Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Best-ever Pre-WW II Halfbacks

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Editor's Note; Chris Willis is head of the Research Library at NFL Films and is the author of the upcoming Red Grange: The Life and Legacy of the NFL's First Superstar.

Pro Football Journal is pleased to present his picks of the best-ever Pre-WWII players—
Choosing the greatest of any position during the Pre-WWII period (circa 1920-1944) is always a daunting task, but resources used to put together this list was going through game footage; newspapers of the era; testimonies of players, coaches & executives, as well as sportswriters who wrote about the game; magazines and any individual honors, All-Pro teams, and greatest of all-time lists.

As for statistics, the NFL didn’t keep official stats until 1932, so that is taken into consideration when making these evaluations. Besides Total Football I and II, another great source used was The Football Encyclopedia, by David Neft, Richard Cohen and Rick Korch, who recreated stats for the NFL’s early years through play-by-plays and newspaper reports. It’s the closest thing we have to early numbers.

In 1920 the Rock Island Argus (sportswriter Bruce Copeland) choose the “first-ever” APFA-NFL All-Pro team (APFA in 1920)- he listed 3 teams. The Associated Press, UP and I.N.S., selected their All-Pro teams during this era. While newspapers such as Green Bay Press-Gazette (GBPG), Buffalo News and Courier, New York Daily News (NYDN), Boston Post, Detroit Free-Press, Milwaukee Sentinel, and Chicago Tribune would select All-Pro teams as well; while publications like Collyers’ Eye and Pro Football Illustrated magazines also listed All-Pro honors. NFL coaches, such as George Halas, Guy Chamberlin, Curly Lambeau, Leroy Andrews and Ray Flaherty also picked All-Pro teams during this era, as well as NFL players like Red Grange, Ernie Nevers and Lavvie Dilweg. NFL President, Joe F. Carr, selected an All-Pro team (two squads) in 1925 that was printed in Liberty Magazine.

Team success also contributed to the ranking, as well as combing through newspapers such as GBPGPottsville Republican, Canton Repository, Chicago Daily Journal, and more who would publish play-by-plays of early NFL games.

Other resources such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL teams (especially the Packers and team historian Cliff Christl), Newspapers.comPro Football Reference, and more contributed mightily to the rankings.

Next up in our series of the Pre-WWII players is the Halfback-Wingbacks position.

Here is the list:
1)      HB-QB Dutch Clark (1931-1932, 1934-1938) Not even a tough choice, the best halfback-wingback of the first quarter-century is Dutch Clark. The 6-0, 185-pound Clark played 7 seasons (75 games) for the Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions. Sat out the 1933 season to coach at, Colorado School of Mines…usually listed in the line-up at the quarterback position, Clark played halfback in Posty Clark’s single-wing offense…Clark was the team leader and called all the plays on offense. His Spartans-Lions teams won 66% of their games…always a contender, Clark guided the Lions to the 1935 NFL Championship. In the championship game, had his signature play, a 42-yard TD run in the first quarter that set the tone for the game, to help defeat the Giants, 26-7. Finished game with 80-yards (7 carries). ‘He is one of the most intelligent men who ever played football. He knows the game thoroughly. But his main asset is an ability to gain the confidence of players. He makes them absolutely believe in him,” said Potsy Clark on Dutch.

Besides being one of the NFL’s best generals on the field, Clark could do everything well and did most everything better than anybody. Could run, pass, catch, punt and kick. On film, Clark has great feet and is always going forward. In an era when most of the action is at the line of scrimmage and running plays dominated the game, Clark always seemed to be going forward, rarely was he stopped in the backfield or for no gain. “Dutch is like a rabbit in a brush heap when he gets into the secondary. He has no plan but only instinct to cut, pivot, slant and run in any direction equally well,” once said Potsy Clark about his prize runner. Also excelled on defense…Was the game’s best kicker- usually by the drop-kick- who could score points just as good as anyone…Led NFL in scoring 3 times, 1932, 1935-1936…as well rushing TDs, 1934, 1936-1937…scored 369 career points…had 42 career TDs (36 rush.; 6 rec.)…Part of Lions rushing offense that in 1936 set an NFL record for rushing yards in a season with 2,885 yards (in 12 games), a record that stood until 1972 when the Miami Dolphins broke it (in a 14-game season)…part of a Lions rushing offense that helped lead the NFL in rushing twice (1936-37) and finish second twice more (1934-35)…Accurate passer for era, completed 45.6 % of passes and 11 TDs.

If the NFL awarded an MVP during his time he would’ve won several, especially in 1932, 1934-1935, and maybe in 1937 (he won the Gruen Award that year) (see Retro-MVPlinks)…Consensus First-team All-Pro 6 times (missed 1933 season when he was coaching):  
First-team All-Pros
 NFL: 6 times (1931-1932, 1934-1937)
UP: 6 times (1931-1932, 1934-1937)
Collyers: 6 times (1931-1932, 1934-1937)
Green Bay Press-Gazette: 3 times (1932, 1934-1935)
I.N.S. and New York Daily News: 1 time each (1937)

Charter Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1930’s All-Decade Team…Lions number 7 jersey retired…In 1940 the Associated Press voted a Football Man of the Decade for the 1930s. They voted Dutch Clark that player over Don Hutson, Mel Hein, Bronko Nagurski, Clarke Hinkle and Sammy Baugh.

“If Clark stepped on the field with Red Grange, Jim Thorpe and George Gipp, Dutch would be the general.”—Clark Shaughnessy, former NFL head coach.

“He looked like the easiest man in the world to tackle. The first time I tried I thought I’d break him in two. But when I close my arms, all I was holding was air.”—Bronko Nagurski, former Bears Hall of Fame fullback.

“He could run. Dutch could fake you out of your supporter too. He was a good back, go one way and then go the other and so forth. He’d have you all tied up. He was hard to stop.”—George Musso, former Bears Hall of Fame lineman.

“Dutch was outstanding. He was one of the most outstanding football players I ever played against.”—Ralph Kercheval, former Brooklyn Dodgers All-Pro back.

2)      HB- Verne Lewellen (1924-1932) Truly one of the most underrated players of this era, regardless of position. Should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 6-1, 182-pound Lewellen played 9 years (105 NFL games) with the Green Bay Packers (also played 3 games with the 1927 New York Yankees). Helped the Packers win 3 straight NFL championships, 1929-1931…Absolute scoring machine with 51 career TDs, was an NFL record until broken by Don Hutson until 1941. Had 37 rush.; 12 rec.; 1 fumble recovery; 1 INT return…when Lewellen scored a TD the Packers were 37-5-2, including going 19-1 during their championship years of 1929-31…Led Packers in scoring 5 straight seasons (1926-1930) and finished with 307 career points.

Arguably the game’s best punter of his era (overtaking Paddy Driscoll, who was a better kicker), when field position was the most important strategy of the game. “Verne Lewellen should have been in there in front of me and (Cal) Hubbard (into Hall of Fame)…I still haven’t seen anybody who could punt the ball like Lewellen. He kicked it deep and very high, so there was just never any chance for a return. (Back then) if you could out-kick the other team by five or ten yards, you could practically march for a touchdown just by exchanging punts. And he was accurate, just great at the coffin corner kick,” said Johnny “Blood” McNally, former Packers Hall of Fame back and teammate.

Just like Dutch Clark, excelled at the 2 most important aspects of the pro game during this era, kicking and scoring- while being a great runner too…probably best game of career came in 1929 game (Nov. 24th) as the Packers (at 9-0) played the Giants (at 8-0-1) with the NFL championship on the line. On a muddy field in New York, Lewellen punted 7 times for 354 yards, an average of 50.6 per kick, keeping the Giants powerful offense- led by Benny Friedman- at bay. On offense, he ran and passed, setting up the TDs that helped the Packers to a 20-6 victory. Packers went on to win their first NFL championship…If NFL awarded an MVP, Lewellen might’ve won the award in back-to-back years, 1929-1930 (see retro-MVP articles), his scoring and leadership made the Packers the best team in the NFL in those years.

Twice finished 2nd in League in scoring, 1928 (55 points; Friedman, 56) and 1930 (54; J. McBride, 56)…finished career with 307 points scored…First-team All-Pro by GBPG four straight years, 1926-1929; by Chicago Tribune for three straight, 1927-1929; by coach Leroy Andrews in 1927 (name him 2nd team in 1929) and by Collyers in 1929…Second Team by GBPG in 1925 and Honorable mention by Collyers in 1930…Packers Hall of Fame, 1970…played entire career except one before the NFL kept “official” statistics, which has hurt his Hall of Fame chances.

“Defensively, offensively – of the players we had in the old days, he was number one. And I’m not alone in saying that. Any of the old-timers I’ve talked to say the same thing … He was way ahead of his time in ability. If he doesn’t get in the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, it’s a joke.”—Charles Mayths, former Packers back and teammate. 

