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; 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 going through newspapers such as GBPG, Pottsville Republican, Canton Repository, Chicago Daily Journal, and more who would publish play-by-plays of early NFL games to get a better sense of how they these players played the game.
Resources such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL teams (especially the Packers and team historian Cliff Christl), Newspapers.com, and Pro Football Reference, and more contributed mightily.
Next up in our series of the Pre-WWII players is the Tackle position.
“The name of the game for linemen is sacrifice. There isn’t much glory in it for them, and there’s a lot of pain,” said Ed Healey to the Toledo Blade in 1975.
Tackles of this era were usually the biggest man on the team. Typically standing above 6-feet and weighing 200, to the heaviest at around 250-pounds. Writing in his 1935 instructional book, Football, former NFL head coach Potsy Clark listed 11 coaching points for the perfect tackle: (see scan above)
“As the game is played today, lineman are called upon to shift their weight and power in the wink of an eye. They may ‘feint’ in one direction and drive through in another, to cover, momentarily, the direction of the ball carrier. That takes control. And to knock down a 230-pound lineman who is as tough as all-get-out, that takes power,” said Bill Morgan, former Giants All-Pro tackle (tackle number 25 on list).
1) Cal Hubbard (1927-1933, 1935-1936) Number one on the list is the great Cal Hubbard, considered the “most feared lineman of his time.” The 6-2, 253-pound Hubbard played 9 years of pro ball (105 games) with the New York Giants (1927-28, 1936), Green Bay Packers (1929-33, 1935) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1936)….he played his first two years as an end, making All-Pro both years…moved to tackle when he joined Curly Lambeau’s Packers in 1929…member of 4 NFL Championship teams, 1927 Giants, 1929-1931 Packers…excelled as a blocker on offense, and backed up the line on defense (sometimes standing up like a linebacker)… “I never played harder than I did against the Bears. I can still hear Halas hollering from the sidelines for me to lay off his center, George Trafton. Trafton was a mouthy guy. He was always lipping off. So I knocked the hell out of him every chance I got,” said Hubbard in 1976…First-team All-Pro three times by the NFL (1931-1933) and UPI (31-33); as well as being named twice First-team by Collyers (1932-33) and once by Chicago Daily News (1933)…Named to NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…scored 2 career TDs, including an interception return against the Giants in 1935 (16-7 win)…Elected as Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963)…Named NFL’s All-Time Tackle for the 50th Anniversary All-Time team in 1969…Named to NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Two Way Team (1994)…only man to be elected to the Pro Football and Baseball Hall of Fames (as an umpire)…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.
“I never saw a better lineman, either on offense or defense.”—Curly Lambeau, Packers Hall of Fame coach.
“Hubbard is the best tackle I’ve seen…He’s very fast, I’ve tried to block him out, and it can’t be done. I’ve seen him on defense start through the line and shove it entirely out of position. He must be 35 now, but he is all man, and I’ve never seen a better football player.”—Dutch Clark, Hall of Fame back, about Hubbard in 1932.
“There never was a better lineman than that big umpire.”—George Halas, Bears Hall of Fame end and coach, told Arthur Daley of the New York Times.
“The best lineman I ever saw was Cal Hubbard.”—Jimmy Conzelman, former NFL back and Hall of Fame coach.
“A giant of a man who could outrun any back in the league for 30 yards…Cal, with his combination of speed, weight, and timing, was a devasting blocker. On defense he made them run the other way.”—Steve Owen, former Giants tackle and head coach.
“The greatest tackle I ever played against or got clobbered by.”—Red Grange, former Bears Hall of Fame halfback.
“Probably the greatest tackle I ever played against was Cal Hubbard of the Packers. Hubbard was the left defensive tackle and he stopped everything.”—Mel Hein, former Giants Hall of Fame center-linebacker.
2) Pete “Fats” Henry (1920-1923, 1925-1928) Nicknamed “Fats”, mainly for his odd body shape at 5-feet-11, 245-pounds, but Henry was just as fast and athletic as any back in the NFL during his era. A 60-minute performer, Henry played 8 years with Canton, New York Giants and the Pottsville Maroons (86 games)…also played for Pottsville in 1924 when they were not an NFL-team…Member of 2 NFL Championship teams with Canton (1922-23), paring with fellow tackle Link Lyman for the league’s best duo…those two seasons helped Bulldogs to back-to-back titles with an overall record of 21-0-3…Named First-team All-Pro by Rock Island Argus (1920), Buffalo News (1921), and Green Bay Press-Gazette, Collyers, and George Halas in 1923…First-team All-Pro by Guy Chamberlin twice (1922-23) and the Canton Daily News in 1923…Named Second-team by the Ohio State Journal in 1925…Selected to NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…Named to NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Two Way Team (1994)…also one of the NFL’s best kickers and punters during his era- once booting a 94-yard punt for Canton (1923)…In 1923, Henry led the NFL in Extra Points made (25) and was second in FGs made with 9 (Paddy Driscoll- 10). His 59 points scored was 2nd in NFL behind Driscoll’s 78 points as he led the league champions, Canton Bulldogs, to an 11-0-1 record—if an MVP vote was done that year, Henry could’ve easily won the award…Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963…Named to NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Two-Way Team (1994).
“As an end for the Bears I played directly opposite him on hundreds of plays and only once in all that time was I ever able to block him out.”—said George Halas, in 1962.
