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THE BRONK AND THE GAZELLE
Paul Zimmerman
September 11, 1989
FIFTY YEARS AGO BRONKO NAGURSKI AND DON HUTSON DOMINATED PRO FOOTBALL. BUT HOW WOULD THEY DO TODAY?
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September 11, 1989

The Bronk And The Gazelle

FIFTY YEARS AGO BRONKO NAGURSKI AND DON HUTSON DOMINATED PRO FOOTBALL. BUT HOW WOULD THEY DO TODAY?

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The Bears told me they used to have old films in their archives, but a fire in 1961 destroyed them. I called the University of Minnesota, hoping to find footage of Nagurski in college. "Yes, we have films of the team when he was here, " the school's assistant archivist, Lois Hendrickson, said, "but it was shot from so far away, you'd have to be a genius to pick out Nagurski."

I called Nagurski's daughter. Janice Boyle, in Minnesota. "He had a stroke," she said. "He's in a home now. I know he once made a film. My brother Anthony has it. You can call him in Chicago."

"Some was from the '37 season," Tony Nagurski told me. "The players look like ants. You can see Dad's number 3 every now and then on defense, but you can't see what he's doing. I think he shot the offensive stuff himself because none of the backs have his number. Maybe he shot it in 1935, the year he was hurt."

Bronko's son sent me the tape. I watched it at home, my nose two inches from the screen, trying to get a look at number 3 in the grayish mass. I could find nothing.

I had better luck in the hunt for Hutson. One call did it. "Come on out," said the Packers' video director, Al Treml. "You can watch all you want."

I saw Hutson in his early years, the 1930s, when he played left end on defense. How was he as a pass rusher? Don't ask. On sweeps and traps he gave ground and did what he had to do without trying to unzip anybody. Later, they moved him to defensive right halfback.

His helmet rode high on his head, and he seemed a little awkward at times, an Ichabod Crane, until he was in full flight. Then he was a gazelle. He usually played the short side on the single wing, and when he was in tight he would occasionally have to block a tackle. I watched him take one of those big guys down with the strangest-looking block I had ever seen. He threw a head fake, turned his back, flipped one leg in the air and made contact with his butt and back, a sort of reverse, reverse-body block. My god, I thought, what planet did he learn that one on? But his guy dropped. I saw him go back into coverage and break up a pass, and I saw him intercept one, and then on the sixth play of the highlight reel, there it was. The play that was worth the trip.

The Packers were playing the Giants. Clarke Hinkle, the fullback, took a direct snap. He scrambled—two defenders were in his face—and threw the ball, sidearm. Hutson was running a down-and-in. The Giants' Tuffy Leemans went up for the ball with him. Hutson did a scissors kick in the air, up, up—and stayed up, like Michael Jordan. With his body fully extended, Hutson snatched the ball away from Leemans, came down running and glided in for the score, a 62-yard touchdown. It was over in an instant. Smooth, quick, decisive. Eleven years of that. Ninety-nine touchdowns.

Two plays later Hutson ran a deep sideline route. Tailback Cecil Isbell threw the ball, not well. It was behind Hutson, the defensive back was screening him off. With his momentum carrying him the other way, Hutson reached back, reached, reached—his arms seemed five feet long—reached past the defender, made the catch, kept his balance and scored. I ran the play back, frame by frame. It was an impossible catch. I've only seen one other like it: Lynn Swann's against the Cowboys in the '76 Super Bowl.

I watched Hutson for two hours. I saw him outjump two or three defenders, R.C. Owens-style, on the goal line, and I saw him catch deep passes so smoothly you couldn't believe it had happened.

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