“He was the greatest punter I ever saw. I don’t think they kept any stats when he was punting, but I saw him punt 80 yards. I saw him punt the ball out on the five, the three and 10.”—Mike Michalske, former Packers Hall of Fame guard and teammate.

3)      HB- Cliff Battles (1932-1937) Athletic, fast and instinctive, the 6-1, 195-pound Battles was the Boston-Washington Redskins first superstar (pre-Baugh). Played 6 seasons (60 games) with Redskins. Wasn’t asked to kick or punt like Clark or Lewellen…Known to be one of the fastest backs in the NFL, who showed good elusiveness in running around the ends. Battles favorite play was a counter play around the end, against a defensive front that would over-shift to one side. He scored on this play in the 1937 NFL Championship Game in the Redskins win against the Bears.

Battles’ rookie year in 1932 he led the NFL in carries (148) and rushing (576 yards)…had even better year in 1933 rushing for 737 yards- second in league behind teammate Jim Musick (809 yds). Became the first player in NFL history to rush for over 200-yards in a game, rushing for 215 against the Giants (Oct. 8). A single-game record that stood until 1950 when Gene Roberts of the Giants rushed for 218…Led NFL in Yards from Scrimmage, 3 times, 1932 (636), 1933 (922) and 1937 (955)…in final season of 1937 led NFL in rushing for the second time with 874 yards (NFL high 216 carries, set a league record)…helped the Redskins win 2 division titles and the 1937 NFL Championship. In that game against the Bears, Battles had 17 carries for 53 yards and 1 TD; also had 3 catches for 80-yards (133 yds. from scrimmage)…scored many different ways, scoring 31 career TDs (rush- 23; rec.- 4; punt return- 2; KOR- 1; INT return-1)…big-play ability with 11 TDs from 40-or-more yards. Perfect example was in 1937, Battles scored 3 TDs from long distance to defeat Pittsburgh, 34-20, returning an interception 65-yards and runs of 60 and 62 in the 4th quarter to seal win…finished career with 4,057 yards from scrimmage (3,511 rush.; 546 rec.)…Named NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1968…after winning 1937 Championship retired because of a contract dispute with owner George Preston Marshall…First-team All-Pro by NFL, 1933, 1936-1937; by UP, 1933-1934, 1936; by Collyers in 1932-1933, 1936; and in 1937 by I.N.S. and NYDN…Second-team by NFL in 1934-1935; UP in 1937; by Collyers in 1934, 1937; and by GBPG in 1934…Honorable mention by NFL in 1932. 

“Cliff Battles was a superstar. He had great speed and all the moves any back would need. He could run like a deer, and once he got past the line of scrimmage, you could say goodbye to him. He was gone for a touchdown.” – Mel Hein, former Giants All-Pro center-linebacker.
“Cliff was a great running back, the best we had.”—Sammy Baugh about Battles.

“I thought Red Grange was a runner until I saw Cliff Battles. Red wasn’t even in Battles's class.”—Benny Freidman, Hall of Fame quarterback.

“Battles had the long stride and he had the change of pace. He was fast, too. Maybe not like the sprinters of today. But he could turn it on.”—said Jim Lee Howell, former Giants end, in 1969.

4)      HB-WB Johnny “Blood” McNally (1925-1938) The man they called “Blood” played 14 seasons (137 games) for 5 different franchises- Milwaukee, Duluth, Pottsville, Pittsburgh and most notably the Green Bay Packers. Because of his traveling nature also nicknamed, the “Vagabond Halfback.” The 6-1, 188-pound McNally played his best football with the Packers (7 years)…Helped the Packers win 4 NFL Championships, 1929-1931, 1936…versatile player, who had a knack for the big play. Excellent receiver, one of the best to come along in the NFL’s first decade. Flourished in Lambeau’s passing offense. Had great speed and outstanding football instincts—would come up with the acrobatic catches…caught 37 career TDs…had the skills to make big plays, especially in crunch time; scored 18 TDs in the fourth quarter and had 21 TDs of 30 or more yards…flare for the dramatic, in 1930 caught a 70-yard TD in the fourth quarter to beat the Giants, 14-7; even later in career, in 1937, with the game tied in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, Blood ran back a kickoff 92-yards and caught a 44-yard TD to seal a 27-14 win for Pittsburgh…”I never saw a fellow who could turn a ballgame around as quickly as Johnny Blood. When he came into the game, the whole attitude of the players changed. He had complete confidence in himself. He had tremendous football sense,” said Don Hutson, former Packers Hall of Fame end. Before joining the Packers played 2 solid seasons with Ernie Nevers’ Duluth Eskimos.

Had MVP year in 1931 when he scored 14 TDs in 14 games, setting an NFL record for single-season, broke in 1942 by Don Hutson (17). Twice that season he scored 3 TDs in a single game…scored 49 career TDs (297 career points)…was a ball-hawk on defense, scoring 5 TDs on interception returns and was an aggressive tackler.

First-team All-Pro by Red Grange and Ernie Nevers in 1930 and by the NFL in 1931…Second-team by GBPG in 1929; by Collyers in 1930-1931; and by UP in 1931…Third-team by GBPG in 1930…Honorable mention by NFL in 1932, 1935 and 1937…Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Packers Hall of Fame, 1970.

“Johnny Blood was a character. He was a good player though. He was a great player for Green Bay.” – George Musso, former Bears Hall of Fame lineman.

5)      FB-HB- Tuffy Leemans (1936-1943) Rounding out the top 5 is the man they call “Tuffy.” The 6-0, 195-pound Leemans played 8 seasons (80 games) with the New York Giants. Was a 2nd round pick by the Giants (18th overall) in 1936 Draft (scouting by Wellington Mara). Could do everything really well, run, pass, catch and play defense; as well as return kicks…Had an uncanny ability to wiggle his hips, make sudden twist or cut back to avoid any big hits. Also played some fullback in Steve Owen’s offense…“He was not fast, but his change of pace was uncanny, and he always seemed to be running with a touchdown in prospect…Leemans is best remembered for his hips. Tacklers would bounce off those hips. He would roll and pivot with a tackler, shake him loose and come up running,” wrote Steve Owen in his book, My Kind of Football (1952).

Absolutely a workhorse from the start. Led NFL in rushing as a rookie in 1936 with 830 yards (league-high 206 carries). Was Giants single-season record until 1951 when Eddie Price ran for 971…would go on to have 100 or more carries in 6 straight seasons (1936-1941)…member of Giants team that won 3 division titles and the 1938 NFL Championship…led Giants in rushing 5 times (1936, 1938-1941)…was a team leader…finished career with 3,132 rushing yards and 17 TDs; added 3 receiving scores (20 total)…excelled as a passer, especially later in his career throwing for 2,318 yards and 25 TDs, including a career-high 7 in 1942 (6th best in NFL). Led Giants in passing 3 times, 1941-1943…mixed results in 4 post-season games. Had excellent performance in the 1938 NFL Championship Game, rushing 12 times for 43 yards and 1 TD in the victory against the Packers; but the other 3 games (all losses) carried 28 times for just 49 yards and 0 scores…NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1978…his number 4 jersey retired by Giants…First-team All-Pro by NFL in 1936, 1939; by Collyers in 1936; by UP, NYDN and I.N.S. in 1939…Second-team by NFL in 1937, 1941; by UP in 1936, 1938; by Collyers in 1938-39; by NYDN in 1937-1938, 1941; by Football Writers in 1938-1939; by I.N.S. in 1940, 1942 and by AP in 1940-1942…Honorable mention by NFL in 1938, 1940…made two Pro Bowls, 1938, 1941…Member of Giants Ring of Honor.

“He wasn’t really fast, but he had everything else a good runner needed- balance, the ability to pick a hole, things like that. And he was tough. In those days, you weren’t really down until they held you down, so he’d always scratch and crawl and fight for a few extra yards.”—Jim Lee Howell, former Giants end and teammate.

“Tuffy Leemans had it all. He could run, pass and catch and he played truly outstanding defense. He was aggressive, dedicated and gave 100 percent at all times to a game he loved. In my opinion, he ranks among the all-time greats.”—Wayne Millner, former Redskins Hall of Fame end.

“He blocked and ran like a bull, tackled like a fool, and caught the ball beautifully. (But) Leemans was probably greater on defense than on offense. He was a bugger on defense, all over the field, always in on the action.”—Alex Wojciechowicz, former Lions-Eagles Hall of Fame center.

6)      HB- Red Grange (1925-1927, 1929-1934) The “Galloping Ghost.” The NFL’s first superstar, the 6-0, 180-pound Grange played 9 seasons (96 NFL games) of professional football with 2 teams- the New York Yankees and Chicago Bears. The game’s greatest open-field runner coming out of Illinois, Grange was more of all-around player in the NFL after suffering a major knee injury in 1927 (as he missed the entire 1928 season)…not only was he productive as a runner in the NFL, was one of the games premiere defensive players during this era…underrated for his intelligence, Grange was excellent in pass coverage, being able to read pass plays very well, and never seemed to be out of place...especially after injury knew his strengths well and leaned on them.

