Tuesday, May 15, 2018

1932 NFL MVP Retroactive

(Part five of an on-going series)
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
1932 NFL All-Pro Team, Selected by NFL Coaches for Associated Press
The National Football League didn’t recognize a Most Valuable Player Award until 1938 when Joe F. Carr, President of the league at that time, announced that the NFL would officially name an MVP that season. Giants’ center-linebacker Mel Hein won the inaugural award receiving a watch at midfield right before the kickoff of the 1938 NFL Championship Game. So far Pro Football Journal has looked at five retroactive MVP races in four parts: To refresh your memory here were the previous MVPs:

1930- Verne Lewellen, Green Bay Packers, End (Part 3)
1931- Johnny “Blood” McNally, Green Bay Packers, Wing-Back (Part 3)
1933- Ken Strong, New York Giants, Fullback (Part 2)
1934- Bronco Nagurski, Chicago Bears, Fullback (Part 4)
1936- Dutch Clark, Detroit Lions, Quarterback-Halfback (Part 1)

In this installment, I’ll look at the MVP race for the 1932 NFL season.

1932 NFL Season
The big news before the 1932 NFL season was that the League would keep Official Statistics for the first time. In a decade dominated by rushing the 1932 NFL season was no different. The league saw 75 % of all plays as run plays. Rules still prohibited the pass game with the passer still needing to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage to throw.

Low scoring was common in 1932 as the NFL saw 10 tie games (among its 48 games), as well as 25 shutouts.

The League in 1931 had 10 teams. But the Great Depression helped some of the more struggling franchise make an easier decision to fold as the Providence Steam Roller (NFL Champions in 1928), Cleveland Indians, and Frankford Yellow Jackets (NFL Champions in 1926) said good-bye to the NFL. The NFL was able to round up to 8 franchises with the addition of the Boston Braves owned by a syndicate with George Preston Marshall in charge.

The Draft was still a few years away but several future Hall of Famers entered the league as rookies, including Packers fullback Clarke Hinkle, Bears end Bill Hewitt, and the Braves duo of halfback Cliff Battles and tackle Turk Edwards.

The eight NFL teams still played a variety of schedules. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers played 14 games; while the Portsmouth Spartans, N.Y. Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Staten Island Stapletons played 12; and the Chicago Cardinals and Boston Braves played 10 games. So, sifting through each team’s games and play on the field will be accounted.

The NFL played 48 league games and for this season’s MVP vote we will include the NFL’s first playoff game (Dec. 18th) between the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans since it was included in the season-ending standings.

*playoff game, on Dec. 18th, included in standings; Bears won 9-0

NFL teams in 1932 totaled 10,549 rushing yards on 3,238 carries (a 3.3 average) with 55 touchdowns. While the passing statistics are rather mundane. NFL signal callers of 1932 threw 1,044 passes and completed just 372, a completion percentage of 35.6 percent, for 5,300 yards.
Headline Passing in NFL
(Courtesy of Zanesville Times-Recorder, Nov. 16, 1932)
The more glaring stat is the comparison of passing touchdowns to interceptions. There were only 42 touchdowns compared to 98 interceptions.

Team Offense (Top 5)
1st- C. Bears = 2,602 yards (513 carries; 148 passing attempts; 661 total (77% run-pass)
2nd- SI Stapes= 2,298 yards (373 carries; 113 passing attempts; 486 total (76% run-pass)
3rd- NY Giants = 2,260 yards (423 carries; 164 passing attempts; 587 total (72% run-pass)
4th- GB Packers = 2,131 yards  (434 carries; 134 passing attempts; 568 total (76% run-pass)
5th- P. Spartans = 1,853 yards (373 carries; 113 passing attempts; 486 total (76% run-pass)

Scoring Defense (Top 5)
1st- C. Bears = 44 points (14 games; 3.1 pts. Per game)
2nd- GB Packers = 63 points (14 games; 4.5 pts. Per game)
3rd- P. Spartans = 71 points (12 games; 5.9 pts. Per game)
4th- Boston Braves = 79 points (10 games; 7.9 pts. Per game)
5th- NY Giants = 113 points (12 games; 9.4 pts. Per game)


Packers quarterback Arnie Herber was heads and shoulders above his counterparts in passing. After tossing just 3 touchdown passes in his first two seasons with the Packers, Herber in 1932 led the NFL in attempts (101), completions (37), passing yards (639) and touchdowns (9). Herber did throw 9 interceptions. Herber guided his team to a strong start as the Packers jumped out to an 8-0-1 record in the middle of November. It looked like the Packers would win their 4th straight NFL title. But after throwing 8 of his 9 TDs in the first nine games, Herber was shut down over the last five games of the season, throwing just one TD and getting shut out three times.
Arnie Herber, Green Bay Packers, Quarterback
(Color by PFJ)
Perennial All-Pro Benny Friedman struggled for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 throwing twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (5).

