I’ve read a few articles recently, detailing the merits of Hutson over Rice, and vice versa. Two athletes of equal standing, but completely different eras. And for this reason, I don’t think it’s fair to say one is better than the other.
However, I will claim that Hutson was the much more dominant wide receiver.
Sure, Rice’s stats are vastly superior. But this really is a moot point, on the basis that he played 20 seasons, of 16 games, in the pass happy '80s.
Hutson played 11 seasons of 11 games. 116 pro games. Rice played 287.
Hutson is also from an era in which a 50-yard pass was so rare, that only Green Bay Packer fans, and their unfortunate opponents, knew that it happened in football.
Only Herber and Hutson were able to sling it.
As a starting point, we need to accept that Hutson played in a much more difficult passing era. It was a run first era, in which the passing game as we know it really didn’t exist. Why?
- The aerodynamic, smooth, modern ball Rice caught, didn’t exist. In Hutson’s era, the ball was much harder to throw and catch.
- The pitches were generally mud bogs for most of the season. As it is today, conditions dictate tactics. Think December in Pittsburgh, but for every game of the season.
- Quarterback dynamics were less advanced. The simple fact being, the passers weren't as accurate as in the modern era. So teams didn't try it. Montana generally got it to his guy 65-70 percent of the time. Herber, 40 percent.
What changed football? Hutson and Herber changed football.
Make no mistake, As Bryn previously stated, Hutson invented the modern receiver route. It didn’t exist until Hutson came along. And Green Bay used it to devastating effect, basically playing the modern passing game, when no other team had the personnel to match it.
Sure, Rice’s numbers blow Don away. But that’s not the issue. You can only compare players to their own era. Especially when you are talking about 30s guys like Hutson.
Herber’s passing numbers pale in comparison to Peyton Manning, but he was just as dominant, and won just as many games. If not more.
So how dominant was Hutson. Let’s look at every major receiving stat.
Hutson led the league in receiving in eight times, including five consecutive seasons. And he only played 11. Rice led the league in receiving twice in comparison, in 20 seasons.
In the history of pro football, only three players have led the league three seasons in a row. As stated, Hutson did this 5 times. Unbelievable. He retired with 488 receptions. This was more than double the previous record of 199.
Hutson led the league in yards seven times (sometimes having twice the yards of the second place guy), in 11 seasons. Rice six times in 20 seasons. Hutson had four games with over 200 yards. Second all time in that stat even now. So was every bit the big play receiver Rice was.
Hutson led the league in touchdowns nine times in his 11 seasons. Rice led the league in six out of 20. He retired with 99 touchdown receptions. A record which stood for 44 years after his retirement.
Even today, 65 years after he retired, he still ranks eighth, all time in this stat. And he only played 119 games. His 17 touchdowns in the 1942 seasons remains a Packer’s record to this day.
Hutson’s 1942 season is, for me, still the greatest wide receiver season in the history of pro football. In only 11 games, he caught 77 passes for 1211 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Rice, playing 16-game seasons for his entire 20-year career, only surpassed 17 touchdowns in a year once.
Even today, a 1200 yard, 70 reception, 17 touchdown season would get you to the pro bowl. Hutson did it 67 years ago. The 2nd place receiver that year caught 38 balls for 470 yards, and six touchdowns. Hutson was in a class of his own.
As stated from the onset, this is not an argument that Hutson was a better receiver than Rice. Or that Hutson was the best receiver of all time. Or that Hutson’s career stats are necessarily better.
However, there simply isn’t an argument to suggest Rice dominated his era as Hutson did.
Taking into account how much harder it was to catch a ball in the 30s-40s, these are the facts.
- Reception average per game – Hutson 4.2, Rice 5.3.
- Yards per game - Hutson 67, Rice 79
- Touchdowns per game – Hutson 0.8, Rice 0.6.
- Yards per catch – Hutson 16.4, Rice 14.8
Although Jerry does top Don in two out of the four categories, it’s not by huge amounts. Per game, those would still be dominant wide receiver stats in 2009 by Hutson. Translating those figures to a 16-game season, Hutson's career averages amount to this season:
- 67 receptions
- 1072 yards
- 13 touchdowns
Terrell Owen's, last season:
- 69 receptions
- 1052 yards
- 10 touchdowns
That's only using his career averages. Using his 1942 season, it equates to:
- 107 receptions
- 1761 yards
- 24 touchdowns
And when you take into account that his Quarterback, Herber, was generally only completing 180 passes a season (over 16 games 250), to Montana’s 300+, the almost comparable (per game and seasonal) receiving figures are almost mind boggling.
Hutson caught 45 percent of the passes Herber threw in the 1942 season. 77 of the 177 completions Herber made that year. If you stretch Herber's completions to a 16-game period—say 250 to 260—Hutson would have caught 117 passes.
And let's not forget, that is using Herber's 40 percent completion percentage that year.
Let's give him Montana's 320 completions in 1990, working on the basis that he snagged around 40 percent of his quarterbacks passes, annually.
Using Hutson's career (not even his season best) yards per completion average, that's a mere 132 completion, 2177 yard season for Don!
Using his season best 24.9 yard per catch average, it equates to over 3000 yards receiving in a season. 3000 yards. This of course is purely speculative, but demonstrates how dominant a receiver he was in his own era.
45 percent of your quarterbacks completions is no mean feat.
Both the greatest of their era. Don, the much more dominant.
If Jerry Rice still has several receiving records in 60 years time, then only then will he be able to claim he was as dominant a receiver as Hutson.