Caused firestorm when he left school after his final collegiate game to turn pro. Went on famous 1925-1926 Barnstorming Tour that elevated the pro game nationally. Excellent on end runs in Bears offense on tour, scoring 17 TDs in 17 games on tour. After the tour ended formed own team, the New York Yankees, played the next 2 seasons with them including the 1926 season in the rival AFL.  

Rejoined the Bears in 1929…Member of Bears team that won back-to-back NFL Championships, 1932-1933…made big plays in post-season games; caught game-winning TD pass from Bronko Nagurski in fourth quarter to defeat the Portsmouth Spartans, 9-0, to win ’32 championship. Followed it up the next year by making a TD saving tackle late in the game to preserve a 23-21 win over the Giants. “That play Grange made was the greatest defensive play I ever saw,” said George Halas.

Scored 194 points and had 32 career TDs (21 rush.; 10 rec.; 1 INT return) in NFL games. Finished fifth in NFL in scoring in 1930 and 1931, and second in 1932 with 42 points (Dutch Clark- 55)…in 1926 was third in the rival AFL in scoring with 50 points, as the Yankees finished in second place behind the Philadelphia Quakers…

Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team Halfback Runner-Up…First-team All-Pro in 1930 by GBPG, Chicago Daily Times, Milwaukee Sentinel, Ernie Nevers and Collyers. In 1931 by the NFL, UP, Collyers; and in 1932 GBPG…Second-team All-Pro in 1925 by Ohio State Journal; in 1926 by Collyers; and in 1932 by Collyers

“He was one of the best blockers I ever faced, and he was simply terrific as a defensive back. At 180-185 pounds Red had everything as a runner, speed, shiftiness, and power.”—Steve Owen, Giants Hall of Fame player-coach.

“Grange was better than anyone ever gave him credit for. Not only could he run but he might even have been a better blocker than he was a runner. And his defensive skills was superb. At Green Bay, we had a pretty good passing team but whenever we got ready to play the Bears, we’d steer our attack away from his area.”—Cal Hubbard, Packers Hall of Fame tackle.

7)      HB- Fritz Pollard (1920-1923, 1925-1926) One of the game’s greatest pioneers, the 5-9, 165-pound Pollard played 6 years (49 games) for 4 different teams- Akron, Milwaukee, Hammond, Providence. Played in 1919 before the NFL was founded with the Akron Pros. Then Akron joined the APFA-NFL the following year. Lighting fast and equally quick, Pollard was one of the best players in the inaugural year of the APFA-NFL, playing for Akron. Could make the argument that he was the NFL’s first MVP that season, leading the Pros to the APFA-NFL championship, with a 8-0-3 overall record (record includes all games)…Brilliant on end runs all season as he scored 7 TDs (5 rush.; 1 rec.; 1 punt return)…had best game late in season against Dayton (Nov. 28) scoring both TDs in a 14-0 win keeping Akron in first place…excellent on defense too, as the Pros outscored their opponents 151-7- allowing only a single TD all season…”Small and quick. Once (Pollard), after he had been knocked down repeatedly by players huskier than himself, I asked him how he kept from getting killed. Fritz replied, ‘Where do they think I is, I ain’t,” said Bob “Nasty” Nash, to the Akron Beacon-Journal in 1975.
Became player-coach with Akron in 1921, becoming the first African-American head coach in NFL history. Helped Akron to a 8-3-1 record and scored 7 TDs- tied for second in NFL in scoring with 42 points (Elmer Oliphant- 47)…Unofficially scored 19 career TDs (16 rush.; 2 rec.; 1 muffed punt return)…First-team All-Pro in 1920 by the Rock Island Argus…Second-team All-Pro in 1921 by Buffalo Courier…after several decades, finally elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

“Fritz Pollard, the colored Akron flash, was supreme in the open field with the possible exception of Driscoll. His speed can be be sensed by the fact that he was the lightest player in the conference, weighing under 150 pounds. The little dinge was the hero of nearly all of Akron’s victorious marches up and down the field.”—wrote the Rock Island Argus in 1920, naming Pollard First-team All-Pro.

8)      WB- Ward Cuff (1937-1947) A borderline Hall of Fame candidate, who could do everything (not a threat to pass from his wingback position). The 6-1, 192-pound Cuff played 11 years (110 games) for 3 teams (Cardinals, Packers) but mainly played his entire career with the New York Giants (9 years). Premiere kicker of his time. Converted 43 FGs and was 155 of 162 on XPs, a clip of 96%…Led the NFL in FGs made 4 times, 1938-1939, 1943, 1947. Finished in Top 5 of FGs made 8 times. Also was in Top 10 in scoring 8 times…helped the Giants win 4 divisional titles and the 1938 NFL Championship- where he kicked 2 XPs and 1 FG against the Packers, 23-17 victory…scored 21 career TDs (13 rec., 7 rush., 1 INT return)…on film always around the ball and always made plays- on both offense and defense. Had excellent ball skills and was very durable, playing in over 100 games…finished career with 3,410 yards from scrimmage (1,851 rush., 1,559 rec.). Averaged a robust 5.4 yard per carry…never the top dog in the Giants rushing game, but twice led NFL in rushing average per carry, in 1943 (80 carries) with a 6.5 avg. and in 1944 with a 5.6 avg. (tied with Steve Van Buren). His 80 rushing attempts in 1943 was a career-high…had great range as a def. back with 13 career INTs for 263 yards…In 1941 Led NFL in INT return yards with 152…in 1938 had a 96-yard INT return for a TD against the Redskins (won game 36-0) to set Giants team record. Broke by Erich Barnes in 1961 (102-yards)…solid kick returner…made 3 Pro Bowls, 1938-1939, 1941…First-team All-Pro by UP in 1941, 1943-1944. Pro Football Illustrated in 1944…Second-team in 1938 by I.N.S.; in 1939 by Football Writers and I.N.S.; in 1943 by NYDN…Honorable mention by NFL 4 times, 1937-1939, 1941 and by Football Writers in 1938…Giants retired his no. 14 jersey (briefly came out of retirement for Y.A. Tittle, then retired again for both players).

“Ward was outstanding as a runner, a receiver, and a defensive halfback. Above all, he was an Iron Man who could play with so many injuries that he often seemed to be taped from head to toe before he put on his uniform.”—wrote Steve Owen in his book My Kind of Football (1952).

9)      WB- Joe Guyon (1920-1925, 1927) Former college and pro teammate on several teams with Jim Thorpe, the 5-10, 195-pound Guyon played 7 years (46 games) in the NFL with 7 teams- Canton, Cleveland, Washington, Oorang Indians, Rock Island, Kansas City (1 game) and the New York Giants….Just like fellow backfield mate on some of his teams, Pete Calac, they were overshadowed by Thorpe…Played for the Canton Bulldogs in 1919 before NFL was founded (at the age of 26)…Tremendous athlete, played minor league baseball for over a decade…Very versatile on the gridiron, playing mostly the wing-back position in the single-wing…could do everything well, best at blocking and excelled on defense, solid tackler and good ball skills, had a knack for making interceptions…highly thought of by opposing players and coaches…was a member of the Giants team that won the 1927 NFL Championship…Named NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966…scored 10 career TDs, including 3 interception returns for scores- credited with a 96-yard return against the Chicago Cardinals in 1923…character, great personality, colorful player…Second-team All-Pro in 1920 by Rock Island Argus…First-team All-Pro in 1921 by Buffalo Courier (over Pollard)…Third-team All-Pro while playing with Rock Island in 1924 by the GBPG.

10)  HB- Glenn Presnell (1931-1936) After playing 3 years with the semi-pro Ironton Tanks, the 5-10, 195-pound Presnell played 6 seasons (74 games) with the Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions. Severely underrated, Presnell has two things that has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. His first years were played out of the NFL, although with a good Tanks team that defeated NFL teams during this era, and the fact that he played behind the number one player on our list- the great Dutch Clark.

Excellent all-around player, Presnell excelled in many areas; was a productive runner, above-average passer, solid defender, and was one of the best kickers in the NFL during his time…Member of the 1935 Lions team that won NFL Championship…22 career TDs, including 18 rushing; and had 17 passing TDs…to show how great Presnell could be, when Dutch Clark decided not to play in 1933, Presnell became the focus of Potsy Clark’s offense. Had a career year leading the NFL in rushing TDs (6) and scoring with 64 points. He was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, UPBrooklyn EagleCollyers and the GBPG…in 1934- with Clark back on the team- he finished 3rd in the league in scoring (63 points) and rushing TDs (7). Just like Clark, was part of rushing offense that in 1936 set an NFL record for rushing yards in a season with 2,885 yards (in 12 games), a record that stood until 1972 when the Miami Dolphins broke it (in a 14-game season)…part of a Lions rushing offense that helped lead the NFL in rushing once (1936) and finish 2nd twice more (1934-35)…Finished career with 1,593 rushing yards (3.9 average) and scored 218 points- including converting 15 FGs and 41 XPs…had his career moment in 1934 when he booted a NFL record long 54-yard FG to help defeat the Packers, 3-0. That record lasted until 1953 when Colts kicker Bert Rechichar kicked a 56-yard FG…First-team All-Pro in 1932 by GBPG…Second-team in 1931 by NFL; in 1932, 1934 by UP…Third-team in 1935 by GBPG…Honorable mention by NFL in 1932, 1934-1935…Just like Cuff, should get more Hall of Fame consideration.

