In the first part of this article, we talked about the context in which Don Hutson played, posted some stats, and then said we would  “translate” his stats into modern terms. We’re going to do this by calculating  his percentage catches and percentage yardage per year, tds per catch, and  then “implant” those into the statistics of the average team of 1995, the average team of 1999, the average team of 2010, the 1995 Dallas Cowboys, and two Green Bay teams, the one of 1995 and the Super Bowl winner of 2010.

We’re using the average stat initially to make a point, which is that Don Hutson’s average year translates into a better year than most modern receiver’s best year. This is especially true of his prodigious scoring rate. Deal is, he did play in a pre-modern era where

  • Coaches didn’t throw much behind the 50 yard line.
  • The Packers threw to score.
  • Don Hutson was used as a scoring machine

To factor out some of these effects, we created a set of modified stats for Don where

  • We reduced the number of catches by 20%. Some possession catches would be given to tight ends, backs, and #2 receivers if Don were to play a modern game.
  • Consequently, we increased his yardage by 20%, since people would be throwing longer passes to Don.
  • On top of the scoring loss caused by the decreased catches, we then subtracted his scoring by another 20%, to account for more distributed passing and better defenses in the modern era.

These are ad hoc correctives. Don’t assume I’ve justified these on statistical grounds. Nonetheless, the resulting stats look pretty real, for a typical receiver’s best year of all time.

In this context, and shorn of the crazy throwing rate of 1942, Don Hutson’s best season (also calculated in multiple offensive contexts) doesn’t look all that much better than Don Hutson’s typical season. His best season was partly a product of the team’ s extraordinary emphasis on passing that year.

Finally, if you’ll compare Don in the passing context of, say, the 1995 Green Bay Packers to that of, oh, the average team of the 1999 season (ironically the season the 1999 St Louis Rams, The Greatest Show on Turf won the Super Bowl), then the value of playing for a team with a high powered offense is clear. Jerry Rice openly benefitted in being in the #1 offenses of the San Francisco 49ers.

Using these same techniques and translating every season of Don Hutson’s career into modern terms yields the results above. The  shortening effect of using team stats (team YPC over the years has grown shorter, as passing became possession oriented) and the tendency to use Don as a scorer creates a year, 1935, whose stats aren’t as reasonable as Don’s average stats. To some extent,  you can’t take the 1935 out of 1935 stats and fit them into a 1995 or 2010 context.

Despite any flaws, I’d suggest the above approaches are far better than the typical translation, which multiplies Don Hutson’s 1942 season by 1.6 and then assumes they’ve accounted for all the differences between 1942 and 2010. They haven’t. All they’re doing is one of the greatest touchdown scoring receivers of all time a serious injustice.

Finally, I  think these results suggest that GOAT at receiver is a two man race. While I’d concede that anyone who looks at the length of Jerry Rice’s career and says, “This guy can’t be beat” has a point, it’s my contention that Don Hutson’s performances, especially in the 1940s, are so exceptional relative to his competition that they will be very hard to match.

Getting across how freakish Don Hutson was in his day is difficult to a typical modern football fan. They’ve been told since Day 1 that Jerry Rice is unquestionably the best receiver of all time, and so their brain cells turn off and they don’t question the notion. And yes, in at least one respect, Jerry was the best of all time, in the sense that no one had as long a productive career. The idea that someone could play at such a high level for 18 of his 20 years at a position  that demands athletic excellence is the foundation of the respect that the man has gathered.

However, in any discussion of the best of the best at WR, Don Hutson (see also here and here) has to be in the mix. Back when wide receivers were lucky to get 1 pass a game, he was catching 3 and 4. Back when scoring was difficult, he led the league in scoring 8 times. His YPC is decent but  hardly extraordinary. What Don Hutson was — is a ball catching freak, and a scoring freak.

It’s not entirely noticeable in the stats of the day, compared to modern football, because modern football is a more pass oriented game. It has specialists, guys who play one way, instead of two ways, and in particular, someone who specializes in just throwing the ball. It has a more aerodynamic football (see here and here) than the one those guys used to toss (check out Bill Belichick talking about Sammy Baugh, roughly a contemporary of Hutson’s, in NFL Network’s top 100). Passing was just primitive: the league completion percentage was 33.9% the year Don Hutson entered the league. When he left, it had risen to about 45.6%.

Because passing was primitive, the strategies of the day were not to pass until you reached the 40 yard line. Inside the 20, teams would run perhaps one play and then punt.

But in those days, and by the standards of the times, Green Bay was a passing offense. They featured Johnny McNally, a gifted tailback and receiver who scored 11 touchdowns through the air in 1931. Those two did team up effectively in 1935, when the two were clearly the star receivers for the club. But McNally moved on after 1936 and Don stayed put.

1942 is an exceptional year, and the year in which Don put up his best numbers. To note, Green Bay passed 330 times that year, when most clubs were throwing about 220 times. To place Green Bay’s relative passing frequency and success into a modern context, transferring its ratiometric advantages into the year 1995 would create a fictional team that passed 51 times a game and completed 69.8% of its passes. Don would be almost half that passing offense (43% of the catches, 50% of the yards), and he would score almost every fourth time he touched the ball. The resulting numbers would be freakish.

1995 is a good point in comparison. That’s one of Jerry Rice’s best years. The run to pass ratio that year is about 0.79. Green Bay of 1942 — a pretty wide open passing offense – was 1.29. How could we go about embedding the stats of Don Hutson into the year 1995 in such a way that it makes sense? That will be done in a following post.

This DVD set has just arrived, and as my DVD player is in the shop, it’s not the easiest thing to review. Thankfully, most computers these days have DVD players.

There are 12 games in the 1985 season on the set. The disks themselves are housed in  6 thinpacks and those thinpacks are fragile. I have bits of teeth falling out every time I open up a new DVD.