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In Sports Commentary

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Don Hutson changed the game. (PHOTO: Packers.com)

Who is the greatest Packer of all time?


I have a friend who does not live in Wisconsin yet is one of the biggest Green Bay Packers fans I've ever seen.

And he's a big stats guy. He reads all the statistics online every day and analyzes stuff in the preseason always with an eye toward determining how the Packers and their players stack up with the rest of the league and the rest of the players.

With the recent announcement that the team is going to retire Brett Favre's number and put him into the team Hall of Fame next year, my friend turned his attention toward greatness.

What he wanted to find out was who was the greatest Packer of them all. Not one of the greatest, but the greatest.

It's an interesting discussion and once you get going it looks like a pretty limited field. Players like Paul Hornung, James Lofton, Forrest Gregg, Willie Davis and Tony Canadeo all would make some lists.

But what does it mean to be the greatest?

Certainly skill and talent weigh into the equation. But lots of players have great numbers and wonderful skills. Greatness demands something more.

It demands charisma, a connection with the rest of the world. It demands courage in the face of daunting obstacle. It demands impact on the course of history. It demands virtually unrestrained respect from teammates and opponents alike.

There are some things that can be confused with the quality of greatness.

Flash, while fun to watch, does not define greatness nor is it a necessary component. Good citizenship, while honorable, does not have to be present to be great. Unbridled independence is not a part of it because to be great you need to be able to lift the others around you to unexpected heights.

Michael Jordan is a perfect example. While a marvelous player, his greatness came from his ability to lift his teammates to incredibly high levels.

It seems as if the only three candidates for true greatness in Green Bay are Favre, Bart Starr and Don Hutson.

Starr would surely qualify because of the intimate role he played in the Vince Lombardi teams. He was the perfect extension of Lombardi. He won an incredible six titles. He was so good that after his days, from 1968 until 1993, Packerland was a virtual wasteland. That's about a quarter of a century.

Favre has to be on the list because of his indomitable spirit and charisma. He only won one title, but his record of 321 consecutive games boggles the mind, especially when you understand the vulnerable nature of the quarterback position.

He always showed up and his courage in the most dire moments was obvious. People knew if you could bottle up Favre you could beat Green Bay. His leaving Green Bay was a mess but his greatness is unquestioned.

Then there is Hutson.

The rail thin rookie from Alabama transformed the game of football when he arrived in Green Bay, becoming the first wide receiver to dominate. He created pass routes that are still in fashion today. His Packers won three titles and when he retired it was a decade and a half of bleakness. Teaming with quarterback Arnie Herber, Hutson was the most feared player in the game.

While both Starr and Favre have legitimate claims to the greatest mantle, I think it has to go to Hutson, not only for his own achievements, and the achievements of his team, but because of the revolutionary impact he had on the game he played. Once he showed up, the game was never the same again.


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