In the end Herber was the best passer in the NFL in 1932. His passing and running kept the Packers in the title hunt all season.

1932 NFL Passing Stats
Arnie Herber, Green Bay
37 of 101 passes, 639 yards
9 TDs/9 INTs
Walt Homer, C. Cardinals
25 of 78 passes, 449 yards
2 TDs/ 1 INTs
Jack McBride, NY-Brooklyn
36 of 74 passes, 363 yards
6 TDs/ 9 INTs
Keith Molesworth, C. Bears
25 of 64 passes, 346 yards
3 TDs/ 4 INTs
Benny Friedman, Brooklyn
23 of 74 passes, 319 yards
5 TDs/10 INTs


With average passing stats in 1932 no receiver separated himself that season except for Ray Flaherty of the New York Giants. Flaherty was the best of the bunch finishing first in the NFL in receptions (21), receiving yards (350) and receiving touchdowns with 5.  
1932 NFL Receiving Stats
Ray Flaherty, New York
21 rec, 350 yards, 16.7 avg.
5 TDs
Luke Johnsos, C. Bears
19 rec, 321 yards, 16.9 avg.
2 TDs
Johnny Blood, Green Bay
14 rec, 168 yards, 12.0 avg.
3 TDs
Harry Ebding, Portsmouth
14 rec, 171 yards, 12.2 avg.
1 TD
Dale Burnett, New York
11 rec, 125 yards, 11.4 avg.
1 TD
5)       Red Grange, C. Bears             11 rec., 168 yards, 15.3 avg.        4 TDs
6)       Dutch Clark, Portsmouth        10 rec., 107 yards, 10.7 avg.       3 TDs
Ray Flaherty, New York Giants, End
(Color image by PFJ)
Here’s where the MVP race heats up. In the end, the contenders really come down to three teams (and four players) who clearly dominated the NFL in 1932. The Green Bay Packers with Arnie Herber were looking to win their 4th straight NFL Championship and claim another Pro Football Journal Retro-MVP following Verne Lewellen (1930) and Johnny “Blood” McNally (1931). Then you had the Chicago Bears dynamic backfield of fullback Bronco Nagurski and halfback Red Grange, who was experiencing one of his best NFL seasons since he turned pro in 1925. The other player was tailback-quarterback Dutch Clark of the Portsmouth Spartans.

Team Rushing Stats
  1. Staten Island Stapes-       490 carries for 1,780 (3.6 average); 9 TDs
  2. Chicago Bears-               513 carries for 1,620 (3.2 average); 13 TDs
  3. Green Bay Packers-        434 carries for 1,333 (3.1 average); 7 TDs
  4. New York Giants-          423 carries for 1,311 (3.1 average); 3 TDs
  5. Boston Braves-               304 carries for 1,249 (4.1 average); 4 TDs
  6. Portsmouth Spartans-     373 carries for 1,230 (3.3 average), 9 TDs
The Bears led the NFL in rushing attempts with 513 and were 2nd in the league in rushing yards with 1,620. They also were 1st in the league in rushing touchdowns with 13.

Taking the NFL by storm in 1932 was a rookie from West Virginia Wesleyan. His name was Cliff Battles, who lead the NFL in rushing attempts (148) and rushing yards (576) for the Boston Braves. He also led the NFL in rushing attempts per game at 18.5. He did only play in 8 of his team’s 10 games.
Cliff Battles, Boston Braves, Halfback
(Color Image by PFJ)
Looking at the numbers Battles was the most productive but got the ball the most with over 18 carries a game, compared to Dutch with 13.3 a game or Nagurski with 8.6 per game. Big Bronco led the NFL in rushing TDs with 4 and had one of the best yards per carry average with 4.4- better than Clark and Battles. Grange only carried the ball 57 times for 136 yards, but did have 3 TDs.

