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.
He also authored 2014's The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr and 2012's Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions.
In 2017 he released Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team and a decade earlier he wrote The Columbus Panhandles: A Complete History of Pro Football's Toughest Team, 1900-1922
In 2005 he wrote Old Leather: An Oral History of Early Pro Football in Ohio, 1920-1935'
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. 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 GBPG, Pottsville Republican, Canton Repository, Chicago Daily Journal, and more who would publish play-by-plays of early NFL games.
Resources such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL teams (especially the Packers and team historian Cliff Christl), Newspapers.com, Pro Football Reference, and more contributed mightily.
Next up in our series of the Pre-WWII players is the Guard position.
You can almost break down the guard positions into 2 different eras of play—
An old-style guard (1920-1932) had to be tough and rugged, mostly called on to run block and play hard-nose defense on a 7-man front. “He had to be strong enough not only to smash the opponents’ charge between the tackles but also to help open holes down through the center for his own backs,” wrote former NFL head coach Potsy Clark.
While a new-style guard (1933-1945), when the game’s use of passing, laterals and shifts increased, the guard needed to not only be rugged, “they also must know how to keep their feet under them as they charge, so that their opponents can not drag them forward and out of the play. They must learn to hit hard enough to break through the opposing guard’s defense. They must be able to make a quick opening hole and then charge for other types of plays,” continued Potsy Clark. “It’s a punishing position. It calls for strength and courage, as well as quick thinking and alertness.”
This new style guard also had to be able to shift out of the line to run interference when his own team is sweeping around end or dashing off-tackle. He had to be fast and quick to be a lead blocker in front of fast halfbacks, as well as pass protect.
Here’s the list of the Top 35 Pre-WWII Guards:
1) Dan Fortmann (1936-1943) Dr. Fortmann played 8 years with the Chicago Bears (86 games). He was a 9th round pick out of Colgate in the NFL’s first ever Draft in 1936. He was modestly built at just six-feet, 210 pounds, but nobody could move him off his guard spot. Very powerful at the point of attack, game films shows him always coming off the ball first and delivering a hard blow, difficult to get around or beat man-to-man, the Bears loved to run behind him…part of offensive line that helped the Bears led the NFL in rushing 4 times (1939-42) and finish 2nd another 3 times (1936, 1938, 1943)…member of 3 NFL Championship teams with the Bears (1940-1941, 1943)…selected NFL 1930s All-Decade team and 3 Pro Bowls.
First-team All-Pro six times by NFL (1938-1943), 5 times by UP, and 4 times by AP (1940-1943); as well as a whopping 7 times by the New York Daily News (1937-1943)…Runner-up for the NFL 50th Anniversary team (behind Jerry Kramer)…scored his only career touchdown on a 69-yard fumble recovery return against the Cardinals in 1942 (Dec. 6)…Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965 (the Hall’s third class)…On offense, Fortmann was known to call signals at line and was a battering ram on blocks. On defense he was described as a “genius at diagnosing plays” and was a deadly tackler; film shows he doesn’t stay blocked for long and rushes the passer very well…Phi Beta Kappa scholar at Colgate, who would go on to earn his medical degree while playing with the Bears…Named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Two-Way Team (1994)…In 1943 he entered the Navy when he returned he didn’t come back to the NFL.
“He was quick. He weighed 210 pounds and he was quick. He could pick up the play in a hurry and he did a wonderful job (for us).” – George Musso, former Bears teammate and Hall of Fame lineman.
“Dan (Fortmann) is super-fast, shrewd enough to tip off his quarterback on opponents’ line weakness, powerful enough to spearhead ground attacks and strong enough to discourage the enemy from trying the left side of the Bear line.” — wrote Hy Turkin of the New York Daily News in 1940 after naming Fortmann to Firs-team All-Pro squad.
“You’d look at Danny and wonder how he’d ever compete. Check old movies and you’ll see Fortmann all over the field. I’ll bet he made 40 percent of the tackles in some games. I honestly never remember him missing a tackle…he practiced 100 percent full speed. He never quit in practice, or when the score was heavy in our favor.”—Sid Luckman, former Bears teammate and Hall of Fame quarterback.
“(Fortmann) is one of the great football guards of his era- smart, keen, aggressive, alert, and physically powerful.”—wrote Grantland Rice in 1941 (Sportlight column)
“In all the year I played him I never got a good block on him. Danny was one of the quickest and most versatile men I ever played against. He was not like some other linemen, big and slow. You could get a good shot at them, but not with Danny. He was never in one place long enough to lay a real hard block on him. He was also good at fading back for a pass. I really think he could have been a great defensive back. He was a truly great guy.”—Charles “Buckets” Goldenberg, former Packers guard (1933-1945).
“Fortmann is the fastest-thinking lineman in football”—said Bears line coach Hunk Anderson to the Detroit Free Press in 1943.
