And that was it. Two plays. Two carries, 34 yards. The stats for that game show him with nine carries for 45 yards. What happened the rest of the time? I'll never know. I ran the tape back again and again: Stood straight up before he got the snap...looked bigger than everyone else...could get low at the point of contact, though, and tunnel for yardage, like Larry Csonka...lowered the shoulder...surprising speed.
But was there more? This was just an appetizer. There must be more footage. Somewhere.
I turned to the Hutson stuff.
Hutson was part of a five-play generic highlight film. A former Columbia quarterback, Ed Rovner, who is now a lawyer in Maryland, once told me something that I have never forgotten. He said he saw Hutson catch a pass in full stride, a one-handed low catch in which he snapped up the ball with his palm turned downward. I've asked many people about this, but no one else remembered it. That's the stuff I wanted to see.
On the first play, Hutson, playing the shortside end in the single wing, ran a reverse right and gained two yards. A very ordinary play. On the second one, playing right halfback on defense, he closed fast to break up a pass, showing great speed. Next, he came up and made the tackle on a sweep, no gain. On the following play, also on defense, he kind of fell into a tackle after a completed hitch pass. Finally he caught his first ball, for a touchdown, on a crossing route in which he beat the defender by a few yards and cradled the ball against his chest after it had bounced off his fingertips. That was all for Mr. Hutson. One catch.
But there had to be more. Raw footage of games, season highlights, something. Uh-uh, not at NFL Films. Much of its stuff was bought in 1972 from the Telra Company, which shot highlights for some clubs. That material goes back to the start of the television era in the late 1940s. A lot of unorganized Telra film, in negatives, was still in the vast storeroom upstairs. It would have to be cleaned and processed. Some of it was worthless. The sprocket holes had shrunk; masking tape was used for splicing. Some had been heat-damaged. It would take years to process and research it all, and it would go back only to the '40s.
"I made a search for Nagurski and Hutson seven or eight years ago," Sabol said, "and this is all that I could come up with. But I did get some other stuff from the National Archives in Washington, good footage of the 1940 and 1941 championship games. It was part of the old Movietone News stuff. You can watch it all if you want to."
Yes, I wanted to. It wouldn't be Hutson or Nagurski, but it would be footage from their time, a look at their era and at the game's dominant team of a half century ago. How did people do things in those days? How was the game played?
First I watched the 1940 game, Bears 73, Redskins 0, the most famous championship game of them all until the Giants-Colts sudden death game in 1958. I charted it as I would a game today, noting formations and strengths and weaknesses. By now the Bears' T-formation had been refined by Clark Shaughnessy and the man-in-motion was more than a decoy, as it had been in the late 1930s.
We all know, of course, that fullback Bill Osmanski broke a 68-yarder for a touchdown on the second play of the game, a carry that was supposed to go inside, not outside. But on the first play of the game, the left end was split wide and the left halfback went in motion right to a flank position, creating a modern pro set—two split receivers and a tight end. Right away I had learned something. I thought the modern pro set came about nine years later with Shaughnessy's L.A. Rams.