Mike Vandermause column: Give Hutson nod over Favre as greatest Packer of all time

7:34 PM, Jun. 23, 2012  |  Comments

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Who is the greatest player in Green Bay Packers history?

A majority of fans say it's Bart Starr, according to a poll conducted by PackersNews.com.

Former Packers General Manager Ron Wolf recently suggested another quarterback deserves that distinction. "I think everybody will tell you now, the greatest player ever to play for the Packers is Brett Favre," Wolf said. "That's his legacy."

But neither the fans nor Wolf is correct. When considering the overwhelming statistical and anecdotal evidence, receiver Don Hutson stands head and shoulders above any player to wear a Packers uniform.

It's difficult to make a case for a guy who played his last NFL down nearly 67 years ago. Virtually nobody alive today saw Hutson perform. He never was featured on "SportsCenter" highlights, and no one ever tweeted about his exploits.

But Hutson was the most dominant player of his era, and many historians say he could have excelled in today's game because of his speed and overall talent.

During his 11 seasons with the Packers beginning in 1935, Hutson shattered every major NFL receiving record.

He retired with three times as many touchdowns (99) as any other receiver who played in the first 25 years of the NFL's existence. He led the league in catches eight times and scoring five times. It took 44 years after his retirement for someone to break his career touchdown record. Hutson still holds the highest career average in touchdowns per game for a receiver (0.85).

Hutson was a first-team All-Pro selection for eight consecutive seasons (1938-45) and a two-time MVP in an era when running attacks dominated the league.

"He was just so far ahead of his time," said Eric Goska, a football author and NFL historian. "He was credited with inventing some of the pass patterns that are still run today."

What's more, Hutson played defensive back during a time when two-way players were common and intercepted 30 passes. "He covered some of the better receivers," Goska said .

As a testament to his well-rounded talent, Hutson also served as the Packers' kicker.

Yet some believe Favre surpassed Hutson's accomplishments during his 16 seasons with the Packers.

Favre smashed every major NFL passing record, won three MVP awards and was the driving force in the Packers' remarkable franchise turnaround beginning in 1992.

Former Press-Gazette sports editor and Packers beat writer Cliff Christl, who serves on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, joins Wolf in favoring Favre as the best all-time Packer.

"There's no question Hutson was really special," Christl said. "Any time you ever read a quote from that period of time from a player or coach, they talk about how great he was. I still have some questions. When you go back and study his statistics, and I'm not a big stat guy, but when you go back and really study them, his best years were during the war, when the league was watered down."

Christl said Favre and Hutson are hands down the two best players in franchise history, but picking between them isn't easy. He is reluctant to choose because he never saw Hutson play.

"I'm not in position to say Favre was better than Hutson, but from a historian's perspective, I would say he probably was," Christl said.

There's one big knock against Favre when his career is analyzed.

"The guy threw way too many interceptions, and during critical times," Goska said.

Although Favre has thrown more touchdown passes than anyone in league history (508), he also is the all-time leader in interceptions (336).

Favre was nothing short of spectacular during a five-season stretch in the 1990s when he averaged 35 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions per season, won all of his MVP awards and led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and one title.

But after the departure of coach Mike Holmgren following the 1998 season, Favre averaged 25 touchdowns and 19 interceptions over his final nine seasons in Green Bay. He produced a season passer rating above 92 only three times during that stretch.

Perhaps most alarming is the Packers were just 3-6 in playoff games during Favre's final 10 years in Green Bay and he threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14) in those games.

But Christl has a ready answer for Favre's declining numbers.

"He threw too many interceptions, but I still say that was a one-man team for the most part," Christl said.

"He could flat out carry a team on his back. He could kill you in the end, no question about it. I think he was playing with a sub-.500 cast of talent for a good share of his career. How many of his teammates are going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It's going to be a pretty short list."

Although Favre earned only one Super Bowl championship ring, the Packers suffered just one losing season during his 16-year starting tenure. Hutson, however, enjoyed even greater success. The Packers won three titles with Hutson on the roster and produced a winning record in each of his 11 seasons.

While the debate around Favre and Hutson swirls, some historians don't agree with popular fan sentiment that Starr belongs in the discussion as the greatest Packer.

Starr quarterbacked the Packers to five championships but was surrounded by a superior cast of teammates. He was one of 10 Pro Football Hall of Famers during coach Vince Lombardi's dynasty in Green Bay.

"He was a really successful field general," said Christl of Starr. "I don't mean to minimize what he accomplished, but he had his limitations. I think he really was perfect for that team."

Starr was supported by a strong running game and stellar defense and everything clicked under Lombardi's leadership.

One player that stands out from the 1960s teams, according to Christl, is running back Paul Hornung. But he doesn't rise to the level of Hutson because his career was shortened by injuries.

Hutson's standing as the greatest Packers player might not last much longer. If current quarterback Aaron Rodgers stays healthy and continues to perform at a high level for a few more years, he will receive serious consideration for that honor. Some already rate him above Favre.

"I think Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback," Goska said. "So how could Favre possibly be the best player in Packers history when Rodgers is a more complete player?"

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
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I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
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It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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