2) Mike Michalske (1926-1935, 1937) The man they called “Iron Mike” played 11 seasons with 2 different teams (N.Y. Yankees and Green Bay Packers) in 122 career NFL games. After playing 3 seasons with the Yankees, Michalske played 8 years with the Pack…Played one year in the rival AFL in 1926…The 6-feet, 210-pound Michalske was the best guard during his era (old-style guard), combining superior strength, perfect balance, and relentless determination. “Few men could start faster and charge harder from a standing start and could move laterally too. Mike was not only a smart player but he had a fine mind for football and a great interest in the game from all standpoints. He sold Lambeau quite a few of his ideas, including the value of a former fullback at guard. Not an accident that a few of the Packers guards like Russ Letlow and Pete Tinsley played fullbacks in college,” once said Buckets Goldenberg, Packers teammate, in 1965…member of the Packers championship squad that won 3 titles in a row, 1929-1931…60-minute workhorse, who specialized in “blitzing” on defense, today it would be called “stunting”, combing with tackle Cal Hubbard- “Hubbard and I used to do some stunting in the line to find an opening for a blitz-through. We always figured the best time to stop them was before they got started,” said Michalske in 1965…Named to NFL 1920s All-Decade team…Named First-team All-Pro 7 times by the Green Bay Press-Gazette; 3 times by Collyers and Chicago Tribune; as well as once by NFL and UP…scored 2 career touchdowns, including an 80-yard interception return in a 6-2 victory over the Bears in 1931…was the first guard elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964…Elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.
“He was a tremendous football player. He was as great as any football player Green Bay ever had. He had very fast reflexes. He would start moving before his opponent. He was a fierce competitor and an indispensable member of the three championship teams.”—Johnny “Blood” McNally, former opponent and Packers teammate, Hall of Fame back.
“The people who really enjoyed his ability were other players. He was a football player’s football player.”—Don Hutson, Packers Hall of Fame end.
“On defense, he was always one step ahead of the offense. As a blocker, he always gave me 110 percent. He was all muscle. In our day, you had to be a knockdown blocker, not a standup blocker like today. He was a fine man.”—Clarke Hinkle (said in 1983), Hall of Fame fullback, about his former Packers teammate.
Bonus Note: Both Fortmann and Michalske were picked on Steve Owen’s All-Time team (in autobiography, published in 1952); Mel Hein’s All-Time Team (selected in 1992 in Whittingham’s book Giants book); and in 1955 Curly Lambeau selected an NFL All-Time team, he choose Michalske and Fortmann as his two guards as well.
3) Gover “Ox” Emerson (1931-1938) Nicknamed “Ox”, the 5-11, 203-pound Emerson played larger than his size for 8 seasons (86 games) for 2 different franchises (Portsmouth-Detroit Lions, Brooklyn)…Named to the NFL 1930s All-Decade team…First-team All-Pro: 5 times by UP; 4 times by Collyers; 3 times by the Chicago Daily News; and once each by I.N.S (1937) and GBPG (1935)…Second-team All-Pro by NFL twice in 1934-1935 and once by Collyers in 1936…Honorable mention by NFL 4 times (1932-1933, 1937-1938)…member of Lions 1935 NFL Championship team- that season Emerson missed the first five games with a broken back, the Lions were 2-2-1, when he returned the Lions went 5-1-1 and won the NFL title… In 1936 the Lions 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 offensive line that helped lead the NFL in rushing twice (1936-37) and finish second twice more (1934-35)…“plays guard like an end, big, fast and smart” wrote George Kirksey of the UP in 1935…voted Honorable mention All-NFL in 1938 with Brooklyn…Emerson used speed and quickness to beat opponents, on film shows excellent strength and savvy form his guard position, also good pulling from guard position on end runs and sweeps in Posty Clark’s single-wing offense. Should be in Hall of Fame, crime he's not.
“I regard Emerson one of the greatest linemen I have ever seen perform on a football field. Having him out of our first five games hurt us more than anyone will ever know.”—Potsy Clark, former Spartans-Lions head coach, in 1935.
“(Ox) Emerson, the Detroit guard, according to Link Lyman of our Bears, is the fastest, ‘slicing’ forward and the hardest to block, he has ever met in football. And Link is almost a football line all by himself.”—Red Grange, former Bears Hall of Fame back, wrote in 1934.
“He was an Ox. He was hard to handle. Ox was just a good guard, hard to block.”—George Musso, former Bears Hall of Fame lineman.
“Ox wasn’t very big for a professional guard, he weighed about 195 pounds. But he was so quick and agile that he made a lot of tackles and was hard to block. So he was in the opponent’s backfield an awful lot. He was very exceptional.”—Glenn Presnell, former Spartans-Lions back and teammate.
“Emerson’s low charging made him one of the toughest guards to drive out of play, while he was fast enough to pull out and block on the Lions’ intricate reverse plays.”—wrote the UPI on Emerson when naming him to 1936 NFL All-Pro team.
