Donald (Don) Hutson (1913–1997)

Donald Montgomery (Don) Hutson, nicknamed the “Alabama Antelope,” revolutionized football’s passing game and set the standard for the position that would become known as the wide receiver. He is credited with creating many of the modern pass routes still used in the National Football League (NFL).

Don Hutson was born on January 31, 1913, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), one of three sons of Roy B. Hutson and Mabel Clark Hutson. His father worked as a conductor on the Cotton Belt Railroad, and his mother was a homemaker. Hutson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, played baseball and football, and ran track at Pine Bluff High School.

After graduating from high school in 1931, Hutson entered the University of Alabama on a partial baseball scholarship. That fall, he was a walk-on with the football team, earning a position as an offensive end (wide receiver), largely due to his 9.7-second speed in the 100-yard dash. Standing 6′ 1″ and then weighing only 160 pounds, Hutson played very little during his freshman and sophomore years, catching just seven passes for seventy-eight yards. As a junior, however, he played extensively and made the starting lineup by the end of the 1933 season. Hutson emerged as one of the nation’s best college football players during his senior year in 1934, catching nineteen passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Against Stanford University in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1935, he caught six passes for 165 yards—including two, of forty-six and fifty-four yards, for touchdowns. Alabama defeated Stanford by the score of 29–13, marking the end to an undefeated season in which the Crimson Tide won ten games. One of three Alabama players namedby consensus to the 1934 College Football All-America Team, Hutson also played centerfield on the baseball team and ran the 100- and 220-yard dashes on the track team.

After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1935, Hutson signed contracts with the Green Bay Packers and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the NFL. Both contracts arrived at NFL headquarters at the same time, and Joseph Carr, commissioner of the NFL, decided that Hutson would play for the Packers, since the signing date on the contract with Green Bay was earlier than the one with Brooklyn.

In Green Bay’s first game against the Chicago Bears in 1935, Hutson quickly demonstrated the pass-receiving skills that would define his eleven-year professional career. On the first play of the game, he feinted and outran Beattie Feathers to catch an eighty-three-yard pass, the longest by any player that year and the longest of his career. This was the game’s only touchdown. Hutson finished his rookie season with eighteen receptions for 420 yards and six touchdowns, then the most productive year by a Green Bay receiver. His seven touchdown receptions led the NFL that year and marked the first of nine seasons in which he would also lead the league in receptions, a record unequaled as of the end of the 2012 season. In all, Hutson caught 488 passes for 7,991 yards and ninety-nine touchdowns as a professional. His record of ninety-nine touchdowns stood until Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks caught his 100th in 1989.

On December 14, 1935, Hutson married Julia Richards, with whom he had three daughters.

From 1935 to 1945, Hutson dominated pass receiving like no other player before him. He led the NFL in receptions eight times, in 1936, 1937, and 1939, and from 1941 to 1945; total receiving yards seven times, from 1936 to 1939 and 1941 to 1944; yards per reception two times, in 1936 and 1939; touchdown receptions nine times, from 1935 to 1938 and 1940 to 1944; yards per game eight times, in 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, and 1941 to 1944; and yards from scrimmage three times, in 1941, 1942, and 1944. Huston posted his best numbers in 1942, with seventy-four receptions, 1,211 total receiving yards, seventeen touchdowns, 110.1 yards per game, and 1,215 yards from scrimmage. His seventeen touchdown receptions stood as the league’s single-season record until Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins made eighteen in 1984.

Beginning in the late 1930s and through the 1940s, Hutson place-kicked and played defensive back. He began place-kicking in 1938, converting on 172 of 183 career point-after attempts. Hutson led the league in point-after attempts and conversions from 1941 to 1942 and in 1945. As for field goals, he converted on seven of seventeen career field goal attempts and led the league in 1943 with three successful field goals. On defense, Hutson had a career total of thirty interceptions for 389 yards and one touchdown. In 1940, he was tied to lead the league in interceptions with six, and he led the league with 197 interception-yards in 1943. Moreover, Hutson scored two rushing touchdowns in 1941 and one in 1945. On October 7, 1945, against the Detroit Lions, he caught four touchdown passes, the most ever by a single player in one quarter, and kicked five extra points, for a total of twenty-nine points, the most points ever scored by a single player in one quarter. Hutson led the league in scoring for five consecutive years, from 1940 to 1944. The Most Valuable Player in 1941 and 1942, he also played minor league professional baseball with the Pine Bluff Judges from 1940 to 1942.

During his time with the Packers, Green Bay won four Western Division Championships—in 1936, 1938, 1939, and 1944—and the NFL Championship in 1936, 1939, and 1944.

After retiring from professional football after the 1945 season, Hutson remained with the Packers for two more years as an assistant coach. In 1948, he left the Packers and devoted himself fulltime to operating a bowling alley he had established in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1950, Hutson moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where he opened a Cadillac and Chevrolet dealership. In 1984, he retired to Rancho Mirage, California, where he died on June 26, 1997.

Named to the All-Pro team nine times, Hutson became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1959, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1972; he was named to the NFL 75thAnniversary Team in 1994. The Packers’ indoor practice facility bears his name.

For additional information:
Barnett, C. Robert. “Donald Montgomery ‘Don’ Hutson.” In Biographical Dictionary of American Sport: Football, edited by David L. Porter. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Hendricks, Martin. “Old School Packers: Don Hutson Changed a Quarter in 29 Points.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 20, 2005. Online at http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/206357551.html (accessed June 1, 2013).

“Donald Hutson.” Pro-Football-Reference.com. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/H/HutsDo00.htm (accessed June 1, 2013).

Litsky, Frank. “Don Hutson, Star Pass Catcher Dies at 84.” New York Times, June 28, 1997. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/27/sports/don-hutson-star-pass-catcher-dies-at-84.html (accessed June 1, 2013).

Schmidt, Raymond. “Don(ald) Montgomery Hutson.” In The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports Figures, Vol. 1, edited by Arnold Markoe. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002.

Whitley, David, “Hutson Was First Modern Receiver,” ESPN SportsCentury. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014269.html (accessed June 1, 2013).

Adam R. Hornbuckle
Spring Hill, Tennessee

Last Updated: 12/10/2013

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