Distant Replay: Don Hutson

In 1989, Don Hutson's most prominent record was on the verge of toppling. His mark of 99 career receiving touchdowns, which had stood for 44 years following his retirement, was about to fall, as Steve Largent, then in his 14th and final season, approached the mark.

But those expecting Hutson to somehow express bitterness at seeing a product of the game's liberalized passing rules break his mark were bound to come away disappointed.

"I love to see my records broken, I really do," Hutson said at the time.

"You get a chance to relive a part of your life, the whole experience."

Since then, Largent has been passed by Cris Carter and Jerry Rice. Others such as Isaac Bruce and Randy Moss may follow in the future, pushing Hutson's name further down the list. But to compare Hutson's raw numbers to those of modern-day receivers is to fall victim to a historical fallacy.

During Hutson's era, 1,000 receiving yards in a season was a virtually unattainable milestone. He only met it once, in 1942, when he hauled in 74 passes for 1,211 yards. No one had ever broken the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yardage before.

Even after the barrier was breached, it still was difficult to attain; just 14 1,000-yard seasons were posted in the league's first 40 seasons, from 1920-59. Another 40 seasons later, 26 men hit the milestone barrier in receiving yardage - in just one season.

Hutson's career numbers of 488 receptions and 7,991 yards may seem pedestrian now, and don't even give him a spot among the top 20 in each category. But when Hutson retired, he owned the league's reception mark - 298 receptions clear of the No. 2 man on the list at the time.

That kind of success, one which belied the ground-bound nature of the game in the 1930s and 1940s, is one that numbers fail to justify.

"He had all the moves," Hutson's teammate, Hall of Fame running back Tony Canadeo, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 1997. "He invented the moves. And he had great hands and speed, deceptive speed. He could go get the long ones; run the hitch, the down-and-out. He'd go over the middle, too, and he was great at getting off the line because he always had people popping him."

Not only did Hutson invent and refine the science of route-running, but he was, like most players of the age, a multi-skilled threat. He starred on defense and served as the Packers' placekicker.

And no one since Hutson has ever led the league in scoring for five consecutive seasons. He accomplished the feat in from 1940-44, and was attributable not just to his 54 receiving touchdowns over that span, but the fact that he was also the Packers' placekicker. He remains the only man to lead the NFL in scoring five times - consecutively, to boot, from 1940-44.

49 years after he caught his last Packer pass in 1945, the franchise honored him by naming its massive new training facility the Don Hutson Center. Appropriately, the Packers christened the building with a new era of success, hosting their first non-strike season playoff game in 27 years that season.

One year later, in 1995, the Packers won their first division title since 1972. The following season - the last before Hutson's death on June 26, 1997 - the Packers won the Super Bowl.

Three years after Hutson's passing, the words that Packers general manager Ron Wolf spoke at the dedication of the Don Hutson Center still ring as clearly as ever, the most succinct tribute to a man who helped a proud franchise define excellence.

"He is the greatest player to play the game," Wolf said, "and the greatest Packer to don a uniform."

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