Presnell was a good player. He was hard to bring down when he had the ball. You couldn’t hardly bring him down.”—George Musso, former Bears Hall of Fame lineman.

“Glenn Presnell was a brilliant football player. Outstanding on offense and defense.”—Ralph Kercheval, former Brooklyn Dodgers back

11)  HB- Byron “Whizzer” White (1938, 1940-1941) Nicknamed “Whizzer,” White played just 3 seasons with 2 teams- Pittsburgh and Detroit. Missed the 1939 season because of his Rhodes Scholar commitment, continuing an education that would eventually lead him to the Supreme Court. But as a football player had as much talent for the halfback position as anybody on this list. “Of all the athletes I have known in my lifetime, I’d have to say Whizzer White came as close to anyone to giving 100 percent of himself when he was in competition,” once said Art Rooney, Steelers owner…The 6-1, 187-pound White was drafted 4th overall in the 1938 Draft…Played three seasons (33 games) for Pittsburgh and Detroit Lions (1940-1941)…outstanding runner who was described as a “slasher”, a returner and solid defensive back…only flaw, wasn’t a very good passer throwing for 35 INTs in 33 career games…Led the NFL in rushing attempts and yards twice, 1938 (152 for 567 yards) and 1940 (146 for 514 yards)…Led NFL in yards from scrimmage in rookie year, 1938, with 655 yards; and in 1941 led NFL in punt returns (19) and punt return yards with 262…also had 5 career interceptions on defense (including a 82-yard return)…solid punter with a 41.3 average…Named NFL 1940s All-Decade Team- although he only played 2 seasons in decade…First-team All-Pro in 1938 by UP, Football Writers, I.N.S., and Collyers. In 1940 by NFL, I.N.S., NYDN and AP…Second-team in 1938 and 1941 by NFL and in 1940 by Collyers…Joined the Navy in 1942, never played in the NFL again…Could’ve been a Hall of Famer if he played longer.

12)  HB- Beattie Feathers (1934-1940) Maybe the greatest rookie season ever in NFL history, came from the 5-10, 185-pound back from Tennessee. Feathers played 7 seasons (54 games) for 3 different teams- Bears, Brooklyn and Green Bay (1 game in 1940). Fast as a whip, Feathers could hit the hole quicker than anybody on this list. Injuries would derail his career…became the first player in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season (1,004) in 1934 (as a rookie). Single season record, broke by Steve Van Buren in 1947 (1,008). His per carry average of 8.4 is still an NFL record for a season. Had five 100-yard games that season. Led the NFL in TD rushes with 8 and yards from scrimmage with 1,178…helped guide the Bears to a 13-0 undefeated regular season but hurt his back and missed the championship game against the Giants, which the lost, 30-13, in the “Sneakers Game.”…never really the same after back injury and other injures, only rushed for 976 yards in the next six seasons…despite lack of production, on film Feathers shows great cut ability and quickness like no other back of the 1930s, you can see why he was good. If he didn’t have injuries could’ve been better…was unanimous First-team All-Pro in 1934 by NFL, UP, GBPG, and Collyers…Second-team in 1936 by Collyers and UP…Honorable mention by NFL in 1935…highly thought of, named to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…was Hall of Fame Finalist once in 1970…scored 17 career TDs, with 16 on the ground…team was 13-1 when he scored a TD…

“Beattie Feathers was one of the greatest runners of all-time- he could do it all, and well.”—Herman Hickman, All-Pro guard for Brooklyn Dodgers.

13)  HB- George “Wildcat” Wilson (1925-1929) One of the game’s greatest nicknames. Turned pro in January of 1926 and played several games against Red Grange on the famous 1925-1926 barnstorming tour…After playing the 1926 season in the rival AFL, the 5-11, 200-pound Wilson played 3 years (37 games) with the Providence Steam Roller. A hard-nosed runner who was a threat to pass…member of the 1928 Providence team that won the NFL Championship. Was an important cog for team as he ran for 5 TDs and threw for 6 more. In November he threw a TD pass to help beat Detroit, 6-0; then in back-to-back games against the Frankford Yellow Jackets- with first place on the line- he ran for a TD in the fourth quarter to tie the first game, 6-6; then the following day he threw a TD pass (to Curly Oden) to win, 6-0, and keep the Steam Rollers in first place for the rest of the season. He was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL and Green Bay Press-Gazette…had 10 career TDs (all rushing) in 37 career games; also had 12 TD passes…Second-team All-Pro in 1926 by Collyers and the Chicago Tribune—both voted teams with AFL-NFL players combined.

“I think that George Wilson is one of the greatest backs I have ever played against. He is a wonder at running with the ball and great on defense.”—said Red Grange to the press after playing against Wilson in Los Angeles during his 1925-1926 barnstorming tour with the Bears.

“The ‘Wildcat’ is built tough enough to stand a lot of tumbling and yet get up smiling. This was one of his best years. He passed like a bullet and did a lot of running with the ball.”— wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, in 1928 naming Wilson First-team All-Pro.

14)  HB- Jack Manders (1933-1940) Nicknamed “Automatic Jack” because of his ability to covert kicks. Burly at 6-0, 203-pounds, Manders, along with Cuff and Presnell, was one of the best kickers in the NFL during his 8-year career (93 games)- all with the Chicago Bears…Member of 2 Bears NFL Championship teams, 1933, 1940; also on Bears 1934 squad that went undefeated but lost title game to Giants in the “Sneakers Game”…Led NFL in scoring twice, 1934, 1937 and three times in XPs made, 1933, 1935-1936…not quite as good a back as Cuff or Presnell, but was productive in the Bears T-Formation…scored 19 career TDs (11 rush., 6 rec; 2 INTs returns.)…First-team All-Pro in 1935 by Collyers and in 1937 by UP and Collyers, while being named Second-team by New York Daily News…Honorable mention by the NFL for 3 straight years, 1935-1937…finished career with 1,586 yards rushing and 11 TDs…scored 367 total points…Led Bears in scoring 6 times (1933-1934, 1936-1939), which was the most until Kevin Butler came along and led team 10 times…came up big in 4 career post-season games…in 1933 NFL Championship, made 3 FGs (on 4 attempts) and 2 XPs in the Bears 23-21 win over the Giants; the following year against the Giants in the “Sneakers Game” converted 2 FGs (on 4 attempts) and 1 XP; and scored 2 TDs in the 1937 NFL Championship game against the Redskins in a tough 28-21 loss. When he retired held NFL career record for most extra points with 154- broke by Don Hutson. Once made 72 consecutive extra points.

15)  HB- Henry “Hinkey” Haines (1925-1929, 1931) A very shifty, elusive back, the 5-10, 170-pound Haines played 6 seasons (53 games) with 2 teams- New York Giants and Staten Island Stapletons…Also played for the Frankford Yellow Jackets before they joined the NFL…Outstanding athlete who played a few major league games with the New York Yankees in 1923. Wasn’t a good hitter, so he found more success on the gridiron…In 1925 scored the first TD in New York Giants history, a 5-yard run, against the Cleveland Bulldogs- which also was the team’s first ever victory, 19-0…member of the 1927 Giants team that won NFL Championship, he finished sixth in the league in scoring with 36 points (6 TDs)…excellent in open field, had speed to run away from defenders; had 3 career TDs of 70-or-more yards…”Haines specialized in speed running and was dangerous on passes and punts as well as from scrimmage,” wrote Steve Owen in his book My Kind of Football (1952)…scored 22 career TDs, had 14 rushing, 6 rec. and 2 on kick returns…never made a First-team All-Pro…Second-team in 1925 by Ohio State Journal; in 1926 by GBPG; in 1927 by GBPG and coach Leroy Andrews…Third-team in 1925 by Collyers.

