an automatic Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate. You cannot argue with the numbers, the championships, and what he brought to the field. Rice lapped the competition like nobody else since, well, since Hutson was catching balls for the Green Bay Packers. Think of the numbers that Rice put up against the competition.

Hutson bettered it.

Hutson also dominated the league. Rice has put up a lot of impressive numbers during his career, a lot of them a nod to his dedication and work ethic that allowed him to play 20 years at a high level. Hutson's numbers are dwarfed by Rice, but put the statistics into context with the rest of the league at the time they were playing. For instance:

Jerry Rice
Led the league in receptions: 2
Led the league in receiving yards: 6
Led the league in receiving touchdowns: 6
Led the league in touchdowns: 2

Don Hutson
Led the league in receptions: 8 (including five consecutive years)
Led the league in receiving yards: 7
Led the league in receiving touchdowns: 9
Led the league in touchdowns: 8

Who dominated their competition? It also should be noted that Hutson led the league in interceptions in 1940 (six) and had 23 for his career. Hutson also served as the Packers place-kicker from 1941-45.

Huston, the inventor of the pass route, also changed the way the game was played. Nobody had ever thought about double coverage or triple teaming a player until Hutson first walked onto the field. Jock Sutherland, the Brooklyn coach, once scoffed at the thought of putting more than one man on any one receiver. In Hutson's first game against the Dodgers, he had six sensational catches and two touchdowns.

Hutson made a believer out of Sutherland that day, but his legacy has never registered with football fans. There was no ESPN during the 1940s and highlights of Hutson are rare, if not impossible to find. Critics also like to point out that World War II took away a lot of potential football players and that is true. But today's NFL shares athletes with the NBA, is watered down with 32 teams, and the salary cap has meant that some of the best players are priced out of the sport. When you add in all of the rules changes over the past decades that have favored the offense, you have to call it a wash.

One pundit noted that Hutson could not have put up those kinds of numbers during the 1980s, and that point was absolutely true. But remember, Hutson would have been 72 in 1985. You can argue today that automobiles are more sophisticated than in the 1920s, but how can you argue about Henry Ford's contribution? The local Daewoo dealership might sell more cars than Ford ever did, but that does not mean that the cars are better.

Rice deserves his moment in the sun as it sets on his glorious career. But do not insult the intelligence of true football fans that recognize that Hutson deserves to be mentioned in any talk of the "Greatest of All-Time."


Brown, with the retirement of Jerry Rice, will be placed on the same ballot together. Is there any way that a rational voter can look at the careers of Rice and Brown and think that they both deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

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