A Brief History of: The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The NFL originally awarded the Pro Football Hall of Fame site to Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Like the birthdates of blues legends, dates vary from the late 1940s to early 50s depending on the source; I personally lean toward the late 40s. Nobody, however, differs on the fact that Latrobe’s civic leaders sat on the idea.

In the early 50s, Latrobe sportswriter Vince Quatrini wrote that the Hall of Fame idea barely progressed past the talking stage before dying out. Perhaps they’d read Grantland Rice’s column proclaiming a football hall of fame being too complicated.

SOMETIMES YA GOTTA GO FOR IT

Canton, Ohio, however, literally bought into the idea after an article ran in the local paper entitled, “Pro Football Needs a Hall of Fame and Logical Site is Here.” The story, published in 1959, stirred the owner of the Timken Company to pledge $250,000. Over $100,000 more was raised within a two-year period. Canton’s organizational efforts thrust them ahead of Latrobe and several other communities expressing interest. In 1961, league owners granted Canton the new official Hall of Fame location.

The building reportedly cost $600,000, with Canton’s citizenry raising about $400,000. Each NFL team reportedly donated $1,000. Dick McCann, a former Washington Redskins executive, became the Hall’s first director, earning a $20,000 salary. McCann crisscrossed the country hunting memorabilia, aided by newspapers. One woman subsequently donated Jim Thorpe’s sweater, which she had been using as a blanket for her dog to sleep on.

THE FIRST ENSHRINEMENT

The first enshrinement inducted 17 men, including Sammy Baugh, Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Don Hutson, Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, and Thorpe. Approximately 6,000 persons attended, including former All-Pro and current Supreme Court Justice Byron “Wizzer” White. Inductee Mel Hein joked, “If you think we weren’t great, you should have heard us last night when we got together at the hotel and discussed old times.”

KEEP ON ADDIN’ ON

The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened its doors in September 1963, displaying 19,000 square feet of history.  By 1971, the AFL and NFL had merged, doubling the size of the league, and the Hall had doubled also – to 34,000 square feet. 1993 not only marked the beginning of the NFL’s free agency era, it marked the Hall’s expansion to 85,000 square feet. The Hall now measures 115,000 square feet after the recent completion of the “Future 50” project, finished in time for 2013’s 50th Anniversary. By comparison, the White House weighs in at 55,000 square feet.

FUN FACTS

A few quick fun facts:

Billy Shaw was the first player inducted who played exclusively in the American Football League.

Cal Hubbard, who won 3-straight NFL championships with Lambeau’s Packers, is the only man in both the Pro Football and Baseball Halls of Fame. He became an American League umpire after his NFL career was over.

* Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud attended college on a skiing scholarship.

* No Heisman Trophy winner made the Hall of Fame until 1985, when both Roger Staubach and O.J. Simpson were inducted.

* The first NFL Draft in 1936 yielded four Hall of Famers: Joe Stydahar, Tuffy Leemans, Wayne Millner , and  Danny Fortmann.

* The 1964 Draft produced the most Hall of Famers (10) followed closely by 1957, which bore 9. The Cowboys scored 3 HOFs in 1964 (Staubach, Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes), and the Vikings 2 (Carl Eller and Paul Krause). 1957’s Draft featured 4 HOFs in the first 8 picks – Paul Hornung, Jim Brown, Len Dawson, and the incomparable Jim Parker.

 

Elvin Bethea (Class of 2003) looking sharp in his Hall of Fame jacket.

Elvin Bethea (Class of 2003) looking sharp in his Hall of Fame jacket.

 

An Appreciation — Paul Hornung

(Painting by Robert Hurst)

Stories of Paul Hornung’s lifestyle often overshadow those of his football career. Many question how he won the Heisman Trophy on a 2-8 Notre Dame team. One blogger even wrote an exhausting article questioning Hornung’s Hall of Fame credentials. The “Golden Boy” might not live up to the standards of bloggers who never saw him play, but Vince Lombardi and Hornung’s teammates declared him essential.