16)  HB-FB Doug Wycoff (1926-1927, 1929-1932, 1934) After playing in the rival AFL in 1926, Wycoff played 6 seasons (68 games) in the NFL for 3 different teams- Staten Island, New York Giants and Boston. The 6-0, 206-pound Wycoff was an excellent player, doing everything well…with Staten Island, played in same backfield as Hall of Famer Ken Strong- would line up at fullback sometimes…could run and pass; had 8 career TD passes…won 1927 NFL Championship with Giants; that season scored 3 TDs, including an interception return to help beat Pottsville, 16-0; was part of defense that only surrender 20 points all year with 10 shutouts…was player-coach for the 1929-1930 Stapletons, had overall record of 8-9-5 and two 6th place finishes. Helped team win ballgames. In 1930 scored a 4th quarter TD to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 6-0, then four days later on Thanksgiving, Wycoff scored another TD to beat the Giants, 7-6, to upset the Giants who finished in 2nd place behind the Packers…had a 77-yard INT return for a TD in 1931 with the Giants…scored 13 career TDs (11 rush., 2 INT returns)…Named First-team All-Pro by coach Leroy Andrews in 1929…Second-team by Collyers in 1929 and Honorable mention in 1930.

17)  HB- Dutch Sternaman (1920-1927) Halas’s Bears partner was also a productive player for 8 seasons (93 games) with the Decatur-Chicago Bears. At 5-8, 176-pounds, Dutch was an athletic, hard-nose player who did everything well and was usually asked to do everything. Played mostly out of the T-Formation, he could run, pass and kick, he had the tools to make plays on both offense and defense….as a player he won one 1 NFL championship, 1921 Chicago Stayleys…played in backfield on the famous 1925-1926 Red Grange barnstorming tour…scored 15 career TDs (14 rush.; 1 rec.); also converted 18 FGs and 25 XPs…finished 4th in league in points in 1922 and 3rd in 1923 behind Paddy Driscoll and Pete Henry…First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Canton Daily News…Second-team by George Halas in 1922…Third-team in 1920 by Rock Island Argus and in 1922 by Guy Chamberlin.
18)  WB-HB Ernie Caddell (1933-1938) One of the fastest backs of this era, the 6-2, 199-pound Caddell played 6 seasons (64 games), all with the Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions. Lighting quick, Caddell mainly played out of the halfback or wingback position in Potsy Clark’s single-wing. Sprinter speed on end runs, he shared a backfield with All-Pros Dutch Clark and Glenn Presnell…Member of the 1935 Lions championship team. Came through with a big game in title game, 16 carries for 62-yards and one TD in a 26-7 win over the Giants…Was in same backfield with Clark and Presnell that in 1936 set an NFL record for rushing yards in a season with 2,885 yards (in 12 games), a record that stood until 1972 when the Miami Dolphins broke it (in a 14-game season)…part of a Lions rushing offense that helped lead the NFL in rushing twice (1936-37) and finish second twice more (1934-35)…rushed for 20 career TDs- led NFL in TD runs in 1935 (6); had 5 career receiving TDs- including 3 in 1933 that was tied for the NFL lead…averaged 5.2 yards per carry and Led the NFL in average per rush 3 consecutive years, 1935-1937…twice in career he scored 3 TDs in a single game (1934 vs Pittsburgh and in 1935 vs Philly)…solid defensive player…First-team All-Pro in 1935 by NFL and Chicago Daily News…Second-team in 1935 by UP; in 1936-1937 by NFL, and in 1936 by the Chicago Daily News and Milwaukee Sentinel…Honorable mention by NFL in 1933-1934.

19)  HB- Cecil “Tex” Grigg (1920-1927) Another backfield star of the Canton Bulldogs squad, the 5-11, 191-pound Grigg played 8 years (56 games) in the NFL for 4 different franchises- also Rochester, N.Y. Giants and Frankford (just one game in 1927). But Grigg made his mark with the Bulldogs, starting on the team’s back-to-back championship teams in 1922-1923…nice all-around player who scored 5 career TDs in several different ways (rush- 3; rec.- 1; interception return) and also tossed 3 TDs…better known for his blocking from the position, not quite the scorer as Harry Robb…overall 1923 was his best year being named First Team All-Pro by his coach Guy Chamberlin and by Collyers; that season had a 79-yard TD run against Dayton, which according to newspaper recaps was the longest run in the NFL that season.

“Grigg could do anything, and as an analyst he was unsurpassed. After he ran three plays he could take time out and brief us on the moves of every defensive player. He had camera eyes.”—Steve Owen, former Giants Hall of Fame coach.

20)  HB- Kink Richards (1933-1939) Strong and quick runner, the 5-11, 195, Richards played 7 seasons (73 games), all with the New York Giants. Very durable and versatile, Richards helped the Giants win 2 NFL Championships, 1934, 1938…Very productive, scoring 19 total TDs (12 rushing, 7 receiving)…Led NFL in TDs in 1933 with 7 (also tied for lead in rec. TDs with 3)…Led NFL in rushing attempts in 1935 (135)…Led Giants in rushing in 1935 (449 yards)…in career had 2,412 yards from scrimmage…Second-team All-Pro in 1935 by UP…Honorable mention by NFL in 1933, 1935…overshadowed by backfield mates Ken Strong and Tuffy Leemans.

“Richards came unheralded from a small school, Simpson College, to break the game wide open with his dazzling running. He was cute. He had speed. He could cut. He could shake tackles. He was big enough to drive, too.”—wrote Steve Owen in his book My Kind of Football (1952).

21)  WB- Ralph Kercheval (1934-1940) Kercheval seems to get overlooked as a player during his era. The 6-1, 190-pounder played 7 seasons (74 games) with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His problem was his team’s lack of success, as the Dodgers went 29-41-7 during his time there with only 1 winning season in 1940 (8-3-1)…scored 10 total TDs (4 rush., 5 rec., 1 INT ret.)…but his reason for being this high, is that he was one of the best kickers in the NFL during this time. He was just a notch below Presnell and Cuff. He converted 31 career FGs and 33 XPs, making 86% of his extra points….6 times finished in Top 5 in FGs made, including leading the league in 1938 (5)…Second-team All-Pro in 1935 by GBPG and in 1936 by Collyers…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1935-1936.

“I got Ralph Kercheval to come to Brooklyn. He was a halfback, but his real greatness was in kicking the football. He could punt, he could placekick. He was the best kicker ever to play the game. Hell, he could fart the football farther than these guys can kick it today.”—said John “Shipwreck” Kelly, former Brooklyn back, to author Richard Whittingham.

22)  WB- Hap Moran (1926-1933) The tall and athletic Moran (6-1, 190) played 8 years (99 games) in the NFL with 4 different teams (Frankford, Cardinals, Pottsville), but played his best football with the New York Giants (6 years)…Member of the 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets that won the NFL championship. Excellent all-round back who could do everything, include kicking (made 22 career XPs)…threw 7 career TD passes and scored 22 career TDs…also played some wingback…later in career showed the skill to score long TDs with a 71-yard run in 1932 (vs Brooklyn) and a 70-yard catch in 1933 (vs Philadelphia)…in 1930 had the longest run in Giants history with a 91-yard run against the Packers (wasn’t a TD), this record was later broken 75-years later in 2005 by Tiki Barber, 95-yards vs Oakland…Collyers named Moran honorable mention in 1930 and Second-team in 1931.

23)  HB- Bob Monnett (1933-1938) One of Curly Lambeau’s solid backfield players, the 5-9, 182-pound Monnett played 6 years (62 games) with the Packers. Monnett was a solid runner but was an excellent passer- teaming with Hall of Famer Arnie Herber to provide the passing fireworks during the middle 1930s…in career threw 28 TDs, while running for 7 and 1 on a punt return; also threw for 2,227 yards…Led NFL in completion percentage in 1937 and 1938 (50.7 and 54.4)…Led NFL in TD passes in 1938 with 9…finished in Top 10 in NFL in attempts and completions, 5 times (1933-1937) and yards 4 times (1933, 1935-1937)…part of the Packers 1936 championship team…Honorable Mention by NFL in 1933 and 1938…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1973… Milwaukee Sentinel sports columnist Stoney McGlynn once likened him to “a South Dakota jackrabbit.”…after suffering a back injury he retired after the 1938 season.

“(Monnett) all-around good player. Triple threat. A real good team man and clutch player. I always liked to catch his passes because he put up those soft floaters. Herber and Isbell kind of zipped them to you.”—Bernie Scherer, Packers end and teammate.

24)  WB- Dale Burnett (1930-1939) A durable, steady player for a decade, the lanky 6-1, 187-pound Burnett played 10 seasons (115 games) for the New York Giants…played for Steve Owen, who used him as a pass receiving weapon. “Dale Burnett was my most effective pass receiver,” wrote Owen in his book My Kind of Football (1952)…played in same backfield with Benny Friedman, then Ken Strong, Harry Newman-Ed Danowski; then with Tuffy Leemans…helped the Giants win 5 division titles and 2 NFL Championships, 1934, 1938…could block and really catch the football…finished career with 19 receiving TDs (27 total TDs)…5 straight years he finished in the Top 10 in receptions (1932-1936)…tied for NFL lead in TD catches in 1933 with 3…had a TD catch in 9 of his 10 seasons…led Giants in receiving 3 times, 1933, 1936, 1938; finished career with 92 catches for 1,310 yards. Also led Giants team in scoring in 1935 (36 points)…in 1933 NFL Championship game had 5 receptions for 94 yards (nearly scored game-winner with lateral but was tackled by Red Grange)…made 1 Pro Bowl, 1938…played solid defense, in 1933 ran back an interception for 84-yards to help defeat the Packers, 17-6…Named Honorable mention 3 times by the NFL, 1932, 1935, 1937.

