Publisher’s note: This story ran in the new edition of Packer Report Magazine, which features Greg Jennings' “Be Great” offseason on the cover.
As Packer Report Magazine marks its 40th year in publication, we decided to put a new spin on an old idea: Who is the best player in the long and storied history of the Green Bay Packers?
The new spin? Packer Report’s Bill Huber, Tom Andrews, Matt Tevsh and Keith Roerdink were joined by longtime Packers reporter and author Cliff Christl, Sports Illustrated writer and Hall of Fame voter Peter King, Pro Football Researchers Association executive director and author Ken Crippen and ColdHardFootballFacts.com founder and football historian Kerry Byrne in ranking the players from No. 1 to No. 16. In all, 24 players were nominated and a few Pro Football Hall of Fame players didn’t make the cut.
Now, it’s up to you. For the rest of the year, you’ll decide the best player in NCAA Tournament fashion. No. 1 will face No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15, and so on. Voting will be conducted at PackerReport.com. Go to the home page, click on “Forums” and enter the “Frozen Tundra” forum. The matchups will be at/near the top of the list.
No. 1 Don Hutson vs. No. 16 Tony Canadeo
Hutson, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class of 1963, was at the top of the list of all but two of our voters. Hutson was literally decades ahead of his time. Playing from 1935 through 1945, Hutson recorded 99 touchdown receptions. That was a record that stood for 44 years, when Steve Largent broke the mark in 1989. Even now, Hutson ranks eighth in NFL history in receiving touchdowns and 16th with 105 total touchdowns.
A member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1970 and 75th anniversary team in 1994, Hutson led the league in receptions eight times, receiving yards seven times and receiving touchdowns nine times.
He also led the league in interceptions in 1940, finished in the top 10 five times and tallied 30 picks in his career — amazing, considering his first interception didn’t come until his sixth year in the league. He even led the NFL in successful extra points on three occasions.
In his final season, the 32-year-old Hutson set a still-standing NFL record with 29 points in one quarter of the Oct. 7, 1945, game against Detroit in Milwaukee. He hauled in touchdown passes of 56, 46, 17 and 6 yards from Roy McKay and kicked five extra points.
That’s one of the 18 NFL records he held when he retired.
Canadeo got surprisingly little love in our rankings, considering he’s one of five players in franchise history whose number has been retired. He tied for 16th with Aaron Rodgers but got the nod on a tiebreaker, and edged Arnie Herber, Charles Woodson and Jerry Kramer by one point.
Today, a 1,000-yard rushing season is a nice accomplishment but nothing really noteworthy. When the 30-year-old Canadeo rushed for 1,000 yards in 1949, he was just the third player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. And that’s after missing the 1945 season while serving in the Army during World War II.
In 11 seasons, Canadeo rushed for 4,197 yards, caught passes for 579 yards, passed for 1,642 yards and 16 touchdowns and returned punts and kickoffs. He is the only player in franchise history to have piled up more than 500 yards in five categories: passing, rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns. He added nine interceptions.
Canadeo’s number “3” quietly was retired in 1952. By mistake, kicker Ben Agajanian wore No. 3 for three games in 1961. Canadeo was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
No. 2 Brett Favre vs. No. 15 James Lofton
Love him or hate him for how his Green Bay career ended, it’s impossible to ignore Favre’s place in Packers and NFL history.
Favre is the only player to be named league MVP in three consecutive seasons. The 11-time Pro Bowler holds just about every meaningful quarterbacking record, including completions (6,300), attempts (10,169), passing yards (71,838), touchdown passes (508), wins (186) and, yes, interceptions (336).
What he accomplished in Green Bay is beyond compare. He threw for 61,655 yards during his 16 seasons with the team. During Aaron Rodgers’ four years as the starter, he’s thrown for 17,037 yards. At that rate of 4,259.25 yards per season, it would take Rodgers another 11 years to break Favre’s record. And it’s not like Favre was ever blessed with a group of targets as strong as Rodgers has today.
Beyond the yardage and touchdowns, Favre started an unfathomable 298 consecutive games (322, including the postseason). For perspective, the Bears had 23 starting quarterbacks, the Browns 22, Dolphins 21 and Cardinals, Lions and Raiders had 20 apiece during Favre’s ironman streak. Among quarterbacks, Peyton Manning holds the second-longest consecutive-games streak; it stalled last year at 208 games. Eli Manning has the longest active streak by a quarterback at just 99 games.
Lofton was the sixth overall choice of the 1978 draft and was named to the Pro Bowl in seven of his nine seasons in Green Bay.
He tallied 9,656 receiving yards with the Packers. It took Donald Driver until his 13th season to eclipse that record. When he was traded to Oakland following the 1986 season, Lofton was the club’s career leader in receptions (530), receiving yards and most yards in a season (1,361 in 1984). He still holds the team record with 32 games of 100-plus yards. With Olympic-class speed, he ranks fourth in club annals with a career average of 18.2 yards per reception — easily the best in the last 45 years — and led the league in 1983 (22.4 yards per catch) and 1984 (22.0).
In all, Lofton played 15 seasons and was the first player to score touchdowns in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He ranks 27th in NFL history with 764 receptions, seventh with 14,004 yards and 27th with 75 touchdown catches. At the time of his retirement, he was the NFL’s career leader in receiving yards, third with 43 100-yard games and third with six 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Packer Report Magazine’s Best Ever Tournament debuted this month and will include two more first-round matchups in each of the next three magazines. Voting will be conducted monthly at PackerReport.com. You do not need to be an online subscriber but you do need to be a registered user to prevent multiple votes.
1 Don Hutson vs. 16 Tony Canadeo
8 Willie Davis vs. 9 Paul Hornung
4 Forrest Gregg vs. 13 Cal Hubbard
5 Ray Nitschke vs. 12 Willie Wood
3 Bart Starr vs. 14 Lavvie Dilweg
6 Jim Taylor vs. 11 Clarke Hinkle
7 Herb Adderley vs.10 Reggie White
2 Brett Favre vs. 15 James Lofton
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.