Last winter I called Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films. I told him I was researching Nagurski and Hutson. Did he have any film footage? "Minimal," he said. But he offered to pull what he had.
I locked myself in a room at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., with a VCR—the old films had been transferred to videotape—and some old NFL guides, and I disappeared into another era.
I thumbed through the guides, which listed such things as a player's nationality and off-season occupation:
Joe Aguirre, E. Washington...Basque...Oil Worker.
George Platukis, E, Pittsburgh...Lithuanian...Laborer.
Andy Marefos, FB, New York...Greek...Poultry Dealer.
I spent time with Basque oil workers, Greek poultry dealers, Lithuanian steelworkers and Italian machinists. It is easy to get sidetracked during an odyssey like this, to become addicted to the odd, the extraneous. As you watch those scratchy old black-and-white films, things jump out at you, stuff you would never expect. You fall in love with players you were only dimly aware of. But first there was the matter of Nagurski.
There was one tape. It featured highlights of the 1934 Giants-Bears championship, the "sneakers game" in the frozen Polo Grounds. New York trailed 13-3, then changed into sneaks at half-time and sprinted away with the game. 30-13. Nagurski was used to set the scene. The narrator said, "Chicago had the powerful Bronko Nagurski...." And there he was. Nagurski in his prime, before his back injury of 1935. Two plays.
The first one was a weak-side plunge off the single wing. The Bears officially went to the T-formation in 1930 under Ralph Jones, but in '34 they were still mixing in single-wing stuff. Nagurski ran through an arm tackle. Another Giant clawed at him from behind. Ed Danowski, the Giants" passer and defensive back, ducked his head in a half-hearted attempt at a tackle—yeah, good luck—and finally Nagurski was dragged down by defensive back Dale Burnett after a 14-yard gain.
The second play was a Nagurski run up the middle on a direct snap, with tailback Keith Molesworth faking something or other—he went back on his heels and threw his hands up, as if he had been shot. Nagurski, who had burst through the hole very quickly—I hadn't realized he had that kind of takeoff speed—ran through a couple of slaps and arm tackles and was nine yards downfield before the first contact was made. It was Danowski again, this time trying to bring down the Bronk with a cross-body block, but he had misjudged the big guy's speed, and Nagurski turned upfield and then headed for the sideline, where he was ridden out of bounds after a 20-yard gain.