25)  HB- Jim Thorpe (1920-1926, 1928) The great Jim Thorpe barely makes the Top 25, mainly because his best years were played before the NFL was founded in 1920. Still the 6-1, 202-pound Thorpe could impact games when he wanted to. Thorpe played in the Pre-NFL years with the Canton Bulldogs (1915-1917, 1919) before playing 8 seasons in the NFL with 6 teams—Canton, Cleveland, Oorang Indians, Rock Island, New York Giants and Chicago Cardinals. Thorpe officially played in 52 NFL games and scored 6 TDs…A dubious honor in 1923 when named First-team All-Pro by the Green Bay Press-Gazette, since his team the Oorang Indians were terrible going 1-10…wish his better years were in the NFL, would definitely be higher.

Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…Named “The Legend” on the NFL’s All-Time team, 1969…elected President of the APFA when founded in 1920, lasted only one year.

26)  HB- Dick Todd (1939-1942, 1945-1948) The 5-11, 172-pound Todd was very productive in his 8 seasons (79 games) with the Washington Redskins- missed 2 seasons while serving with the Navy in WWII…"He was a great athlete and an exceptional ballplayer. He was a very, very fierce competitor. He gave you 100 percent effort,” said Joe Tereshinski, former Redskins end…2 Pro Bowls, 1940, 1942…in career had 368 carries for 1,573 and 11 TDs…excelled in the passing game with 119 catches for 1,826 yards (14.2 average per catch) and a whopping 21 TDs (16 thrown by Baugh)…also excellent on punt returns, averaging 13.2 per return and 3 TDs (80 yards, 76, 73)- all three games the Redskins won…had 35 career TDs, in those games the Redskins were 23-3-1…had 9 TDs of 50-yards or more…First-team All-Pro in 1940 by I.N.S…Second-team in 1940 by the NFL, UP, NYDN and Collyers…Honorable mention by AP in 1940 and by the NFL in 1942.

27)   HB- Tony Canadeo (1941-1944, 1946-1952) A career interrupted by WWII, the 5-11, 190-pound Canadeo played 11 seasons (116 games) with the Green Bay Packers—mostly after the war. Will take a look at his 4 seasons before leaving for the Army…During those 4 years played in 30 games…monster 1943 year when he led the Packers in rushing (489 yards) and passing (875 yards over Irv Comp); tossed 9 TDs passes- as the Packers went 7-2-1 (second place in Western Div.). Finished third in NFL that year in attempts, completions, yards and TDs- behind Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh in those categories; finished fifth in League in rushing…member of the 1944 Packers team that won the NFL Championship but only played 3 games; knocked down on this list because of him leaving for war…not the fastest or more elusive runner, Canadeo was an excellent runner up middle and outside…nicknamed the “Gray Ghost of Gonzaga”…would pass in Lambeau’s offense…In 1952 had his Packers number 3 jersey retired…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1974…Packers Hall of Fame, 1973.

28)  HB- Hugh Gallarneau (1941-1942, 1945-1947) Definitely would be higher on this list if not for WWII. The 6-0, 190-pound Gallarneau played 5 years (52 games) with the Chicago Bears. But will focus on his 2 seasons, 1941-1942, before he left for the Marine Corps. He played 21 games in those two seasons and scored 18 TDs (12 runs, 5 rec., 1 INT return)…he was a key member of the Bears T-Formation backfield with Sid Luckman, Bill Osmanski, and George McAfee, etc. “Hugh Gallerneau, combined great blocking power with wonderful ball carrying abilities. He was at his best running at the line straight ahead and by slight deviation cutting into the hole without slackening his pace. The ‘T’ gave him such plays,” said Clark Shaughnessy in 1944. Played on the great Bears teams that went a combined 21-1 over those 2 years and won 2 Western Division titles…won 1 NFL Championship with the 1941 Bears, lost the other year to the Redskins (would win a 2nd on in 1946)…made 1 Pro Bowl, 1941…Led the NFL in rushing TDs in 1941 with 8; was 4th in the NFL in 1942 (4)…could do everything, hard runner who was tough to bring down with just one defender, great on defense and special teams…marquee game in 1941 when the Bears trailed the Eagles 14-0 at halftime, Gallarneau came out in the 3rd quarter ran for a TD (13-yards) and return an interception (46-yards) for another score to tie the game; in the 4th he added a 54-yard TD catch to seal a 49-14 comeback victory…could return punts and kickoffs, in the 1941 Divisional Playoff game against the Packers changed the momentum of the game (Packer led early 7-0) by returning a punt 81-yards for a TD to help the Bears defeat Green Bay, 33-14. Still the longest in Bears post-season history…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1941-1942 (overshadowed by McAfee and Bill Dudley).

29)  HB- Hank Soar (1937-1944, 1946) Underrated, the rather burly 6-2, 205-pound Soar played 9 seasons (82 games) as a super-sub for the New York Giants. Played for Steve Owen, Soar usually came in to give Leemans, Cuff and the other Giants backs a break. But was a highly serviceable back….was part of 5 division championships (1938-39, 1941, 1944, 1946) and 1 NFL Championship, 1938…made one of the biggest plays in Giants post-season history, by catching the game-winning TD from Ed Danowski in the 3rd quarter of the 1938 NFL Championship Game to give the Packers a 23-17 victory- that game he had 20 carries for 68 yards and 3 catches for 41…had 10 career TDs (6 rush., 2 rec., 2 INTs returns). In those games the Giants went 10-0…made 1 Pro Bowl, 1938…led Giants in rushing in 1937 with 442 yards (beating out Leemans) and led team in receiving twice, 1938-39…after playing career was over became a longtime major league baseball umpire, was on field for Dodgers’ Dan Larsen perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

30)  HB- Ray “Scooter” McLean (1940-1947) The man they call “Scooter,” could really run and make big plays. The 5-10, 167-pound McLean played 8 years (76 games) with the Chicago Bears during their glory days of the early 1940s. An all-around stud, McLean could do everything, especially in the passing game out of the Bears’ T-Formation…helped the Bears win 5 division titles and 3 NFL Championships (4 when you count 1946)…scored 30 total TDs with 23 receiving. Was a big-play back for Halas’s offense, had 12 TDs of 40-or-more yards; including a 89-yard punt return for score in 1942 against the Chicago Cardinals- a Bears team record until Dennis McKinnon broke it in 1987 (94-yards)- and a 86-yard TD catch in 1944 from Sid Luckman (longest TD pass of his career) in a 21-7 win over the Boston Yanks—that also set a team record …excellent on punt returns with 3 career TDs and to top it off was very good in pass coverage with an amazing 18 career INTs (258 yards on returns)- in the post-season he had 2 more INTs (1940, 1943)…Named Second-team All-Pro by I.N.S. in 1942 and by Detroit Free Press in 1944…Honorable mention by the NFL in 

31)  HB- Eddie Tryon (1926-1927) Great all-around back who excelled as a ball carrier. After playing in the rival-AFL in 1926 with Red Grange’s New York Yankees, the 5-8, 180-pound Tryon played just one season in the NFL with the 1927 Yankees….in 1926, while playing in the same backfield, Tryon outplayed Grange in the AFL…led AFL in scoring with 72 points (Joey Sternaman had 52; Grange had 50) and scored 8 TDs (Grange had 7); and made 12 of 16 XPs…in 14 games with the ’27 Yankees, scored 6 TDs (2 rush., 2 rec.) including 2 on interception returns…had speed to spare and always came up with a big play…retired to go into coaching after the 1927 season; would be higher if he continued to play pro ball…First-team All-Pro in 1926 by Collyers and Chicago Tribune—both news outlets choose from the AFL and NFL…Second-team in 1927 by Green Bay Press-Gazette and coach Leroy Andrews.

32)  HB- Pete Stinchcomb (1921-1923, 1926) The highly regarded Stinchcomb played 4 NFL seasons (34 games) for 4 different teams: Decatur-Chicago Bears, Columbus, Cleveland (1 game in 1923), and Louisville. The 5-8, 157-pound Stinchcomb was quick and fast, who had his best years playing for George Halas in 1921-1922; over those 2 years scored 7 rushing TDs (all Bears wins) …won 1 NFL Championship with the 1921 Chicago Stayleys; best game that year was against the Cleveland Tigers when Stinchcomb scored 2 TDs, including a 85-yard run, the longest in Bears team history- broke in 1939 by Bill Osmanski (86-yards)- still the second longest TD run in Bears history…First-team All-Pro by Buffalo News in 1921 and by George Halas and Guy Chamberlin in 1922…Second Team by Collyers in 1923…Third-team All-Pro by Buffalo Courier in 1921…Honorable mention by Canton Daily News in 1923.