“I played against Ox several times. He’s fast and elusive. Tried to out-smart you. Did a lot of times. I tried to do it myself. I saw what he was doing and I copied him.” – Charles “Ookie” Miller, former Bears All-Pro center.
4) Joe Kopcha (1929, 1932-1936) Just like Fortmann, Kopcha went on to become a doctor, missing two prime seasons (1930-31) while in medical school. Starting in 1932, the 6-feet, 220-pound Kopcha was a perennial All-Pro next to Emerson as one of the two best guards in the NFL in the middle thirties. Playing six years with the Bears and Lions (72 games), Kopcha was a starting guard on the Bears back-to-back championship teams of 1932-1933…“Nobody ever loved to play football more than Kopcha,” said George Halas in 1967…Kopcha was named Second-team All-Pro by the UP in 1932, then rattled off 3 straight First-team All-Pros by the NFL and UP (1933-1935), while being named First Team All-Pro in 1933-34 by the Chicago Daily News, Green Bay Press-Gazette, and Boston Post. In 1936 (his last season) he was named Honorable mention by the NFL…blocked for the Bears outstanding backfield of Red Grange, Keith Molesworth, Carl Brumbaugh, and Bronko Nagurski…helped Bears finish first in NFL in rushing twice (1934-1935) and second twice (1932-1933)…also helped halfback Beattie Feathers become the NFL’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 1934 (1,004)…Hall of Fame tackle Cal Hubbard picked Joe Kopcha as one of the two toughest men he played against (Link Lyman), “Joe Kopcha…I remember him, he was some tough guy,” said Hubbard in a 1976 interview with UP. Another overlooked player for the Hall of Fame.
“Dr. Joe Kopcha, a ripping, slashing terror on offense and defense.”—wrote George Kirksey of UPI in naming Kopcha First-team All-Pro in 1934.
“Joe Kopcha was the Bears best forward. He could do everything well at a guard’s position and still have something in reserve to help out his teammates.”—wrote G. W. Calhoun of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, naming Kopcha First-team All-Pro in 1934.
5) George Musso (1933-1944) After playing his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears at tackle, Musso moved to guard in 1937 and stayed there until his retirement after the 1944 season. Musso, at 6-feet-2, 262 pounds was one of the larger guards in the NFL during his era. Very durable, playing 12 seasons (128 games) while helping the Bears to 4 NFL Championships, 1933, 1940-41, 1943…slightly better player on defense than offense, “excellent on defense against running plays directly at him,” said Bruiser Kinard, former Hall of Fame tackle…over his career in Chicago the Bears went 104-26-6 (winning 6 Division titles)…selected to 3 Pro Bowls…overshadowed by Fortmann during his time, Musso was named First-team All-Pro in 1937 by the NFL, Collyers, UP and New York Daily News…named Second-team All-Pro three times by the NFL (1938-40) and twice by the Football Writers (1938-39); while the AP named him second team in 1940…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (senior vote) in 1982…named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Two-Way Team (1994)…nicknamed “Moose.”
“George was one of the finest guards ever in professional football. He was tough, mobile, agile and intimidating, with an indomitable competitive spirit.”—George Halas, Bears Hall of Fame coach.
“George (Musso) was the outstanding lineman of his time. His size and speed made him a difficult target, particularity on defense.”—Ray Flaherty, former Redskins Hall of Fame coach.
“He was as tough as they make them. A big hulk but a very aggressive player,” —Alex Wojciechowicz, former Hall of Fame center.
“(Musso) was big and tough. Anchored the Bears five-man line with authority. Had good speed for a big man. He was hard to fool.”—Clarke Hinkle, former Packers Hall of Fame fullback.
6) Riley Matheson (1939-1948) Nicknamed “the Snake,” Matheson was probably the best guard- not named Fortmann- in pro football in the early and middle 1940’s, although some of Matheson’s career extends after WWII,…played eight of his ten years with the Cleveland-Los Angeles Rams…member of 1 NFL championship team, 1945 Cleveland Rams…the 6-2, 207-pound Matheson was a technician at the guard position, very strong and quick with his run and pass blocking…was equally athletic on defense, playing well in space, had 14 career interceptions…played several years (some of his best) after WWII…First-team All-Pro four times by UP (1941, 1944-46) and New York Daily News (1944-47); and 5 times by the AP (1942, 1944-47).
7) Swede Youngstrom (1920-1927) Playing in the rugged era, the 6-1, 187-pound Youngstrom was one of the best early guards. Played 8 seasons (96 games), mainly with Buffalo and Frankford….Member of one NFL championship team, 1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets (although he played mainly tackle in 1926, his only year at that position)….First-team All-Pro by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1923-24 and twice by Collyers, 1923 and 1925…Second-team All-Pro by the Ohio State Journal in 1925…scored 2 career touchdowns, including an 18-yard interception return TD in 1926 against Duluth, picking off Ernie Nevers, to help the Yellow Jackets win 10-0…According to newspaper accounts Youngstrom also was known to block punts, in 1920 while playing for Buffalo he accounted for at least 9 blocked punts, including blocking a Jim Thorpe boot in the third quarter against the Canton Bulldogs and returning it for the game’s only score (7-0 victory on Dec. 4). Borderline Hall of Famer, probably should be in.
