Hutson was great long before NFL was

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Don Hutson came out of Alabama as an All-American in 1933, the NFL hadn't invented the draft, so he could pick his own team.

In a 1988 interview, he remembered getting a two-page letter from George Halas on the privilege it would be to play for the Chicago Bears.

"It sounded like I was going to have to pay Halas to play for the Bears," he said. "In the last sentence, he got down to the gist of the letter. He said if I made the team, he would pay me $50 a week."

So Hutson did the same thing players do today. He took the better offer from Curly Lambeau to play for the Green Bay Packers for $300 a week.

For the 13-game season the Packers played that year, that adds up to $3,900 a season.

Hutson, who died Thursday at the age of 84, was born 50 years too late.

If he were playing today, he'd be making $3 million to $4 million a season because he would have been great in any era.

Hutson was named to the NFL's 50th and 75th anniversary teams and should be on the 100th and 200th if the NFL doesn't self-destruct before then.

He probably was the best wide receiver ever to play the game. Only Jerry Rice -- who would join him on any all-time team -- is in his league.

With Hall of Famer Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell throwing to him, he made the pass a weapon in an era when teams were still running the ball out of the single wing.

One of his former teammates, Chester "Swede" Johnston, said, "There's no question in my mind he was the best receiver ever. No one man could cover him. He always had the defensive backs going the wrong way. He was tough. He wasn't too big, weighed only about 180 pounds, but he could take a hit."

He was named All-Pro nine times in his career from 1933 to 1945, was twice the league Most Valuable Player and was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1963.

Another former teammate, Tony Canadeo, who joined the Packers in 1941, said he was in awe of Hutson when he first met him.

"My knees were shaking because I had heard so much about him," Canadeo said. "To me, he made the passing game what it is today, and I don't think anybody can argue with that. Pass patterns and routes he ran were modeled after him."

Hutson doubled as a defensive back in those days of one-platoon football and missed only one game because of injuries.

He benefited from playing four years during World War II, but his statistics are still unreal. At one point, he held 14 of the 15 receiving records and even now he holds the league record for most years leading the league in receptions (eight) and yards (seven) and most seasons leading the league in touchdowns (nine).

He ranks third in touchdown receptions with 99, trailing only Rice and Steve Largent.

Hutson's feats have been obscured because he played before the television era and long before the NFL became the nation's preeminent sport. It couldn't even match college football in those days.

When Lance Alworth broke his "record" of catching a pass in 95 straight games in 1969, Hutson was there to congratulate him.

About two decades later, the authors of "The Pro Football Chronicle" did a game-by-game analysis and found out Hutson didn't catch a pass in the 45th game of that "streak." The statisticians had made a mistake, and even Hutson didn't realize it.

Hutson's play didn't have to be embellished, though. The real stuff was legend enough. For example, the other end on that Alabama team was a fellow you've probably heard of -- Bear Bryant.

Not that the modest Hutson took himself seriously. He didn't mind his records being broken and even labeled Rice as the best receiver ever in 1994.

"He's No. 1 as far as I'm concerned," Hutson said.

The people who saw Hutson play still call him No. 1.

Holmgren Way

When the Green Bay Packers won the NFC title game last January, a wise guy (OK, I confess) in the news media asked coach Mike Holmgren if he'd now get a street named after him.

Holmgren came up with the good line that it'd probably just be an alley somewhere.

Well, you can't joke about things like that in Green Bay. They take football seriously. The Ashwaubenon, Wis., Village Board voted 6-0 Tuesday to change the name of Gross Street to Holmgren Way.

"This is not a whim," said Village president Ted Pamperin. "This is in recognition of someone winning a Super Bowl."

Not all the merchants on the street were happy about the move. LeRoy Kaczorowski, who owns KNK Material Handling, said it will cost him $10,000 to change the advertisements on his trucks, adjust tax forms, update computer systems and alter stationery.

"It's going to cost me money, and I have a problem with that," he said.

This is an old tradition in Green Bay, though. In 1968, Green Bay changed the name of Highland Avenue to Lombardi Avenue. Green Bay also has a Hutson Street, an Isbell Street, a (Bart) Starr Court, a Lambeau Street and a (Clarke) Hinkle Street.

Stalemate

It's not surprising that there was no movement on the first-round signing front last week for the second straight week. Only two first-rounders, Yatil Green of Miami and Jon Harris of Philadelphia, have signed.

There's no rush to sign because agents are trying to get incentives to get around this year's signing rules.

"The agents are a very strong, formidable force, and they talk to each other every day on the Internet and on voice mail and e-mail, sharing information," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "They're all looking for the edge on the backside with voidable years, options to extend, options to buy back and a lot of different tricks."

One agent who has a first-round choice but didn't want to be identified said the real problem is that too many times in the past, owners have caved in when the top rookies have held out, so agents are reluctant to sign early unless they get a great deal.

The Ravens got Jonathan Ogden to camp on time last year with a deal that included a lot of those tricks Modell referred to, but their position is they're not going to do that again this year.

Modell said he expects a flood of signings the first two weeks of July because that has been the pattern in past years.

But it remains to be seen if the top half dozen players can be lured into camp without holdouts.

Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes, who represent Peter Boulware, the Ravens' first pick and fourth overall, also represent the players taken in the fifth and sixth slots, Bryant Westbrook of Detroit and Walter Jones of Seattle, so they control that part of the round.

The one thing certain is that Renaldo Wynn of Jacksonville, the 21st player taken, will get a $1.33 million salary cap number. The Jaguars have signed their other six players, and that's all they have left under the cap.

Managing money

Because the Ravens have about $7 million committed to players who have departed, they've done of good job of watching their payroll this year.

They have $20.2 million allotted to base salaries, or what the fTC league refers to as "paragraph five money" in the contracts. That's the lowest figure in the league. No other team is under $26 million.

But Modell said the Ravens aren't handicapped because they'll still spend about the salary cap figure $41.45 million when they add in signing and incentive bonuses.

"It's the total compensation that counts," Modell said.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are tops in base salary at $33.5 million, but have only $7.8 million committed for prorated signing bonuses.

Not surprisingly, the Dallas Cowboys are tops in prorated signing bonuses at $15.8 million, and they have $27.9 million in base salaries.

The champion Packers have $32.9 million in base salaries and $9.1 million in prorated signing bonuses.

Home sweet home

The Oilers have finally gotten out of the final year of their lease in Houston, but they may not get the warmest of welcomes in Memphis, Tenn., where they'll play for two years before moving to a new stadium in Nashville.

Many fans in Memphis are still irate that the city was stiffed in expansion, and they aren't eager to support a team that will be in town for only two years even though it calls itself the Tennessee Oilers.

Ticket sales started off slowly in Memphis, although the Oilers hope they'll improve after they get a campaign rolling.

He said it

New York Jets quarterback Neil O'Donnell on trying to live up to his $25 million contract in the Bill Parcells regime: "I know I'm not on Easy Street right now. You've got to prove yourself every day in this league."

Pub Date: 6/29/97

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