33)  HB- Ray Nolting (1936-1943) The 5-11, 185-pound Nolting, was another one of Halas’s productive backfield finds. He played all 8 seasons (82 games) with the Chicago Bears…helped Bears win 5 divisional championships and 3 world titles, 1940-41, 1943…productive player, who had a knack for scoring…had 16 career TDs (rush. 10; rec. 3; 1 KOR, 1 INT and 1 Fumble Ret.). When he scored a TD the Bears went 13-1…Second-team All-Pro by I.N.S. in 1937…Honorable Mention by the NFL 4 straight seasons, 1937-1940…finished career with 2,285 yards rushing and a nice 4.5 average per carry…2,793 yards from scrimmage…played in 6 post-season games, winning 4; in the 1940 NFL championship had 1 TD and 1 INT on defense in the big 73-0 victory over the Redskins.

34)  HB- Swede Hanson (1931-1938) Steady runner during the 1930s, the 6-1, 192-pound Hanson played 8 years (64 games) with 4 different teams (Brooklyn, Staten Island, Pittsburgh) but had his best years playing with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1933-1937…An original Eagle, Hanson was a productive back who rushed for 1,907 yards and 12 TDs in Philly…Second-team All-Pro in 1933 and 1934 by the NFL and Green Bay Press-Gazette…had his best year in 1934 when he led the NFL in carries with 146 and ran for a career-high 805 yards—second in NFL behind Bears’ Beattie Feathers, 1,004 yards; and 7 TDs which was third in league…Eagles struggled in the win column during his time there, never having a winning season… In 1934 had a 81-yard TD run against the Packers, longest TD run in Eagles history until Wilbert Montgomery in 1982 ran 90 yards.

35)  WB- Lloyd Cardwell (1937-1943) Very tall, the 6-2, 195-pound Cardwell played 7 years (57 games) for the Detroit Lions. Playing mostly the wing-back position in the Lions single-wing, Cardwell was not spectacular but steady…known for receiving skills, as he averaged 18.3 yards per catch…scored 13 career TDs (8 rush., 5 rec.)…made 1 Pro Bowl, 1938…had the NFL’s longest TD run in 1942, sprinting 80-yards against the Cleveland Rams (in a loss)…Had 6 career INTs on defense…Highly thought of around the league. Named First-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1938 (over Whizzer White) and by Collyers in 1939-1940 (over Leemans and White)…Second-team in 1938 by NYDN…Honorable mention by NFL in 1940 and by the Football Writers in 1938-1939.

36)  HB- Andy Uram (1938-1943) Compact and had surprising speed, the 5-10, 188-pound Uram played 6 seasons (62 games) with the Green Bay Packers. Steady performer for Lambeau’s squads. Member of the 1939 Packers team that won NFL Championship. Had his best year; making Pro Bowl…finished career with 2,156 yards from scrimmage (1,073 rush.; 1,083 rec.). Excellent as a receiver, averaged 18.7 yards per catch and 10 TDs…had 16 total TDs…in 1939 set NFL record with the longest run from scrimmage, running 97-yards for a TD against the Cardinals, a 27-20 win (broke by Tony Dorsett, 99-yards in 1983)…“He was one of the best open-field runners in those years,” said former Packers teammate Charley Brock. Had a 90-yard punt return in 1941 (Packers record until 1954)…Career interrupted when he joined the Navy in 1944…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1973.

37)  HB- Bill Senn (1926-1931, 1933-1934) The 6-0, 177-pound Senn, played 8 years (79 games) in the NFL for 4 different teams—Brooklyn, Cincinnati, St. Louis, but mostly with the Bears (6 seasons). Had plenty of speed and could really hit the outside on end runs in the Bears’ T-Formation. Was a big-play threat. Shared backfield with Paddy Driscoll….one of the few Bears players that didn’t win a championship, missing out on the glory years….had best year in 1927, being named First-team All-Pro by coach Leroy Andrews and Second-team by GBPG (behind Lewellen and Driscoll)…scored 24 career TDs (16 rush., 7 rec., 1 fumble rec.)- including 6 scores of 40 or more yards…as a rookie in 1926 scored 7 TDs, putting him eighth in the league in scoring.

38)  HB- Ed Kotal (1925-1929) Smallish but smart, the 5-8, 170-pound Kotal played 5 years (46 games), all with the Green Bay Packers….left squad right before glory run, was only on 1 Packers championship team in 1929…scored 10 career TDs (5 rec., 4 rush., 1 INT return), as the Packers were 8-0 in games he scored…in 1925 he a big 60-yard interception return to help Packers defeat Providence, 13-10…in the ’29 championship year had big game against the Bears with 2 TD catches in a 25-0 victory…excellent on defense, having a knack for interceptions…Second Team All-Pro in 1928 by the Chicago Tribune and Green Bay Press-Gazette…after playing career became a coach and then the chief scout for the Los Angeles Rams, nicknamed the “father of modern scouting.”

“Kotal is a great halfback. He has a lot of pep and keep his mates in a fighting mood all of the time. The Lawrentian is a great pass receiver and, once in the open, is a mighty hard man to tumble. Eddie is a first class blocker and his aerial attack defense is far above the average.” – wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1929.

39)  WB-HB Hal Erickson (1923-1930) A solid and steady player, Erickson played 8 NFL seasons (68 games) for 3 different teams- Milwaukee, Cardinals, and Minneapolis. But his best years were with the Cardinals from 1925-1928…the 5-9, 193-pound Erickson helped the 1925 Cardinals win the NFL Championship, in same backfield with Hall of Famer Paddy Driscoll…That season scored 7 TDs (4 rec., 2 rush., 1 INT return), his 42 points was good for 6th in the League and the Cards won every game in which he had a TD….First-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1923 while with Milwaukee (backfield honors with Driscoll, Tex Grigg, and Hank Gillo). Started ten games, mostly at wingback, complimenting Jimmy Conzelman as the Badgers finished in 4th place in the NFL with a 7-2-3 record. The following year (1924) he was player and head coach, guiding the Badgers to a 5-8 mark…Named Third-team All-Pro in 1923 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette and in 1925 by Collyers…participated in the 1925-1926 Red Grange Barnstorming Tour, playing a few games on the southern and western stops.

40)  WB- Bob Rapp (1922-1926, 1929) Similar player to Erickson, the 5-8, 159-pound Rapp played mainly wing-back for 6 years (43 games) in the NFL with Buffalo, but mostly with Columbus Panhandles-Tigers. Could run but was more known for his receiving skills and making long TDs…scored 13 career TDs with 9 of them TD catches…6 of his career scores were from 50-yards or more; including two in same game in 1923 against Dayton when he had a 70-yard TD catch and 60-yard TD run…also had a 70-yard TD catch against the Oorang Indians in 1923…his team went 6-1 when he caught a TD…in 1924 became 2nd player in NFL history to have 2 TD catches in a single game (Gus Tebell in 1923)- catching two against Rochester…First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Guy Chamberlin and in 1925 by the Ohio State Journal.

41)  HB-WB John “Shipwreck” Kelly (1932-1934, 1937) The athletic, flamboyant Kelly played 4 seasons (26 games) with Brooklyn and the New York Giants. Tall and versatile, the 6-2, 190-pound Kelly could run and catch. Not as good a passer as some on this list, throwing 0 TDs and 11 INTs…scored 8 career TDs (26 games)…Led NFL in receptions (22) and receiving TDs (3) in 1933…Second-team All-Pro in 1933 by UP, Chicago Daily News, and Brooklyn Eagle; while named Honorable Mention by NFL…was co-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Dan Topping.

“One of our most colorful players in the early years was Shipwreck Kelly…He was truly colorful, a man about town. Still he was a fine football player when he wanted to be.” – Mel Hein, former Giants All-Pro center and teammate.

42)  HB- Doug Russell (1934-1939) One of the more unlikely rushing champs of all-time. The 6-0, 187-pound Russell played 6 seasons (52 games) for two teams—Cleveland and the Chicago Cardinals—where he played five of those years. Workmanlike runner, not creative or elusive at all…In his second season led the NFL in rushing with 499 yards (beating out Dutch Clark, Ernie Caddell, and Kink Richards)- although he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and scored 0 TDs- leading the Cards to a 6-4-2 record…only had 6 career TDs…biggest play of career came on a 102-yard kickoff return against the Cincinnati Reds in 1934, setting an NFL record- broke in 1946 by Frank Seno (105-yards)…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1935, 1937.

