Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dutch Clark's Gloves

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

As the calendar flips to November and the NFL season approaches the mid-way point, teams now have to contend with the potential of colder weather. Today players can use hand warmers and state-of-the-art gloves to help them battle the brutal temperatures.

Using gloves is nothing new for NFL players. Over 80 years ago future Hall of Fame quarterback-halfback Dutch Clark used winter gloves that looked nothing like the fancy logo printed ones of today.

In 1936 as winter was hitting the Motor City Clark pulled out his winter gloves to help him in the annual Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears. On November 26th, wearing winter gloves, he sprinted for a 51-yard touchdown to help the Lions defeat the Bears 13-7. In the Detroit News a photo captured Clark’s scoring sprint showing his stiff-arm on Bears quarterback Carl Brumbaugh.
Dutch Clark gives stiff-arm to Bears Carl Brunbaugh on his way 51-yard touchdown. Bears Hall of Fame end Bill Hewitt (no helmet #56) trails the play. Lions defeated Bears on Thanksgiving Nov. 26, 1936. Notice Band-Aid on nose and winter gloves.
A few days later Dutch got some attention for something other than his play on the field. Lions fans wanted to know what was the deal with the winter gloves he was wearing while playing? Tod Rockwell of the Detroit Free Press went investigating and asked Dutch the big question.

    “When I was a kid in high school and in college I broke a lot of fingers. And my right hand, too, has been busted up some little bit. Come cold weather time, if I don’t put on my gloves my fingers and my hands get numb. Yes, I know I can’t throw the ball as well with the gloves. I know it makes it tougher to handle the ball and that a fellow is likely to fumble.  

     But I’d fumble more and I couldn’t throw the ball at all, or handle it to speak of, if I didn’t wear these old gloves. Tight-fitting gloves which would enable me to grip the ball like I do normally in warmer weather only seem to stop the circulation in my hands. They get numb in those kind. Have to have these old loose things.

      But I couldn’t feel the ball in my hand in cold weather without these gloves. Couldn’t throw it at all.”
Detroit Free Press clipping, Dec. 1, 1936
The Flying Dutchman was forced to change his throwing style while wearing the gloves- which looked more like loose gardening gloves than the Nike or Under Armor tactified football gloves worn today. Ordinarily, he griped a football and whip his forearm sharply past his ear to throw a pass. Going over the top. But with gloves, he used a sidearm motion, because he was unable to grip the ball. Dutch would lay the ball flat in his hand and spin a spiral by flicking his wrist. This motion allowed his fingers to start spinning the ball just before it left his hand.
Detroit News newspaper clipping. Dec. 6, 1936 game Lions vs Brooklyn Dodgers, game won by Lions 14-6.
Though slightly handicapped with the gloves it did not affect his play in the Lions passing game. In 1936 Dutch would complete an NFL-high 53 percent of his passes (among passers who threw fifteen or more passes) which outdistanced the league’s top five passers.
Arnie Herber (Packers)- 44 percent
Ed Matestic (Pirates)- 46 percent
Phil Sarboe  (Cardinals-Redskins)- 41 percent
Pug Vaughn (Cardinals)- 38 percent
Ed Danowski (Giants)- 45 percent
Over the last few games in the 1936 season Dutch would continue to wear his gloves in cold weather. So seeing Tom Brady or Drew Brees wearing gloves to help threw passes in cold weather is not so new for the NFL.


  1. Great article! Something tells me he didn't get a lucrative endorsement contract for those gloves.

  2. ....another excellent article Chris. a companion piece for the terrific book you wrote on DC.