COLLEGIATE CAREER

Hornung grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Bear Bryant made a strong pitch for Paul to attend Kentucky, but Hornung’s Catholic upbringing gave Notre Dame the edge. Legendary coach Frank Leahy left after Hornung’s freshman year and Hornung never played for the coach who recruited him.

The Irish finished with the worst record in school history Hornung’s senior year. Many games must have seemed like it was 11 on 1. “I played every down in college. I led Notre Dame in rushing, passing, punt returns, and kickoff returns. I kicked off and punted. On defense I was second in tackles and first in interceptions,” he said. Moreover, Hornung led the Irish in touchdowns, and scored every point in their 21-14 win against North Carolina.

Imagine Tim Tebow leading the Florida Gators in 7 total offensive and defensive categories, while finishing 2nd nationally in kickoff returns. Stats like this earned Hornung the 1956 Heisman Trophy, and prompted the Heisman’s official website to proclaim him, “probably the greatest all-around player in Notre Dame’s history.” Iconic sportswriter Dick Schaap added, “In 1956 Notre Dame had a football team named Hornung. He passed. He tackled. He intercepted passes. Surrounded by the walking wounded, playing for a team crippled by injuries, Hornung was the whole show.”

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PRO CAREER

From 1947-1958, the first-overall pick of the NFL Draft was the “bonus pick.” Hornung explains in The Game before the Money: “Each team put their name in a hat, and you drew them out. Fourteen teams; here comes the bonus pick. After that, the draft starts in predetermined order: 1, 2, 3, 4. Next year, the thirteen remaining teams were eligible for the bonus pick. Pick a team out—they got the first [bonus] pick. I was the first pick of the 1957 draft.”

It’s interesting to learn why the bonus pick was eliminated, and to compare that reasoning to modern times. In the 1950s, Congress investigated the NFL and professional sports for violating anti-trust laws.  Congress told the NFL that the bonus pick bordered on an illegal lottery, and the NFL abolished the practice. The bonus pick was similar to today’s NBA Draft Lottery, considered completely acceptable in modern times.

The Packers floundered for Paul’s first two seasons, and Hornung floundered with them. He scored a mere 5 touchdowns and rushed for barely over 600 yards total in those two seasons. He bounced from halfback to quarterback to bench, never finding a permanent position.

Vince Lombardi turned Hornung’s career around. Lombardi, a former offensive coach for the New York Giants, appreciated all-around players, and thought he could use Hornung like he used Frank Gifford in the Giants offense.

Paul delivered in championship fashion. He won three consecutive NFL scoring titles, a feat which hasn’t been matched since. (Note: Stephen Gostkowski has a chance to do so in 2014.) Hornung’s 176 points in 1960 was a record that stood for 46 years. Think about that – his scoring record held up longer than both Babe Ruth’s and Roger Maris’ single-season home run records. Moreover, Hornung amassed his total in a 12-game season. LaDainian Tomlinson scored 186 points in a 16-game season, and is the only player in NFL history to eclipse Hornung’s mark. A current player would need to score over 236 points to best Hornung’s 14.7 points per game. A few NBA teams would probably like to get 14.7 PPG out of their players.

Hornung not only served the Packers, he served his country. Hornung missed 2 games in 1961 while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. President Kennedy arranged a furlough for Paul to play in the 1961 NFL Championship. “”Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day,” Kennedy said. Packer receiver Boyd Dowler also received a furlough to play that day.

The Packers routed the New York Giants 37-0 for their first of two consecutive championships. Hornung scored 19 points, still a record for an NFL Championship. In Michael O’Brien’s Vince, Hall of Fame teammate Henry Jordan commented on Paul importance to the Packers: “When Paul got that leave from the Army and walked into that locker room, you could just feel the confidence grow in that room.”