43)  HB- Gene Ronzani (1933-1938, 1944-1945) Last of the Bears backs. The 5-9, 200-pound Ronzani played his entire 8-year career (78 games) in the NFL for Halas’s Bears. Member of the 1933 squad that won NFL Championship…had 9 career TDs with eight of them receiving…could throw the ball, had 15 TD passes (although he had 9 of them in 1944)…rushed for 1,153 yards, but only 1 TD…retired after 1938 season to coach the Newark Bears (American Association), went 14-13-2 with a first-place finish in 1939…In 1935 was named First-team All-Pro by UP; Second-team by the NFL and Third-team by GBPG…had 3 INTs on defense in 1944…after retiring went into coaching. Was Packers head coach form 1950-1953, didn’t fare well going 14-31-1.

44)  Tony Plansky (1928-1930) Built like a building, the 6-2 215-pound Plansky played just 3 NFL seasons (18 games) with the New York Giants and one game with Boston. Plansky was a 3-time National Decathlon Champion from 1925-1927. A clerical mix-up kept him off the 1928 Olympic team. He then decided to play pro football. In 1928 was a old rookie at 28-years old. He makes the list off one monster year that helped the Giants go 13-1-1 and almost win the NFL Championship…teamed with QB Benny Friedman to score a league-high 312 points…scored 9 TDs that season (8 rush., 1 rec.), his 62 points was 3rd in the NFL (Nevers, 85, Len Sedbrook, 66)…Named First-team All-Pro in 1929 by Collyers, GBPG, Chicago Tribune and coach Leroy Andrews…couldn’t duplicate his success in 1929, retired after the 1930 season after playing one game with Boston. Might’ve had a better career if he joined the pro ranks earlier.

45)  WB- Elmer Oliphant (1920-1921) As I was digging through the research and numbers, I found Oliphant, whose 1921 season was so extraordinary he had to make the list. The former Army All-American only played one game with Rochester in 1920 and 10 with the Buffalo All-Americans in 1921. But that season he maybe was the best player in the NFL- giving Paddy Driscoll, Fritz Pollard and Guy Chamberlin a run for their money…In 1921 (10 games) he led the NFL in scoring with 47 points (1 rush TD; 5 FGs; and 26 XPs). Tied for the league lead in FGs made (Dutch Sternaman with 5) and was a perfect 26-for-26 on XPs, in an era when misses kicks was a regular routine. Oliphant also threw 7 TDs passes in guiding Buffalo to a 9-1-2 record, missing out on the NFL title by one game to the Chicago Staleys…His best game came on Oct. 16th against the New York “Brickley” Giants when Oliphant became the first player in NFL history to throw 4 TDs passes in a game, winning, 55-0…First-team All-Pro in 1921 by the Buffalo News and Buffalo Courier…retired after the 1921 season to become athletic director at Union (NY) College. If he stuck with pro football could’ve been one of the best backs of the 1920s.

46)  HB- Norb Sackstedar (1920-1922, 1925) Some of Sackstedar’s better years came in the pre-NFL years.  At 5-9, 173-pounds, Sackstedar was a legit playmaker back in the 1920s, playing 4 seasons (27 games) for Dayton, Detroit and Canton. He best year came in 1922 as he helped the Bulldogs win the NFL Championship….in same backfield as Harry Robb, Doc Elliott and Wooky Roberts…scored 4 TDs in 1922 (2 rush. 1 rec. 1 punt ret.) as Bulldogs went unbeaten…Named Second-team All-Pro in 1920 with Dayton by the Rock Island Argus.

 47)  HB- Frank Sinkwich (1943-1944, 1946-1947) The 5-11, 190-pound Sinkwich played 4 seasons (35 games) for Detroit, Yankees and Colts. In 1944 had career year by winning Joe F. Carr NFL MVP trophy…First-team All-Pro that season by AP, UP, I.N.S., NYDN, and Pro Football Illustrated; guided Lions to a 6-3-1 record (2nd place in West); well rounded year in passing stats, ranked high in league in attempts (2nd), completions (5th), yards (3rd) and TDs (tied 2nd behind Frank Filchook, 13) with 12. Was 3rd in rushing yards and 2nd in rushing TDs with 6; as well as 2nd in punting yards…Did have 20 INTs…was a good punt returner and solid defender with 4 career INTs (1 TD return)…left for the service after the 1944 season. Had a knee injury in the service that affected his career coming back, never the same player. Honorable mention in 1943 by AP, UP; while named First-team by the NYDN…finished career with 19 TD passes and 7 TD runs.

48)  WB- Tex Hamer (1924-1927) The 6-1, 191-pound Hamer played 4 seasons (55 games) with the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Sharing the backfield with quarterback “Two’Bits” Homan and fullback Houston Stockton, Hamer helped the Yellow Jackets win the 1926 NFL championship- playing mostly wing-back…In 1924 played some fullback and scored 12 TDs and scored 72 points (did play in 14 games) which was second in NFL (behind Joey Sternaman with 75 points)…had 21 career TDs (19 rush.; 2 INTs returns)…First-team All-Pro in 1924 by Collyers…Second-team in 1924 by GBPG and in 1925 by GPBG, Collyers, Ohio State Journal and in 1926 by Chicago Tribune.

49-50) HB- Bill Dudley (1942)/George McAfee (1940-1941): War interrupted both of their careers. Seems a stretch to have them ranked high, when their better years were after the War…Dudley was the first overall pick in the 1942 Draft by the Steelers. During that season he led the league in rushing with 696 yards on 162 carries. He also completed 35 of 94 passes for 438 yards and two touchdowns, punted 18 times for a 32.0 average, returned 20 punts for 271 yards (14.0 avg), and ran back 11 kickoffs for 298 yards (27.0 avg), scoring once. Named First-team All-Pro by NFL, AP, I.N.S. and NYDN. After season left for War.  

McAfee was the second overall pick in the 1940 NFL draft. Nicknamed "One-Play McAfee,” he was known for explosive speed (ran the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds). In his first professional game, McAfee returned a punt for a 75-yard touchdown with 30 seconds to play to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers…most elusive back during his 2-years…game’s best kick returner, especially punts…In the 1940 NFL championship game, McAfee returned an interception for a 34-yard touchdown during the 73-0 victory over the Redskins…His second year in the League, 1941, was a banner year; he led the league with a 7.3 rushing yards per carry while scoring a league-high 12 touchdowns (11-games…These 2 seasons he had to share the backfield with other outstanding backs such as Gallarneau and fullback Bill Osmanski…Known for his versatility, in 1941 his 12-touchdown total consisted of six by rushing, three receiving, one by punt return, one by kickoff return, and one by interception return, all while helping the Bears to their second straight NFL league championship over the Giants…That season, his 31.6 yards per punt return also set a franchise record that still stands…Following the 1941 season, McAfee entered the Navy.

Bonus Note: In 1947 the editors of Pro Football Illustrated selected 51 players for their “roster of all-time all-stars” (1921-1946 years). Among those players they selected 9 halfbacks-wingbacks:

Cliff Battles
Dutch Clark
Ernie Caddel
Red Grange
Verne Lewellen
Tuffy Leemans
Jack Manders
Johnny “Blood” McNally
George “Wildcat” Wilson

Best of the Rest

HB-Lou Brock (1940-1945) Barely missing the list is the 6-0, 195-pound Brock, who played all 6 years in the NFL (58 games) for the Packers. Member of the 1944 team that won NFL championship…good all-around back who ran well and who could also return kicks. Played some fullback in Lambeau’s offense. Maybe his best skill was playing in pass coverage, he had had 13 career INTs, including a career-high 5 in 1940 (tied for 2nd in NFL)…scored 16 career TDs (10 rush., 6 rec.)…Named honorable hention by the Detroit Free Press in 1943…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1982. 

Oscar “Ockie” Anderson (1920-1922)
Myrt Basing (1923-1927)
Chris Cagle (FB-HB) (1930-1934)
Merlin Condit (1940-1943, 1945-1946)
Walter French (1922, 1925)
Jack Grossman (1932, 1934-1935)
Jack Hagerty (1926-1930, 1932)
Warren Heller (1934-1936)
Joe Lillard (1932-1933)
Ken Mercer (1927-1929)
Johnny Mohardt (1922-1926)
Wilbur Moore (1939-1946)
Dick Nesbitt (1930-1934)
Dave Noble (1924-1925)
Ernie Pinckert (1932-1940)
George Sauer (1935-1937)
Bob Seymour (1940-1946)
Johnny Sisk (1932-1936)
Dave Smukler (1936-1939, 1944)
Len Sedbrook (1928-1931)
Lou Smyth (1920-1926)
Laurie Walquist (1922, 1924-1931)

Tomorrow: Fullbacks


  1. Elmer Oliphant had a more or less unique path to pro football....(at least) 3 years varsity football at Purdue (where he still holds individual (43) most points in game scoring record, receives degree in mechanical engineering, then matriculates to West Point where he is all-American in both football and basketball......a "mini-me" Jim Thorpe

  2. Very good article. i wonder how many on this list could play today if they were in their prime. I want to say Dutch clark and red Grange could. However with Dutch clark eyesight i don't know if anyone would take him. I would cause he's great!