“Swede Youngstrom, one of the stars of the Buffalo team, was nearly a unanimous choice for guard.”—wrote the Green Bay Gazette naming Youngstrom First-team All-Pro in 1923 by a poll of sportswriters.
“Youngstrom of Buffalo still ranks as a fine guard. Youngstrom is not flashy but consistent and he makes a hole about a mile wide for his backs to ride through.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette naming Youngstrom Frist-team All-Pro in 1924 by a poll of sportswriters.
“The best guard in professional football for the last three years, also is line coach for Bison pro football team.”—wrote Buffalo Courier, Sept. 20, 1925.
8) Jim McMillen (1924-1928) Played five seasons (69 games) at guard for Halas’s Chicago Bears. Thickly built at 6-1, 215-pounds, McMillen pounded opponents, blocking for Red Grange on the famous barnstorming tour, then helping the Bears until 1928…First-team All-Pro twice by Collyers (1924, 1926) and the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1925, 1928); and three times by the Chicago Tribune (1926-28); also named Second-team All-Pro by Collyers (1925) and GBPG (1924)…Named First-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1928…gave up playing in NFL to make more money wrestling professionally…in 1941 George Halas selected an All-Time Bears team, he choose McMillen as his right guard.
9) Al Nesser (1920-1928, 1931) One of the famous six “Nesser” brothers, the youngest Nesser started playing professional football with his brothers for the Columbus Panhandles in 1910, playing with them until 1917. Al later joined the Akron Pros, playing, 1920-26; also played with the Cleveland Panthers in rival AFL in 1926…In all played 10 years in the NFL (93 games)…he was a member of the APFA-NFL first championship team with Akron in 1920, blocking for Hall of Fame halfback Fritz Pollard. The 6-0, 195-pound Nesser never backed down from a battle, one of the best defensive players of the 1920’s…scored 4 career TDs (2 fumble rec.; 1 blocked punt; 1 INT)…in 1920 game against a non-NFL team, Wheeling Stogies, scored 3 TDs (2 fumble rec. and 1 punt blocked)…later won another NFL Championship with the 1927 N. Y. Giants, helping the defense allowed only twenty points all season and pitching ten shutouts in 13 league games…First-team All-Pro in 1921 by the Buffalo News and in 1925 by the Ohio State Journal (along with McMillen)…Second-team All-Pro by George Halas in 1922 and by NFL President Joe Carr in 1925…Third-team by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1923-1924…retired after playing for Cleveland in 1931 at the age of 39. Another borderline Hall of Famer.
“(Al) Nesser was a team in himself. Big, powerful and fast he spoiled Buffalo on-slaughts time and again.”—wrote the Buffalo Evening News, November 20, 1922.
“Though he’s been playing for eighteen years, I would say he’s right at the top of his form now. Alert, fast and strong, Nesser looks good enough to hold all the honors at his position in the pro ranks for the next five years.”—Joe “Doc” Alexander, former All-Pro center and New York Giants coach, said about Nesser in 1926.
10) Buckets Goldenberg (1933-1945) Goldenberg started his career as a fullback (1933-1935) then moved to full-time guard in 1938. The squatty 5-10, 215-pound Goldenberg became a very consistent player for Lambeau’s Packers during his time in Green Bay. Combing with Letlow to make a perfect guard combination…Member of 3 NFL Championship teams with the Packers, 1936, 1939, 1944…”Buckets” played 13 seasons and over 120 games, mostly at guard…Consistently played 60-minutes and known for his explosive blocking, while on defense would shoot gaps on the Packers 6-man line, making many tackles in the backfield. “I loved to block. I loved to knock down those fellows on the other side to give our ball carriers running room,” recalled Goldenberg.…1 Pro Bowl…Named to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Didn’t have quite the honors as the previous guards, named Honorable mention All-NFL in 1938-39, 1941 and named Second-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1942. Named First-team All-Pro by the Chicago Herald-Examiner in 1939…had 8 career interceptions…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1972.
“Buckets is not only a great guard, but has one of the greatest competitive hearts in the history of the sport,”—Curly Lambeau said in 1945.
