Don Hutson

Don Hutson Donald Montgomery Hutson (1913-1997) was a wide receiver for the University of Alabama (UA) football team who is credited with revolutionizing the position. His gridiron success began at the collegiate level, when he was instrumental in Alabama’s national championship campaign in 1934. He went on to play at the professional level with the Green Bay Packers in the National Football League (NFL), where he was an All-Pro and held a number of important records.

Hutson was born on January 31, 1913, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Roy B. Hutson, a railroad conductor, and Mabel Clark Hutson. A multi-sport athlete at Pine Bluff High school, Hutson only played football his senior season. In 1931, teammate Bob Seawall was recruited by Alabama and convinced Hutson go with him to Tuscaloosa. Hutson was signed to a baseball scholarship and played centerfield for UA. He also joined the track team, competing in the 100- and 220-yard distances. In addition to competing in these sports, Hutson walked on to the school’s football team as a freshman. Initially, his small size—6-feet, 1-inch and 160 pounds—concerned the coaching staff. But his performance on the track team, including a reported 9.7-second finish in the 100-yard dash, would earn him a spot on the roster. In addition to his duties as a receiver, Hutson also place-kicked and played defensive back.

Bryant, Paul “Bear” A relative lack of experience limited his playing in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. During Hutson’s junior season, however, his abilities as a swift and sure-handed receiver became apparent after the talented halfback Millard “Dixie” Howell of Hartford, Geneva County, emerged as the team’s primary passer. By the mid-1930s, Alabama had earned a reputation as a team with a dynamic passing attack. Alabama head coach Frank Thomas reconfigured his offense following the 1933 season to emphasize Howell and Hutson, and it paid off in 1934. Hutson caught 19 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns as Alabama rolled to an undefeated regular season. Hutson played offensive end and was such a standout that his teammate and fellow Arkansas native Paul W. “Bear” Bryant later joked he was known as “the other end” during his time as a player. Alabama’s 1934 campaign was capped by a dominating 29-13 win over Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl. In that game, Hutson caught six of eight passes thrown to him for a total of 164 yards and two touchdowns. In his account of the game, Mark Kelly, the sports editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, wrote that Howell and Hutson should lead the list of passer/receiver pairings in the sport’s history “and it should be done in capital letters.” Hutson’s performance in 1934 earned him All-Southern and All-American honors.

Don Hutson, 1943 Hutson married Julia Richards in 1935, with whom he had three daughters. In 1937, following their time playing for UA, Bryant and Hutson started a dry-cleaning business in Tuscaloosa called Captain Kidd’s Cleaners, which floundered after two years.

After college, Hutson signed with the Green Bay Packers. He demonstrated his value on his first play when he caught an 83-yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears on September. 22, 1935. Hutson’s style of play revolutionized the wide receiver position in the NFL. He was one of the first players to use pass routes, which is the standard today. He also pioneered incorporating fake moves into his routes in order to throw defenders off guard as well as catching the ball with his hands, rather than trapping it between them. Washington Redskins coach George Allen said there was no doubt Hutson was the greatest receiver in the history of the game.

Don Hutson, 1963 Over his 11-year career with the team, Hutson led the NFL in receiving touchdowns for nine seasons, total receptions for eight seasons, yards per game for eight seasons, total receiving yards for seven seasons, and scoring for five seasons. On defense, he led the league in interceptions in 1940 and finished his career with 30. Hutson was selected as an All-Pro nine times and voted NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1941 and 1942. During his time with the team, Green Bay won three NFL Championships and four Western Division Championships. Hutson held 18 major NFL receiving records when he retired in 1945 and his career total of 99 touchdowns would stand for more than four decades.

Hutson stayed on with the Packers as an assistant coach until 1948 and then moved in 1950 to Racine, Wisconsin, where he opened a pair of car dealerships. He retired in 1984 and moved to Rancho Mirage, California, where he died on June 26, 1997. Hutson is a charter member of both the College Football Hall of Fame (1951) and Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963). He is a member of the Alabama and Arkansas sports halls of fame. His number 14 was the first jersey retired by the Packers, in 1951.

Further Reading

  • Stone, Naylor. Coach Tommy of the Crimson Tide. Birmingham, Ala.: Vulcan Press, 1954.
  • Scott, Richard. Legends of Alabama Football. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, 2004.

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