Monday, April 15, 2019

Chris Willis' Top Ten NFL Pre-WWII Punters

By John Turney

As a companion to the recent post about the Top Post-WWII Punters, we asked Chris Willis of NFL Films to give us his picks for the top punters of the pre-Sammy Baugh era.

Willis is the author of  these books from that era:
We are sure no one is more qualified to give us an accurate list of punters from that distant era.

Here is his Top 10:
1. Paddy Driscoll
Driscoll played from 1920-29 splitting his time between the Chicago Cardinals and the Chicago Bears, he was a six-time All-Pro and a member of the All-1920s team.

2. Verne Lewellen
Lewellen played from 1924-32 for the Packers (And a half-season for the AFL New York Yankees). He was a four-time All-Pro. Many think he deserves a serious look at being in the Hall of Fame.

3. Cub Buck
Buck played from 1920-25, all but one season for the Green Bay Packers.

4. Tex Hamer
Hamer played from 1920-27 for the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Though records are incomplete they do show it's likely he was the NFL's first 1,000-yard rusher.

5. Pete “Fats” Henry
Henry was a tackle from 1920-28. He played for the Canton Bulldogs, the Giants and Pottsville. He is a member of the Hall of Fame and was All-Decade for the 1920s. Had a legendary leg and in 1923, he set an NFL record with a 94-yard punt; his record stood until 1969. However, author and historian Dan Daly think it may have been only 86 yards.

6. Doug Wycoff
Wycoff played from 1927-34 and bounced between the New York Giants and the Staten Island Stapletons before finishing with the Redskins, then in Boston.

7. Ken Strong
Strong played in the NFL from 1929 to 35 (He began with the Staten Island Stapletons and then finished with the New York Giants) then jumped to the New York Yanks of the rival American Football League and he played in 1936 and 1937 there. In 1938 he played for the semi-pro Jersey City Giants. In 1939 he came back to the New York Giants and then back to the Jersey City Giants for the 1940 season after which he called it quits due to stomach ulcers. 

He came back and played from 1944-47, retiring at age 41. He was a great placekicker as well as punter. 

8. George “Wildcat” Wilson
Wilson played three years for the Providence Steam Roller and was All-Pro once.

If there was a "Player of the Decade" for the 1930s it would be Clark. He played from 1931-38 first for the Portsmouth Spartans then for the Lions. He ran, passed, kicked, dropkicked, punters and played defense. 

10. Hap Moran
Moran played from 1926-33 mostly for the Giants but also played for three other teams.

Honorable Mention:
Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle, Rip King, Jimmy Conzelman, Jim Thorpe (better pre-NFL), Joey Sternaman, Ernie Nevers, Johnny “Blood” McNally


  1. John and Chris, not disputing the rankings (who knew?)...but am curious about the methodology.....ProFootballReference has no punting stats and for most of us (me at least!), Hap Moran, Doug Wycoff, and Tex Hamer are relative Hamer.....PFR credits him with 24-27 Frankford, not 1920.....are the first 4 pre-NFL years?

  2. The research comes mostly from newspaper accounts from that era, especially papers who have full play-by-play accounts, like the Green Bay Press Gazette. Also, The Pro Football Encyclopedia (by Neft, Cohen, Korch) has punting stats from that era, from again newspapers and play-by-plays. Also, some footage and interviews from players from that era contributed.