11) Walt Kiesling (1926-1938) Wondering guard, as Kiesling played 13 seasons with 6 different teams (125 games)…Named to NFL 1920’s All-Decade Team…member of 1 NFL Championship team, 1936 Packers…Not as many First-team honors, but his best years were from 1929-33 while playing for the Chicago Cardinals, where he was blocking for All-Pro fullback Ernie Nevers…helped contribute to the Bears successful 1934 season when they went 13-0 in the regular season (they lost championship games to Giants, famous Sneakers Game)…one of the NFL’s first pulling guards, known for his speed for a big man at 6-3, 260-pounds…Johnny “Blood” McNally remembered Kiesling “as the physical duplicate of Babe Ruth”…Named First-team All-Pro in 1929 by Collyers, then in 1930 by Collyers, Green Bay Press-Gazette and Red Grange; in 1931 was named Second-team by Collyers and Green Bay Press-Gazette…in 1932 named First-team All-Pro by the AP…elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.
“Kiesling of the Cards was a stellar center flanker. He likes his football and never quits for a minute. His ‘boring’ in tactics raised havoc with nearly every club the Chicagoans mixed with.”—wrote G. W. Calhoun, sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, naming Kiesling First-team All-Pro in 1930.
12) Russ Letlow (1936-1942, 1946) The 6-feet, 214-pound Letlow was a mainstay on Curly Lambeau’s teams throughout the middle 1930s and early 1940s. He was the Packers first ever number one Draft pick in 1936….After playing tackle in college (San Francisco) Letlow moved to guard for Lambeau’s Packers, becoming an able replacement for Michalske…Member of 2 NFL Championship squads with the Packers, 1936, 1939…Named to NFL 1930’s All-Decade team…Letlow played 8 seasons, 75 games and made 2 NFL All-Star Games (1938-39 Pre-Pro Bowls)…not quite at the level of Fortmann or Emerson at the time, Letlow made First-team All-Pro in 1938 by the NFL, Collyers and the Football Writers, while making Second-team All-Pro by Collyers (1937, 1939-40) and New York Daily News (1938-1940), and Honorable Mention by the NFL three years (1937, 1939-40)…coach Ray Flaherty named Letlow to his First-team All-Pro squad in 1938….Entered service for WWII in 1943…Inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1972.
13) Duke Osborn (1921-1928) One of the more durable and toughest guards of the rugged era, sometimes played without a helmet, wearing a baseball cap…Definitely a notch below Michalske, Youngstrom, McMillin and Nesser…the 5-10, 188-pound Osborn didn’t back down to no one on the field, playing 8 years (82 games) for 3 different teams (Canton, Cleveland, Pottsville)…a stalwart on the great championship teams of the Canton Bulldogs (1922-1923) and Cleveland Bulldogs (1924), winning 3 consecutive titles; part of a great front line that featured tackles Link Lyman, Pete “Fats” Henry, end Guy Chamberlin and guard Rudy Comstock—although in 1924 Osborn started at center, which knocks him down the list a few spots…also big part of the 1925 Pottsville Maroons that nearly won the NFL title…First-team All-Pro by Guy Chamberlin in 1922-1923 and Second-team in 1925 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette and NFL President Joe Carr.
“Let me say this about Duke. He was a very good guard for quite a few years. Under-sized, but very, very tough, the kind of guy you hate to play against, but you love to have him on your team, because he’d do anything to beat you. He’d grab, slug, bite, kick, claw, scratch, whatever he had to do.”—Johnny “Blood” McNally, former Packers Hall of Fame back.
14) Hunk Anderson (1922-1925) Could be higher on this list but played only 4 seasons (39 games) with the Chicago Bears (played one game in 1923 with Cleveland), then went into coaching full-time…Named to NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team…his blocking techniques were taught by football coaches at all levels…played on famous Red Grange/Bears barnstorming tour in 1925-1926…maybe a Hall of Famer if he stuck to playing pro ball longer…In 1941 George Halas selected a Bears All-Time Team, he choose Anderson as his left guard (McMillen at right guard)…after playing career, went on to become a coach, spent many years with the Bears as an assistant and head coach (1942-1945), winning an NFL Championship in 1943…”Hunk was the greatest line coach who ever lived,” once said Halas.
“Hunk Anderson is the roughest human being that I have ever known,”—Grantland Rice.
“(Hunk) was a terror on offense and defense in those sixty-minute-a-game days when the raw physical nature of the game and the modest-sized rosters demanded players who were durable as well as able…In retrospect, I see him as one of the truly great all-time pro linemen.” —wrote George Halas in Anderson’s football memoirs, Notre Dame, Chicago Bears and “Hunk” (1976).
15) Rudy Comstock (1923-1933) Very durable lineman and guard for over a decade, playing 11 years, 152 games, in which he started 127 of them for 5 different franchises…always a part of winning teams, as he won 4 NFL Championships with Canton (1922-23), Frankford (1926), and Green Bay (1931)…First-team All-Pro by the Canton Daily News in 1923 and by the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1930 and Second-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1926 and the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1930….NFL coach Leroy Andrews named Comstock to his Second-team All-Pro squad in 1927 and 1929.
