More than a year in the making, we’ve reached the finale of Packer Report Magazine’s “Best Packer Ever” series.
Packer Report’s writers 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 the championship, it’s No. 1 seed Don Hutson vs. No. 3 Bart Starr.
How did we get here? In first-round matchups, Hutson beat No. 16 Tony Canadeo, No. 9 Paul Hornung beat No. 8 Willie Davis, No. 4 Forrest Gregg beat No. 13 Cal Hubbard, No. 5 Ray Nitschke beat No. 12 Willie Wood, Starr beat No. 14 Lavvie Dilweg, No. 6 Jim Taylor beat No. 11 Clarke Hinkle, No. 10 Reggie White beat No. 7 Herb Adderley and No. 2 Brett Favre beat No. 15 James Lofton.
In the quarterfinals, Hutson beat Hornung, Nitschke beat Gregg, Starr beat Taylor and Favre beat White. In the semifinals, Hutson beat Nitschke and Starr beat Favre.
Jerry Rice may be the greatest receiver of all time. But nobody – nobody – dominated the sport the way Don Hutson did from 1935 through 1945. He was like Babe Ruth or Wayne Gretzky or Secretariat in the way he dominated his peers.
From his first career catch – an 83-yard touchdown -- Hutson helped revolutionize a game that was truly all about 3 yards and a cloud of dust. The old record for career receptions was 190. Hutson finished with 488. In 1934, the NFL’s leading receiver caught 16 passes. In 1942, Hutson caught 18 touchdown passes. Before Hutson entered the NFL, the single-season record for touchdown catches was five. In a game against Detroit in 1945, Hutson scored four touchdowns – in one quarter.
While Rice led the NFL in receptions twice, receiving yards six times and receiving touchdowns eight times in 20 seasons, Hutson paced the circuit in catches eight times, yardage seven times and touchdowns nine times in 11 seasons. In each of his seasons, Hutson either led the league in receptions, receiving yards or receiving touchdowns.
Hutson, a three-time champions and a member of the NFL’s 50- and 75-year teams, was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1963.
With the inclusion of Dave Robinson, 11 members of Vince Lombardi’s Glory Years legends will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That, however, shouldn’t discount Bart Starr’s contributions.
Yes, he was an extension of Lombardi on the field. He was the unquestioned leader. Maybe the Packers would have won a championship or two with someone else at quarterback, but would they have won five?
Starr’s passing accomplishments get lost in the intangibles. Starr led the NFL in passer rating five times. That’s more than contemporary Johnny Unitas (two) and the legendary Joe Montana (two) combined. And while “The Sweep” might be the most famous play in league history, the truth was the Packers won through the air late in the Lombardi dynasty. In the championship seasons of 1965, 1966 and 1967, the Packers ranked second, first and first in yards per passing attempt but 11th, 14th and fourth in yards per rushing attempt.
Starr’s performance rose to another level in the playoffs. His 104.8 passer rating in the postseason is an NFL record, and he threw 15 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. It’s little wonder why he went 9-1 in playoff games, including wins in his final nine starts.
Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
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