1932 NFL Rushing Stats

Cliff Battles, Boston
148 att, 576 yards, 3.9 avg
3 TDs
Bronco Nagurski, C. Bears
121 att, 533 yards, 4.4 avg
4 TDs
Bob Campiglio, Staten Isl.
104 att, 504 yards, 4.8 avg
2 TDs
Dutch Clark, Portsmouth
137 att, 461 yards, 3.4 avg
3 TDs
Doug Wycoff, Staten Island
135 att, 454 yards, 3.4 avg
1 TDs

            1932 NFL Rushing Attempts Per Game
  1. Cliff Battles, Boston                 18.5 carries per game
  2. Dutch Clark, Portsmouth          13.3
  3. Doug Wycoff, Staten Island     11.3
  4. Jack Grossman, Brooklyn        10.8
  5. Bob Campoglio, Staten Island   9.5
  6. Jim Musick, Boston                   8.8
  7. Ken Strong, Staten Island          8.7
  8. Bronco Nagurski, C. Bears        8.6
  9. Benny Friedman, Brooklyn        8.0
  10. Ace Gutowsky, Portsmouth       7.9
Dutch Clark Headline
(Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 19, 1932)
Dutch Clark, was the NFL’s best all-around threat. He finished 6th in the NFL in passing; 4th in rushing; and was one of just eight men to catch at least 10 passes in 1932. Red Grange showed all-around skill too, catching 11 passes for 168 yards, a nice 15.3 yds. per catch and had 4 TDs. His 7 total touchdowns was tops in the NFL.
As for scoring in the NFL,  field goals were scarce in 1932 with only a meager 6 made- but Dutch Clark made half of them with 3 successful kicks.

1932 NFL Scoring
Dutch Clark, Portsmouth,
55 points (6 TDs, 3 FGs, 10 XPs)
Red Grange, C. Bears
42 points (7 TDs)
Ray Flaherty, New York
30 points (5 TDs)
Jack Grossman, Brooklyn
30 points (5 TDs)
Luke Johnsos, C Bears
26 points (4 TDs, 2 XPs)
Clark finished 1st in the NFL in scoring, adding to his triple-threat ability. So, the MVP race comes down to the Spartans’ Dutch Clark, the Packers’ Arnie Herber, and the Bears’ Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange.  
Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski
Color photo courtesy of PFJ

1932 NFL Key Games
Heading into the 1932 NFL Season the Green Bay Packers were looking to win their fourth straight NFL Championship. Through the first nine games they looked to be on their way. After a Nov. 13th victory over the Boston Braves (21-0) the Packers were 8-0-1. Quarterback Arnie Herber had guided the unbeaten record by throwing for 8 touchdowns, while the defense led by tackle Cal Hubbard had registered six shutouts.

The biggest victory in the first two months of the season came on Oct. 9th when the Packers defeated the Portsmouth Spartans 15-10 in Green Bay. Three weeks later Herber established himself as the MVP frontrunner by throwing 2 touchdowns and returning an interception 85 yards for another score in a 26-0 lopsided win over the Staten Island Stapletons. During the Nov. 13th win over the Boston Braves, Herber tossed 3 scores in the 21-0 victory. With only five weeks to go Herber was a shoo-in for League MVP. But no so fast.

While the Packers were cruising, the Bears were stuck in neutral. In their first four games, they had given up only 2 points, but on offense they had scored ZERO. They were 0-1-3. After defeating Staten Island 27-7, they once again suffered another tie game. On October 30th the Bears were just 1-1-4, but since tie games did not count in the standings they were still in the hunt for the title. The Bears defense would be the best in the NFL all season, giving up only 44 points all year in 14 games- just 4.4 points per game. The would finish with 8 shutouts in those 14 games.

On November 6th is where the Bears’ season turned for the better. Against the usually tough New York Giants in the Big Apple, the Bears offense suddenly showed life. In the first quarter, Red Grange snagged a 17-yard scoring pass from Keith Molesworth. Then in the second quarter the Galloping Ghost caught a pass and raced 55 yards for another score. Then in the 4th quarter, Grange scored his third touchdown of the game sealing a 28-8 victory. A week later set up a key match-up with the Portsmouth Spartans. Trailing in the 4th quarter it was Bronco Nagurski’s time to shine. Bronco plowed over from a yard out to help tie the game (13-13)- although kicker Tiny Engebretsen missed the extra point that would’ve won the game. The tie would eventually help the Bears later in the season.