16) Jules “Zuck” Carlson (1929-1936) The 6-foot, 208-pound Carlson was a stalwart on a Bears line that featured Joe Kopcha (guard), George Musso (tackle), Ookie Miller (center) and Bill Hewitt (end)…played 8 seasons for the Bears (94 games)…member of 2 NFL Championship teams, 1932-1933, as well as the 1934 undefeated Bears squad (13-0) that lost the title game vs the Giants (Sneakers Game)…First-team All-Pro by Collyers (1931-1932), UP (1932) and the NFL (1932)…Second-team by Collyers (1930), Green Bay Press-Gazette (1931, 1933), UP (1933-1934) and the NFL (1933)…He was also named Second-team All-Pro by Curly Lambeau in 1931 and by the Boston Post in 1934…In 1931 Lavvie Dilweg named Carlson to his All-Opponent Team…workmanlike and steady, Carlson didn’t blow you away with his physical skills, but it was hard to beat him.
17) John Del Isola (1934-1940) Built like a bowling ball, the 5-11, 200-pound Del Isola played 7 years (66 games) with the New York Giants under Steve Owen….played center at Fordham but because of All-Pro Mel Hein, moved to guard, forming a great tandem…he was a member of 2 NFL Championship teams with the Giants, 1934, 1938…First-team All-Pro twice by Collyers (1937, 1939)…in 1939 had his best year, named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, New York Daily News and the Pro Football Writers…Second-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1938; by the NFL in 1937; UP in 1939; and the New York Daily News in 1937-1938.
“Johnny Del Isola was a jewel of a player, the type who needs no handling, one who suffers when he isn’t in the game, and one who just naturally plays with the best when he is in action.”—Steve Owen, Giants Hall of Fame coach.
18) Butch Gibson (1930-1934) Smallish at 5-feet-9, 204-pounds, Gibson made up for it with his stellar play over 5 seasons (67 games) with the New York Giants…Fast for a lineman, “Gibson, a real tough cookie, was one of the first of the running guards, and had the speed to our-run many backs of his time,” wrote Steve Owen in his book, My Kind of Football…Member of 1 NFL Championship team with the Giants, 1934 (winning the Sneakers Game)…had his best year in 1931, earning First-team All-Pro honors from NFL, UP, Collyers, and Second-team by Curly Lambeau…named Second-team All-Pro in 1932 by Collyers and in 1933 by NFL and Brooklyn Eagle; while in 1934 was named First Team again by the NFL…known to chew tobacco during games, “Knew Butch Gibson well. Never saw him without a chew in his mouth and I never saw him spit,” recalled Mel Hein, former Giants teammate, in a 1980 interview.
19) Milt Rehnquist (1924-1932) Stocky at 6-0, 229-pounds, Rehnquist played 9 seasons with 5 different franchises (77 games)…After playing his first 4 seasons with Kansas City and Cleveland, Rehnquist found a home in 1928 playing with the Providence Steam Roller, helping them win the 1928 NFL Championship, blocking for All-Pro backs George Wilson and Curly Oden—played next to All-Pro center Clyde Smith that season…First-team All-Pro in 1927 by head coach Leroy Andrews and in 1929 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette…Second-team several times by the NFL (1928), Collyers (1929) and GBPG (1927-1928)…mainly played center in 1929.
20) Lon Evans (1933-1937) Another Packers guard (that’s five on the countdown so far), the rather massive 6-2, 223-pound Evans helped Green Bay on the line for five seasons (57 games)…Member of 1 NFL Championship team with the Packers, 1936…had his two best years in 1936-1937, by earning First-team All-Pro honors with the NFL (1936-37), UP (1936-37), Collyers (1936), Chicago Daily News (1936) and Ray Flaherty’s squad in 1936…Named Second-team by the NFL in 1935 and by the New York Daily News in 1937…Inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1978…mainly started at guard, but was a versatile linemen, would play tackle at times for Lambeau…had a key blocked punt in the 1936 NFL Championship Game that helped the Packers defeat the Boston Redskins, 21-6.
“He (Evans) was just a darn good lineman. He was a finesse player, too. He was a heck of a player.”—Bernie Scherer, former Packers end and teammate.
21) Len Younce (1941, 1943-45, 1946-48) Younce is lower since some of his years are after WWII, also not as good as some guards from his era—especially Matheson or Musso… The 6-1, 208-pound Younce, surprisingly made the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team- don’t know how he made it over Matheson …First-team All-Pro once by the AP in 1944…led NFL in punting in 1944 (48 punts for 1,941 yards)…had 10 career interceptions on defense (1 return for TD)- had better production on the defensive side of the ball.
22) Les Olsson (1934-38) Olsson played 5 seasons with the Boston-Washington Redskins (57 games), blocking for Hall of Fame halfback Cliff Battles…For nearly 3 seasons played next to Hall of Fame tackle Turk Edwards (1936-38) on the left side, forming one of the League’s best duos…Won 1 NFL Championship with the Redskins in 1937, protecting Sammy Baugh (solid in pass blocking)…built like a building at 6-feet, 232-pounds, Olsson made only one First-team All-Pro that was in 1938 by New York Daily News…Second-team All-Pro by UP (1937), Chicago Daily News (1936), and three times named Honorable mention by the NFL (1936-1938)…very smart and intelligent player, would go to coach high school for over 25 years.
