Donald Montgomery Hutson (January 31, 1913 – June 26, 1997) was the first star split end in National Football League history. He is considered by many to have been the first modern receiver.
In his senior season at the University of Alabama in 1934, Hutson was a first team All-American for six different organizations and a second team selection by one other. After his career at Alabama, he joined the Green Bay Packers in 1935 and retired in 1945 after 11 seasons.
Hutson is credited with creating many of the modern pass routes used in the NFL today. He was the dominant receiver of his day and is widely considered to be one of the greatest receivers in NFL history, holding almost all important receiving records at the time of his retirement. As of the end of the 2012 NFL season, Hutson still holds the following records: Most seasons leading league in pass receptions (8), Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receptions (5), Most seasons leading league in pass receiving yards gained (7), Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receiving yards gained (4), Most seasons leading league in pass receiving touchdowns (9), most seasons leading the league in total touchdowns (8), Most consecutive seasons leading league in pass receiving touchdowns (5), Most seasons leading league in scoring (5), and Most consecutive seasons leading league in scoring (5) (Source: NFL Record and fact book).
When he graduated from Alabama, Hutson was not highly regarded by several NFL teams because of his thin stature. Many coaches felt that he would not be able to handle the rigors of football, but Curly Lambeau of the Packers saw Hutson as the perfect receiver for his passing attack, which at the time was headed by quarterback Arnie Herber and end Johnny "Blood" McNally.
Before the draft existed, college players could sign with any team they wanted, and while Hutson did sign a contract with Green Bay, he had also signed a contract with Brooklyn, and both contracts came to the NFL office at the same time. NFL president Joseph Carr declared that Hutson would go to Green Bay, as the Green Bay contract had an earlier date of signing.
Fans of the Packers received a preview of things to come in Hutson's first game. On his first-ever play, Hutson caught an 83-yard touchdown pass from Arnie Herber. It was the first of 99 receiving touchdowns, an NFL record that would stand for 44 years after his retirement. Steve Largent broke Hutson's record in 1989, although 3 of Largent's 100 touchdown receptions came against replacement players. Hutson's single season record of 17 touchdown receptions in 1942 stood for 42 years until broken by Mark Clayton in 1984, a year in which Miami's quarterback Dan Marino had more completions (362) than the entire 1942 Packers team's pass attempts (330).
Hutson became the key component to the Packers lethal offensive attack, as the Packers won the NFL title in Hutson's second year, 1936, beating the Boston Redskins 21-6. The Packers went on to win two more titles during Hutson's career, in 1939 and 1944. Hutson shocked the fans of Green Bay in 1945 when he announced his retirement after playing 11 seasons. He stayed with the Packers as an assistant coach in 1946, but then left the organization.
In an era when successful passing attacks were virtually unheard of, Don Hutson and the Green Bay Packers flourished via the air. Hutson held 18 major NFL records at the time of his retirement, several of which stood for decades; some have yet to be broken.
Twice, in 1941 and 1942, he was named the league's MVP. In 1941 Hutson became the first receiver to catch more than 50 passes in a season, and the next year he became the first with over 1,000 receiving yards in a season. In all, Hutson caught 488 passes for 7,991 yards. He rushed for three touchdowns and scored three touchdowns on defense for a career total of 105. Hutson led the NFL in receptions eight times in his 11 seasons, including five consecutive times (1941–1945). He led the NFL in receiving yards seven times, including four straight times from 1941-44. He led the NFL in scoring five times (1941–45). Hutson still holds the highest career average TDs per game (0.85) for a receiver.
For many of his 11 seasons, Hutson was also the Packers' kicker. He added 172 extra points and 7 field goals for another league record, 823 points. He led the league in extra points made and attempted in 1941, 1942 and 1945 and in field goals made in 1943.
As did almost all players in his day, Hutson played both offense and defense. On defense, Hutson was a very good safety who intercepted 30 passes over the final six years of his career. Hutson's highest season total was in 1943, when he intercepted eight passes in only 10 games. In 1940, he led the NFL with 6 interceptions.
Super Bowl XXII was dedicated to Hutson on the occasion of his 75th birthday. He performed the ceremonial coin toss to end the pregame ceremonies.
In 1999, he was ranked sixth on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the highest-ranking Packer and the highest-ranking pre-World War II player.
In 2005, the Flagstad family of Green Bay donated to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame an authentic Packers #14 jersey worn by Hutson. The jersey was found in a trunk of old uniforms in 1946 at the Rockwood Lodge, the Packers' summer training camp from 1946 to 1949, owned by Melvin and Helen Flagstad. The jersey, a rare NFL artifact valued at over $17,000, was donated by son Daniel Flagstad in memory of his parents.
Most sportswriters and football enthusiasts consider Jerry Rice the best receiver ever, but a few critics believe Hutson could have been as good as Rice if he'd played in the same era. Hutson played in an era where the run dominated the game, the pass interference rule favored defenses, and players played both offense and defense. Rice's career touchdown reception record of 197 almost exactly doubled Hutson's 99 TD receptions. Yet Rice played 20 seasons in the modern pass-friendly NFL with 16 regular season games, plus playoffs. In comparison, Hutson played 11 seasons in an era of 10-12 games per season, and when there was a championship game but no playoffs. However, in Rice's defense, it should be noted that Hutson's most productive seasons were from 1942-1945, a time in which the NFL was severely depleted with many its most talented players and prospective college athletes serving in the military during World War II. Hutson's record 99 TD receptions stood for 44 years, not being broken until well into the modern era.