Height: 5-9; Weight: 186
College: Iowa, 1931-33
Laws wasn’t flashy enough to make an all-pro team, but he was one of the most valuable and versatile backs on three of Curly Lambeau’s NFL championship teams.
That was clearly on display in the 1939 and ’44 title games. In fact, so much so, if MVP awards had been given at the time, Laws almost certainly would have won one, maybe two.
In 1944, he intercepted a championship-game record three passes and rushed for a team-high 74 yards in 13 attempts as the Packers edged the New York Giants, 14-7. Five years earlier, Laws scored on a 31-yard touchdown pass, preceded by his own 30-yard punt return, and also set up Tiny Engebretsen’s field goal with a 15-yard return as the Packers erupted for 20 points in the second half and beat the Giants, 27-0. Laws also played on the Packers’ 1936 NFL championship team.
In 12 seasons, Laws accounted for 2,973 rushing and receiving yards. He also intercepted 18 passes from 1940 to 1945, and unofficially another 21 in his first six seasons before interceptions were recorded as an official statistic.
Interestingly, Laws shared the right halfback position with Arnie Herber for much of the 1930s, despite their contrasting styles. Laws called signals and rarely threw the ball. Herber was a great long-ball passer, but didn’t call signals. Laws’ role was more of a runner, receiver and blocker in Lambeau’s Notre Dame Box offense, but he also had a commanding presence and it produced results when he was directing the team.
If Laws had a signature play, it might have been short-side reverses. He also played a feature role in the kicking game. He was both an elusive punt returner and trusty holder. Because punt-return stats weren’t kept until 1941, toward the end of Laws’ career, he was officially credited with only 46 returns for 339 yards, a 7.4 average. Unofficially, he had many more over his first seven seasons.
That said, Laws’ career was less about numbers than intangibles. He was fondly nicknamed “Tiger” by his teammates and once described as a “Dutch uncle” to the younger players. “He was like a father to me,” said former teammate Ted Fritsch. “He took us over, cared for us.”
“He was one of the smartest (signal-callers),” said former teammate and fellow Packers Hall of Famer Harry Jacunski. “He had a sense of calling the right play at the right time. He was a better play-caller than Lambeau. (Defensively) he had real good instincts. If two guys ran down and split in different directions, he’d go with the guy they were going to throw the ball to. He was a smart football player.”
The Packers announced Laws’ signing on Feb. 8, 1934, after Lambeau had scouted him in the East-West Shrine Game. That was two years before the first NFL draft. A left-handed passer and left-footed kicker in college, Laws was named the most valuable player in the Big Ten in 1933, and was pursued by several NFL teams.
Laws announced his retirement on Jan. 7, 1946. In all, he played in 123 games and started 58, including 52 at right halfback. Other than the eight games he missed in 1940 after suffering what was first feared to be a career-ending knee injury, Laws missed only five games in his other 11 seasons. In 1944, at age 33, he played a full 60 minutes in a game at Detroit because of an injury to Lou Brock.
Born June 16, 1911, in Colfax, Iowa. Given name Joseph Roy Laws. Died Aug. 24, 1979, at age 68.
- By Cliff Christl