23) Orville Tuttle (1937-41, 1946) Standing only 5-feet-9, 210-pounds, Tuttle played bigger and tougher than his height during his six years (60 games) with the New York Giants…playing alongside Hein at center and Del Isloa at the other guard, Tuttle helped the Giants win the 1938 NFL Championship…fast for a linemen and very smart player, who would go on to a coaching career later (line coach with Boston Yanks, Washington Redskins)…elected to 2 Pro Bowls (1938-39 All-Star games)…consistently named Second-team All-Pro during his career, by UP (1938-39), INS (1937-38), Football Writers (1938), and the NFL (1939)…Honorable mention NFL in 1937-1938 and Football Writers in 1940.
“As a player at New York, he (Tuttle), was probably the fastest linesman, and very hard to hurt. He knew how to take care of himself and was usually the last regular to be taken out of a game.”—wrote the Daily Oklahoman in 1942 about Tuttle.
24) Al Graham (1925-1933) Played 9 seasons (73 games) for several teams including the Dayton Triangles, Providence Steam Rollers and Chicago Cardinals. A 6-foot, 210-pound guard, Graham played hard on some bad Triangles teams in his first 5 seasons…had 2 career fumble recoveries for touchdowns, including a game-winner in 1927 playing with the Triangles, in the second quarter Graham returned the pigskin 72-yards to lead Dayton to a 6-3 upset win over the Frankford Yellow Jackets—it would the Triangles only win in 1927…Second-team All-Pro by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1927-1928 and by the Chicago Tribune and NFL in 1928.
“Graham of Dayton, starred for a losing club. He was in there battling all the time despite great odds and earned the respect of every team the Ohioans faced.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, naming Graham Second-team All-Pro in 1928.
25) Jim Bowdoin (1928-1934) The large 6-1, 227-pound Bowdoin was the other guard on the Packers great championship teams of 1929-31, opposite Michalske…played 7 years, the first four seasons with the Packers and the last three with Brooklyn, NY Giants and Portsmouth (75 total games)…Named First-team All-Pro by coach Leroy Andrews in 1929, while the GBPG selected him Honorable Mention that year…In 1930 was Second Team by the Milwaukee Sentinel.
“The big guard is a hard worker and is always in the thick of the fight. His stellar work in the forward last season played an important part in many Packer victories that helped bring Green Bay the national championship. As his work has been constantly improving, Capt. Lambeau expects Bowdoin to be one of his main cogs this year.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Aug. 8, 1930.
26) Bill “Monk” Edwards (1940-1942, 1946) Probably the most interesting resume on the list. Edwards only played four seasons (41 games) with the New York Giants, but somehow found his way onto the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team…career interrupted by the War—he worked as a special agent for the FBI—came back to play in 1946…Named Second-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1941; but made First-team in 1942, as well as by INS; the New York Daily News named him Second-team…just like Len Younce earlier, tough to see Edwards making the 1940s All-Decade Team over Matheson.
27) Augio Lio (1941-1947) Lio’s career bleeds past WW II but had several good years before the War. The 6-foot, 224-pound guard played 7 seasons with four different franchise, but mainly with the Lions and Boston Yanks…played in 2 Pro Bowls (1941-1942), tremendous achievement making Pro Bowl in 1942 as the Lions went 0-11…First-team All-Pro in 1945 by the New York Daily News and in 1946 by UP…Second-team more often, by AP in 1941, 1943; by UP in 1943-1945; by New York Daily News in 1943-1944, 1946; and by Pro Football Illustrated in 1943, 1945…excellent athlete, also did some placekicking, making 109 of 115 extra points in his career; while making 17 of 52 career field goals (scored 172 points in career), referred to as “the guard with the educated toe”…scored 2 career touchdowns, in 1941 (fumble recovery) and in 1946 on a blocked punt recovery…after retiring became a sports editor for nearly 40 years (Passaic Herald & News).
28) Steve Slivinski (1939-1943) Well built guard at 5-10, 214-pounds, Slivinski, played hard for 5 seasons (53 games) with the Washington Redskins, mainly protecting Sammy Baugh…Member of 1 NFL Championship team, 1942…Elected to 1 Pro Bowl in 1942, although his best year came in 1940, being named First-team All-Pro by UP and INS, while making Second-team by the NFL…in 1942 named Second-team by INS and the NFL, while the AP named him to their Third-team in 1943…had 2 career interceptions.
29) Pete Tinsley (1938-1945) Very squatty at 5-8, 205-pounds, Tinsley played 8 seasons with the Packers (76 games) under Curly Lambeau….a feisty player on the line, Tinsley was a member of 2 NFL Championship teams with the Pack, 1939, 1944…elected to 1 Pro Bowl (1939)…Second-team All-Pro in 1941 by the AP and New York Daily News, as well as being named honorable mention by the UP in 1943…had 4 career interceptions on defense…Inducted into Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.