As for the Portsmouth Spartans they played consistent football all season. In their opening game, Dutch Clark short TD run in the second quarter led to a 7-0 victory over the New York Giants. Three weeks later Dutch caught a touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to force a 7-7 tie against Staten Island. Then Dutch put on a show over the next three games:

Oct. 20th- Clark had a 74-yard TD run to beat Staten Island again, 13-6.
Oct. 30th- Clark threw a TD pass to Pop Lumpkin for the only score in a 6-0 win over the Giants
Nov. 6th- Trailing 7-0, Clark caught a 65-yard TD pass (kicked the XP), then kicked a 25-yard FG in the 4th quarter to secure a 17-7 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the 13-13 tie game against the Bears on Nov. 13th, Clark threw a TD pass to Glenn Presnell.  Three weeks later the Spartans meet the Bears again in Portsmouth. Once again the two teams battled evenly for four quarters. This time the Spartans scored in the 4th quarter, but unlike the Bears, Clark converted the extra point to finish the game in a 7-7 tie.
Dutch Clark, Tailback-Quarterback
(Color Image courtesy of PFJ)
On November 28th the NFL Standings were:

1st- Green Bay Packers       10-1-1
2nd- Portsmouth Spartans     5-1-4
3rd- Chicago Bears               4-1-6
4th- New York Giants          4-5-2
5th- Boston Braves               3-4-2
6th- Chicago Cardinals         2-6-2
7th- Brooklyn Dodgers         3-8
8th- Staten Island Stapes.     2-7-3
*Ties did not count in standings

Two Biggest Games of the Year
On December 4th the MVP race and the season changed for the contenders. In Chicago that day the Bears played the New York Giants. On a frozen field the Bears won 6-0 (on a 29-yard TD pass from Keith Molesworth to Luke Johnsos). The Bears were now 5-1-6 on the season. The same day the Packers traveled to Portsmouth to face off against the Spartans. If the Packers won it would set up a winner-take-all game against the Bears the following Sunday. It was not meant to be. In front of 10,000 rowdy Spartan fans the hometown team dismantled the 3-time champs. In the first quarter halfback Glenn Presnell scored on a short TD run. The rest of the game Dutch Clark played his best. In the second quarter he led a drive that he capped with an 8-yard TD run. 

Then in the 4th quarter, Dutch caught a 27-yard TD pass from Presnell to cap off a huge 19-0 victory over the Packers. The Spartans finished the season with a 6-1-4 record. The Packers had suffered their second defeat of the season, eliminating them from the championship race, even if they defeated the Bears. As for the Bears if they defeated the Packers they would tie the Spartans with the same record.
Portsmouth Spartans Take Lead in Standings
(Courtesy, Appleton Post-Crescent, Dec. 7, 1932)
On a snow-covered field at Wrigley Field the Bears came up big in the 4th quarter. Engebretsen kicked a field goal and Nagurski sprinted 56 yards for a score to give the Bears a 9-0 victory. The NFL now had a tie at the top of the standings.

George Halas of the Bears and Harry Snyder of the Spartans talked to NFL President Joe F. Carr about playing a “post-season” game to declare a champion. Carr said yes. Because of a Chicago snowstorm, the game was moved indoors to make it more comfortable for fans and the players. This game would go down as the NFL’s first-ever playoff game. But the game would be counted in the standings.

But it would be a game that MVP candidate Dutch Clark would not play in.

The Indoor Game
On Tuesday before the game on Dec. 18th it was announced that Spartans star halfback Dutch Clark would miss the game. Clark was scheduled to go back to his alma mater Colorado College to start his duties as head basketball coach. Since the playoff game wasn’t on the original schedule the Spartans didn’t foresee this coming. Management contacted the school’s athletic director and asked for permission to allow Clark, just this once, to show up late so he could play. They said no.

The game would be played indoors inside Chicago Stadium. The football field was just 80 yards long, and the two teams agreed to a few new rule changes including bringing in the football away from the running boards that were up for the hockey games. A sold-out crowd of over 11,000 fans witnessed the NFL’s first post-season game.

