Both before, during and after Don Hutson caught all of those passes in 1934, the stars fell regularly on Alabama. Ahead of Hutson were, for example, Johnny Mack Brown, Hoyt Winslett, Fred Sington and Johnny Cain. With him were Dixie Howell, who threw the passes, and Riley Smith and—alas—the other end, Bear Bryant. And then after him came Joe Kilgrow, Jimmy Nelson, Harry Gilmer, Bart Starr, Lee Roy Jordan and Joe Namath. Alabama has produced 28 All-America football players and turned out seven undefeated teams in the last 41 years (six of them posting the best record in the nation). Only Notre Dame has enjoyed a more illustrious football history. Despite all this fast company, however, Alabama today derives most of its sustaining spirit from Hutson, the Pine Bluff, Ark. youth who brought speed, moves and hands to the delicate art of catching passes.
It is quite possible that Hutson was the finest receiver football, has ever known. The Green Bay Packers, for whom he made so many spectacular plays in his professional career after leaving Alabama, would not disagree, nor would any of the National Football League's defensive backs who tried to cover him. Hutson caught passes while speeding into the clear, in "traffic," as the saying goes, with one hand—either one. He caught them diving, falling, lying down, jumping, bending, swinging around a goalpost, and stealing them out of others' hands. He not only made the catches, he ran like a thief thereafter, for this was a superb athlete who could have excelled at baseball, basketball or track if he had not chosen football.
Foremost among the Hutson stories that are still told on the campus at Tuscaloosa is the one concerning his love for other games. Once during an Alabama baseball game Hutson wore his track suit underneath his flannels—it's really true—because a dual meet was scheduled simultaneously on the track adjacent to the diamond. Between innings, he stripped off the baseball uniform, got into the starting blocks and ran a 9.8 100-yard dash!
That is the big thing some people forget about Hutson—the speed that propelled him beyond his defenders and enabled him to catch 488 passes for the Packers, scoring 101 touchdowns in the NFL in 11 seasons, setting so many records that only now, 21 years since he retired, are today's stars catching up with him.
"The thing you remember best about him is how calm and relaxed he always was," says Bear Bryant. "He could go to sleep on the bench before the Rose Bowl game." And then, as he did, catch five of six passes from Howell for 123 yards, another for a 54-yard touchdown from substitute Quarterback Joe Riley, helping to destroy Stanford 29 to 13 and giving the 1934 Alabama team a perfect 10-0 record for the season.
Recruiting is as old as football itself, and Hutson, after being spotted catching five touchdown passes in a single game for Pine Bluff, was one of eight Arkansas athletes shepherded to Tuscaloosa in 1931 and 1932—some of the others being Bryant and J.B. (Ears) Whitworth, Charlie Marr and Rip Hewes. It was not until his senior year, however, that Hutson became the incomparable receiver who fascinated the whole collegiate world. As Coach Frank Thomas' team steadily defeated its opponents, Hutson got better and more sensational, not only catching but running blazing end-around plays.
Yet even as he looks back on his career today, Hutson—now the owner of a well-established automobile business in Racine, Wis.—is modest. "Dixie Howell was a great college passer," says he. "I always knew if I ran like the devil, the ball would be there. The same went for Cecil Isbell with the Packers."
There are no Hutsons at Alabama in 1965, but there is a player who has come through so often for Bryant in moments of stress that he has earned the nickname of Mr. Clutch—a name that would have fit Don Hutson perfectly—from his teammates. Mr. Clutch is Quarterback Steve Sloan.
For two seasons Sloan, a quick, savvy operator (6 feet 2, 185 pounds) from Cleveland, Tenn., has pinch-hit, or better, pinch-thrown, for Joe Namath. In so doing, he has helped take the Tide to the Sugar Bowl and a 9-2 record in 1963 and to the Orange Bowl and a 10-1 record last year. He first earned prominence as a sophomore when Bryant disciplined Namath with an enforced vacation two games before the end of the season. Sloan stepped into the vacuum and guided Alabama to a 12-7 upset over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Last year when Namath was benched by injuries for much of the season, it was Sloan who stepped in to pace the Tide to a 10-0 regular season's record and the AP's and UPI's versions of a national championship.