“He was a little wiry guard. He was tough as a boot. He was hurt half the time, but he stayed in the ball game. He played hurt a lot of times.”—Nolan Luhn, former Packers end and teammate in 1945.
30) Jim Karcher (1936-1939) The next spots are tied up with two players from the Washington Redskins who have nearly identical resumes….at 6-0, 207, Karcher played 4 seasons in Washington (42 games) winning one NFL Championship in 1937…He was named Second-team All-Pro once by the NFL (1938) and INS (1939); his only other honor was in 1939 named Honorable mention by the NFL…blocked for rookie QB Sammy Baugh in 1937 on the way to a championship…in 1939 was called on to punt (8 punts for 311 yards, 38.9 average)…quit after the 1939 season, played for the Columbus Bullies of the AFL in 1940 (made All-League).
31) Dick Farman (1939-1943) Farmer played 5 seasons with the Redskins (49 games), winning 1 NFL Championship in 1942…coached by Hall of Famer Ray Flaherty for 4 of his 5 years in Washington…Selected to 1 Pro Bowl…had his best year in 1942 earning First-team All-Pro from AP, UP, INS and the New York Daily News…he earned Second-team honors in 1940 by INS and in 1942 by the NYDN…protected All-Pro QB Sammy Baugh and blocked for backs Andy Farkas (in 1939 Farkas finished second in NFL in rushing) and Dick Todd.
32) John Wiethe (1939-1942) After playing college ball at Xavier- as well as some pro basketball in Cincinnati area-, Wiethe didn’t join the NFL until 1939 at the age of 27…Nicknamed “Socko” for his rugged and physical charge off the line of scrimmage, the 6-foot, 200-pound Wiethe played 4 seasons with the Detroit Lions (35 games)…in 1940, being coached by Potsy Clark, Wiethe helped lead block for Whizzer White, who lead the NFL in rushing (514 yards) as the Lions went 5-5-1…that year Wiethe was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, Collyers, and New York Daily News, and Second-team by UP…in 1939 he was named First-team by the UP, and Second-team by Collyers and NYDN…in 1941 he was named Honorable Mention by the NFL…smart, intelligent player, was Lions line coach in 1942, after head coach Bill Edwards was fired after a 0-3 start.
33) Phil Handler (1930-1936) The 6-0, 212-pound Handler played 7 seasons with the Chicago Cardinals (53 games)…arriving at Cardinals camp as a rookie in 1930, Handler weighted only 180 pounds, prompting head coach Ernie Nevers to say “you’ll never make it, kid you are too small”…Handler eventually beefed up to 212-pounds, making the team…only had 2 winning seasons playing for some mediocre Cardinals teams…first two seasons blocked for Nevers…had best year in 1935, named Second-team All-Pro by UP and honorable mention by NFL, also named honorable mention in 1932…would go on to be head coach for the Cardinals for several seasons.
34) Herman Hickman (1932-1934) Despite playing just 3 seasons, all for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the rather “stocky” 5-10, 246-pound Hickman made plenty of good impressions while playing in the NFL; known for being quick and nimble despite weighing close to 250-pounds…playing just 24 games, Hickman best year was in 1933, when he was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, Brooklyn Eagle, and the Green Bay Press-Gazette, while the UP named him Second-team…In 1934 he was named Second-team by the GBPG and honorable mention by the NFL…also converted 2 field goals in 1933, one that beat the Chicago Cardinals, 3-0, and another that tied the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-3.
“Hickman preformed brilliantly for Brooklyn and in addition, he was blessed with an educated toe which spelled three points at crucial intervals for the Dodgers.”—wrote G. W. Calhoun of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, named Hickman First-team All-Pro in 1933.
35) Aldo Forte (1939-1941, 1946-1947) Career interrupted by the War with only 3 years with Bears before joining the Navy…member of 2 NFL Championship teams with Bears, 1940-1941 (won a 3 with Bears in 1946)…elected to 2 Pro Bowls (1940-41)…the 6-0, 213-pound Forte would be much higher on list if not for leaving for War…Fit in well with Halas’s Monsters of the Midway, as tough as they come on the line, loved to hit and made many plays in opposing’s backfield- backed up to Fortmann and Musso, but was talented in his own right, making 2 Pro Bowls proves that…Named Second-team All-Pro in 1941 by Collyers.
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 7 guards:
Best of the Rest:
Mo Bodenger (1931-1934)
Bill Buckler (1926-1928, 1931-1933)
Art Carney (1925-1926)
Dutch Speck (1920-1926)
Tarzan Taylor (1921-1922, 1926)
“Doc” Williams (1923-1926)
Whitey Woodin (1922-1931)
Joe Zeller (1932-1938)