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14 Days 'Til Alabama Football Kickoff: Don Hutson

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TWO WEEKS!

The Packers have named their practice facility after Don Hutson.
The Packers have named their practice facility after Don Hutson.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe it? We are so close to the beginning of college football that you can almost feel it in the air.

In honor of 14 days left until the Crimson Tide kicks off with Southern Cal, we honor an oldie but goodie: Don Hutson.

Some most all of you are probably too young to have seen him play but most football historians consider him the "first modern receiver". Nicknamed the "Alabama Antelope", he was decades ahead of his time, Not only was he prolific at catching passes and converting them into touchdowns, he changed the way football was played.

THE EARLY DAYS

Donald Montgomery Hutson was born on Jan. 31, 1913, in Pine Bluff, Ark, one of three sons born to Roy B. Hutson, a conductor on the Cotton Belt Railroad, and his wife, Mabel Clark, a homemaker. He played football only one year in high school. Legend has it he was better known back in high school for his collection of pet rattlesnakes.

He became an all-state basketball player in high school and also excelled at baseball.

Hutson landed in Tuscaloosa thanks to a high school teammate who was being highly recruited by Frank Thomas. Bob Seawall talked his friend into coming along with him. The story goes that Hutson wasn't even planning to play football but his buddy coaxed him along. Hutson would initially walk-on at Alabama before becoming one of the most celebrated Alabama players ever. Ironically, Seawall would drop out of school after two years.

MULTI-SPORT STAR

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. In this era of football, the passing game was not perfected and seen more of a desperation play in long yardage and late game situations.

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 his first race, he ran 100 yards in 9.7 seconds. He never practiced with the track team, but finished second at the conference track meet, running the same time. Hutson was known to wear his track suit underneath his baseball uniform so in between innings, he could strip off his flannels, run over to the adjacent track and run a race.

JAGGER WISHES HE COULD MOVE LIKE HUTSON

He became famous for faking out opposing defenses, feigning cuts in several directions on every play. His revolutionary pass patterns confounded defenders.

Former Philadelphia Eagles coach Greasy Neale said of him, ''Hutson is the only man I ever saw who could feint in three different directions at the same time.''

The Pro Football Hall of Fame credits him with inventing many pass patterns including "the Z-out", "the buttonhook", "the hook-and-go", and more.

THE OTHER END

Hutson's roommate and best friend was fellow Arkansan Paul "Bear" Bryant. Bryant also played end. He was a very good football player but was overshadowed by Hutson.

The two teammates ran an on-campus dry-cleaning business at Alabama, Captain Kidd Cleaners. The only athlete in business school at Alabama, Hutson hoped to become a professional athlete just to get a stake for future business investments.

Hutson was best man at Bryant’s wedding and later helped his former teammate land his first college head coaching job at Maryland through a connection with the Washington Redskins.

1934 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

In Hutson's senior season at Alabama in 1934, head coach Frank Thomas started to pay more attention to the passing game. This was thanks in large part to the passing talents of another legendary Tide player, Dixie Howell. Howell to Hutson became a deadly combination as Alabama would go undefeated by the average score of 31.6 to 4.5.

In the 1935 Rose Bowl, Hutson had six receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama's 29-13 win over Stanford. These were astronomical numbers for the time. Before this game, the most the Cardinal had given up in a game that season was seven points which happened three times. They had seven shutouts up to that point. Legendary sportswriter Morgan Blake called it the best football team he ever saw.

Hutson was recognized as a consensus All-American. Dixie Howell at halfback and Bill Lee at tackle were also named All-Americans. Some consider this one of the greatest college football teams of all time.

PRO FOOTBALL

After his time at the Capstone, he joined the Packers in 1935 and played eleven seasons before retiring in 1945. He led the league in receiving yards in seven separate seasons and in receiving touchdowns in nine. Hutson was an eight-time All-Pro selection and was twice awarded the NFL Most Valuable Player Trophy. He also played safety, finishing with 30 career interceptions and led the NFL in interceptions in 1940. If that is not enough, he also served as the Packers' placekicker from 1940 to 1945.

At the time of his death in 1997, he still held he records for most seasons leading the league in receptions (8), most consecutive seasons leading in receptions (5), most seasons leading in touchdowns (8), most seasons leading in scoring (5) and most points scored in a quarter (29).

From the New York Times obituary:

...''For the next 10 years,'' said George Halas, the Bears' coach, ''Hutson was doing that sort of thing to every club in the National Football League. I just concede him two touchdowns a game, and I hope we can score more.''

Other coaches agreed.

''He was a cold, hard competitor,'' said Jimmy Conzelman, the former Chicago Cardinals coach. ''I doubt that he had a nerve in his body.''

When Hutson retired in 1945, he was earning $15,000 a year, a huge salary then. His skills were still there, but, he said, ''It was playing defense that wore me out.''

He spent two years as an assistant coach of the Packers. Then, living in Green Bay and active in civic affairs, he became wealthy as the owner of an auto dealership and bowling lanes in Racine, Wis.

Three years ago, the Packers named their indoor practice facility for him.

''He most certainly was the greatest player in the history of this franchise,'' the Packers' general manager, Ron Wolf, said Thursday night.

He also was a quiet, unflappable man.

''The day we were married,'' said his wife, Julia, ''he was so calm that you'd think he'd merely stepped into the church to get out of the rain.''

His mother added: ''He wouldn't say two words in an A-bomb attack. He doesn't talk unless he has something to say.''

Hutson did have something to say about the game that made him famous.

''I was never very emotional about football,'' he said, ''but I loved the game just the same.''

Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter.

Hutson was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame (1951) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963).

In 2010, NFL Films named Hutson the #9 Player of all time. Think about that for a minute. Of all the great players who have stepped on the gridiron for all time, he is the ninth best. In 2012, the NFL Network named Hutson the greatest Packers player of all-time, ahead of Brett Favre and Bart Starr.