Then I saw him toward the end of his career, in '43 and '44. The defense double-and triple-covered Hutson and sometimes chopped him down at the line of scrimmage. Still, he led the NFL in catches both those years. I wondered what his numbers would have been like if he had had a Baugh or a Luck-man throwing to him.
How does he rate on my alltime list? Hutson, who is 76 now and living in retirement in Southern California, was not a precise technician, like Berry, the finest possession receiver I ever saw. Hutson was more like Alworth—the same explosive speed, the same hunger for the ball downfield, a monster at the point of the catch. He wasn't as compactly built, but, yes, he reminded me of Alworth: the explosion going for the ball, then the glide after the catch. The two greatest receivers I'd ever seen became three.
As I was watching the early footage of Hutson, another figure kept emerging, number 30 on the Packers, Hinkle. Seven years after his last season, 1941, Hinkle's career rushing record of 3,860 yards was still the best in NFL history. I watched his running style—nifty on the sweeps but able to turn upfield with a great burst of speed. It was the same burst he showed when he got near the line on an inside play. Phase Two of the running game, as John Robinson calls it—the ability to break out of the pile. Hinkle was 210 to 215 pounds, a big back in those days. What stood out most in the old films was his power, then his defense. On one sweep by an opposing runner, he came up like a maniac and sent the runner flying into the bench. Pete Rozelle once said the difference in the game is that in the old days, they really didn't hit the way they dc now. Well, this guy did.
He was an All-Pro four times, a gifted two-way player, but his career overlapped Nagurski's and the publicity went to the big man from Chicago. "There was always the dispute as to who was better, Hinkle or Nagurski," Treml said. " 'People in Green Bay still argue it."
Nagurski again. I had one last stop to make in my search for him. I called Joe Horrigan, the curator of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He gave me the magic words. "We have two 1937 games, start to finish," he said. "If Nagurski was on the active roster, he was in 'em."
Oct. 31, 1937, Bears 3. Giants 3. The New York Times reported: "The mighty Bronko Nagurski was used so sparingly that he carried on only three plays, seeing action less than half the game." I never found out why. I spotted him right away, because of his size. The Bears were in a tight T, and Nagurski was actually lined up at right halfback, playing a step closer to the line than the other two backs. He moved the pile on his first carry, for five yards, and added a zero and a minus two on a sweep that should really have been a minus five.
I ran the next reel.
Oct. 24, Bears 28, Detroit 20. Nagurski's first carry was over right tackle. He hit the hole high, the defense gave, two backs came up and knocked him to his knees, and he crawled for five more yards. The gain was 17 yards overall. I saw him do that kind of thing, put a sag in the pile, three or four more times. He set up a score with another 17-yard plunge, starting wide, cutting back and showing a burst. Then when he went over the goal line from the two—head down, knees up—everything gave.
My favorite play was a five-yard sweep to the left. A tackier came up high. Nagurski looked mad about something. He attacked the defender, launching himself into him with a fury, chest to chest. The other guy's feet went up in the air and they fell together in a heap.
Nagurski seemed to get into rages. Sometimes he was careful and precise on his blocking, sometimes he would throw one of those long body blocks that eventually cost him two fractured vertebrae, and bodies would fly. On defense he was a form tackier most of the time, but occasionally he would go for the head and the ball carrier would drop whether he was hit or not. No one wanted a piece of him.