 

SUMMARY

Paul Hornung isn’t some magical being without flaws. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended him and Alex Karras an entire season for gambling. He unabashedly chased women. He consistently broke curfew.

He was, however, magical on the field. He scored 5 touchdowns in one game, three rushing and two receiving. He had 14 multi-touchdown games in a 9-year career cut short by a pinched nerve. Hornung also occasionally threw touchdown passes, including 2 in his epic 1960 season.

Paul Hornung — a legend both on and off the field.

NOTE: Two Paul Hornung quotes from The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL are included in this article. Read Paul’s story and those of over three dozen other NFL legends here. Another great read on Hornung is That First Season by John Eisenberg, which chronicles Vince Lombardi’s first season with the Packers.

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Lujack at Notre Dame

An Appreciation: Johnny Lujack

Johnny Lujack painting by Robert Hurst: www.ADamnFineArtist.com

 

SEVENTY YEARS AHEAD OF HIS TIME?

When people think of Johnny Lujack, they often think of Notre Dame, the Heisman Trophy, or his shoe-string tackle of Doc Blanchard in the original “Game of the Century” (watch below). The Irish lost only one game in the three years he started at quarterback, and Lujack led them to 3 national championships. Few football fans recognize his exceptional — albeit very short – pro career.


World War II interrupted Lujack’s college career after the 1943 season, causing him to miss the ’44 and ’45 seasons. George Halas’ Chicago Bears drafted Lujack in the first round of the 1946 NFL Draft, but Lujack elected to play out his eligibility at Notre Dame. “In those days you could be drafted on what the normal four years would have been,” Lujack told The Game before the Money. “I entered Notre Dame in ‘42, so my graduation year would have been in ‘46. The Chicago Bears drafted me in the first round of the 1946 nfl draft, following my junior year, but I didn’t even think about forgoing my senior year at Notre Dame.” Lujack’s choice paid off by winning the 1947 Heisman Trophy.

LUJACK’S PRO CAREER

Lujack starred at defensive back for the Bears in 1948. His 11 interceptions were third in the NFL that season, and he was named to the Chicago Herald-American’s All-NFL team. The Bears didn’t draft him to play defense, however. “That first year up, Bobby Layne was the quarterback,” Lujack recalls. “They got rid of Layne, thinking I was going to take over, which I did.” While Layne went on to have tremendous success and earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lujack’s accomplishments also stand out. Most football fans can tell you Norm Van Brocklin holds the single-game passing yardage record, but you might be hard pressed to find somebody that knows Lujack held the record previously. In fact, Lujack’s 468 passing yards against the Chicago Cardinals still stands as a Bears team record. In 1949 he bested Layne and the rest of the league in passing yardage (2,658) and passing touchdowns (23). Lujack wasn’t just a threat with his arm. The next year he set a league single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 11, and averaged over 6 yards per carry. His double-threat presence stands comparable to lauded talents like Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham, who Sports Illustrated called three decades ahead of his time. Using that logic, perhaps Lujack was 70 years ahead of his time.

 

 


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LEAVING ON HIS OWN TERMS

Pro football salaries were nothing like they are today, and past players’ values and attitudes contrast with those of many of today’s stars. Lujack retired after playing out the four years of his first contract, leaving what might have been a legendary career on the table. “I had the chance to become the quarterback coach at Notre Dame under [Head Coach Frank] Leahy’s last two years, 1952 and 1953. I felt that was a good way to repay Notre Dame and Leahy for giving me a scholarship,” Lujack states in the book.

SUMMARY

Where might Lujack fit in today’s NFL? Newton was the top pick of the 2011 NFL Draft after winning the Heisman Trophy and national championship, and led the Panthers to a division title last year. Althetic quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick represented the NFC in the last 2 Super Bowls, and recent QBs Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick consistently led their teams to the playoffs. It’s always difficult to compare players across different eras, but Lujack certainly could be considered a prototype to these modern stars.

Johnny  Lujack on the run.

Johnny Lujack on the run.