Despite missing Clark the Spartans held tough and fought the Bears on even terms for three quarters. Neither team scored heading into the final quarter. Then, with under five minutes remaining, Bears halfback Dick Nesbitt intercepted an Ace Gutowsky pass and returned it to the Spartans’ seven-yard line before being knocked out-of-bounds. Because of the special rule the ball was brought into the field ten yards costing the Bears a down. On second down Bronco Nagurski blasted six yards to the one; on third down Nagurski tried again but this time lost a yard. So on fourth down the game’s pivotal play.  

It was now fourth and goal from the two! Nagurski got the ball a third time, faked a line smash, retreated a few steps and fired a pass to a wide-open Red Grange in the end zone. Referee Bobbie Cahn signaled touchdown. “There was no way I could get through, I stopped. I moved back a couple of steps. Grange had gone around and was in the end zone, all by himself. I threw him a short pass,” recalled Bronco Nagurski about the touchdown.
Bronko Nagurski, Chicago Bears, Fullback
(Color Image by PFJ)
Spartans coach Potsy Clark stormed onto the field protesting that Nagurski was not five yards behind the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass as the rules required. “We were sure that he was going to make a line plunge. He wasn’t anywhere near five yards back of the line of scrimmage, which was a rule in those days,” says Presnell. “It was an illegal pass. He wasn’t five yards back. Of course he lined up about five yards back but when he took the ball he stared to plunge into the line. Then he jumped up. They counted it anyway.” Cahn was unmoved by all the protesting and held up the score. The Bears added the conversion and a few moments later a safety on a bad Spartans snap through the end zone. The Bears finished the game strong to win the 1932 NFL title with a 9-0 victory.

1932 NFL MVP
As for the 1932 MVP race it comes down to a close call.

Boston Braves halfback Cliff Battles had a great rookie year leading the NFL in rushing attempts and rushing yards. But the Braves won only four games and he scored only 4 total TDs (3 rush.; 1 rec.) Packers quarterback Arnie Herber led the NFL in attempts, completions, yards and passing touchdowns while leading Green Bay to a 10-3-1 record. But his play down the stretch was not MVP-worthy, as his team lost two big games while getting shutout in both. Battles and Herber finish 5th and 4th in the MVP voting.

That leaves us with Dutch Clark and the Bears’ dynamic duo of Bronco Nagurski and Red Grange.

The Bears duo of Nagurski and Grange got off to a slow start, as the Bears didn’t score a single point for their first four games. Their play on defense helped keep them in the title race by forcing tie games. But over the last ten games the two combined for 11 touchdowns (Red- 7; Bronco- 4) and 2 TD passes (both by Nagurski). The team also did not lose a game going 7-0-3.

Red Grange Resume:
2nd in NFL, Scoring with 42 points
1st in NFL, TDs Scored with 7
2nd in NFL, Receiving TDs with 4
Caught Game-Winning TD in Playoff Game
Solid Defensive Back Work

Bronco Nagurski Resume:
2nd in NFL, Rushing Yards with 533; good 4.4 yds per carry average
1st in NFL, Rushing TDs with 4
Game Winning TD pass in Playoff Game

Dutch Clark resume:
1st in NFL, Scoring with 55 points
1st in NFL, Field Goals Made with 3 (league only had 6 FGs all year)
4th in NFL, Rushing Yards with 461
6th in NFL, Passing Yards
7th in NFL, Receptions with 10
Missed Playoff Game, Team Lost

In the end, Nagurski and Grange made the plays down the stretch to win a NFL Championship. But Dutch Clark was more valuable to his team. In the two regular-season games against the Bears, his Portsmouth Spartans came away with two tie games, 13-13 and 7-7. Without him the Spartans lost and didn’t score a point- although the confines of an indoor game contributed to that.

Throughout the 1932 NFL season, Dutch Clark proved to be the best all-around player in the League. He ran, he passed, he caught passes, played solid defense and he kicked better than anybody in the NFL. IF he had played in the Indoor Game the Spartans may have won.

Dutch Clark is your 1932 NFL MVP.
Dutch Clark
(Color Image courtesy of PFJ)

1932 NFL MVP
Top Five
  1. Dutch Clark, Portsmouth Spartans, Tailback-Quarterback
  2. Bronco Nagurski, Chicago Bears, Fullback
  3. Red Grange, Chicago Bears, Halfback
  4. Arnie Herber, Green Bay Packers, Quarterback
  5. Cliff Battles, Boston Braves, Halfback

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