“Tackles will come and tackles will go but never will pro football enthusiasts see the peer of Wilbur Henry.”—wrote the Canton Repository in 1922.
“Pete Henry was the most unusual specimen you ever saw. He was fast and could run all day. You hit him and your head would go in clear up to your neck. How he could play.”—Cal Hubbard, former teammate with Giants (1927) and Packers Hall of Fame tackle.
“He was the best tackle I ever saw.”—Grantland Rice on Henry.
“It was like bouncing off a rubber ball. I never budged him once. After five minutes, I felt as I had just finished a full 60-minute game…anything you’ve read or heard about Pete Henry is true. He was a great one.”—Charlie Berry, an All-Pro end with Pottsville Maroons, about playing against Henry in 1925.
3) Roy “Link” Lyman (1922-1928, 1930-1931, 1933-1934) Very agile for his size at 6-2, 233-pounds, given credit for pioneering more sophisticated defensive play on the line, by shifting and sliding, opponents were forced to adjust to his tactics with new blocking strategies…a dominant force on defense, almost unblockable at times…in 1937 former Bears teammate Bill Hewitt called “Lyman the greatest of them all”…played 11 years (133 games) with 4 different franchises- Canton, Cleveland, Frankford and several stints with the Chicago Bears (1926-28, 1930-31, 1933-34)…Member of 4 NFL Championship teams; Canton (1922-1923), Cleveland (1924) and Chicago Bears (1933)…never played for a losing team in 11 NFL seasons…Scored 6 career TDs, including 4 in 1924 for the NFL Champions Cleveland Bulldogs (had 3 fumble recovery and 1 TD catch, 50-yards vs Dayton)…First-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1924, 1930, 1934; by NFL President Joe Carr in 1925; by Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1930, 1934; NFL in 1930; Red Grange and Milwaukee Sentinel in 1930; Brooklyn Eagle in 1933 and UPI in 1934 at the age of 36…Second-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1923, 1925; NFL in 1928, 1934; and GBPG in 1924 and 1928…somehow overlooked for NFL 1920s All-Decade team; should’ve been selected over Steve Owen…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964 (2nd class), when he was called “the cleverest tackle of his time on defense.”
“(Link) Lyman was a linebacker and was the best all-around lineman I ever played against.” —said Cal Hubbard in 1976.
“Lyman was the first lineman I ever saw who moved from his assigned defensive position before the ball was snapped. It was difficult to play against him because he would vary his moves and no matter how you reacted, you could be wrong.”—Steve Owen, former NFL lineman and Giants Hall of Fame coach.
“Link Lyman, ranked head and shoulders above any other tackle in Joe Carr’s ‘cash and carry’ gridiron wheel…Lyman’s comeback was most remarkable and some coaches claim Link’s work this placed him on a higher plan than Cal Hubbard, former Packers lineman, who was considered the peer of all tackles in the land. It was next to impossible to take Lyman out of a plat and he would cut holes a mile wide for the Bears backs.”—wrote G. W. Calhoun of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, when naming Lyman First-team All-Pro in 1934 at the age of 36.
“The greatest football player, college or pro, I ever saw was Link Lyman. If it hadn’t been for Lyman, nobody ever would have heard of poor Bill Hewitt at all. He taught me more about football than I ever learned in my life before.”—Bill Hewitt, former Bears Hall of Fame end.
4) Albert G. “Turk” Edwards (1932-1940) Another Hall of Famer, the 6-2, 255-pound Edwards played 9 years (86 games) with the Boston-Washington Redskins, helping protect Sammy Baugh and opening holes for halfback Cliff Battles from his left tackle spot…consistently showed raw power and intimidation; emphasized strength more than speed…”I stood up a little more than they do now, but otherwise the techniques haven’t changed,” said Edwards to sportswriter Murray Olderman…selected to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Numerous First-team All-Pros; including 4 times by the NFL (1932-33, 1936-37) and 3 times by UP (1934, 1936-37) and Chicago Daily News (1933-34, 1936); also twice First-team by Collyers (1937-38), I.N.S. (1937, 1939), New York Daily News (1937, 1939), Green Bay Press-Gazette (1933, 1935) and Boston Post (1934-35)…Named Second-team three times by NFL (1934, 1938-39); and once by Collyers (1932), UPI (1933), GBPG (1934), and NYDN (1938)…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969…Member of 3 divisional winning teams and 1 NFL Championship, 1937 Redskins…career ended on an unusual knee injury during a coin toss against the Giants in 1940…scored 2 career touchdowns, including returning a block punt for a score in a 7-0 victory over the Dodgers in 1932…known for blocking punts, (including 3 in a game against the Giants in 1937, to help clinch the Division title)…nicknamed the “Rock of Gibralter” because he played with such immovable and impregnable tendencies…amiable and easy going Edwards was all business on the gridiron. “When he got mad, which was rarely, he could play the whole side of the line himself,” recalled Wayne Millner, Redskins Hall of Fame end and teammate…after playing career, went into coaching, was Redskins head coach for 3 seasons (overall record of 16-18-1) in 1946-1948.
“(Turk) Edwards was plenty tough and liked it. For a big fellow he had lots of speed and often was down the field as fast as his ends.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, naming Edwards First-team All-Pro in 1933.
“I considered Turk Edwards the greatest tackle who ever lived- college or pro. He could handle anyone. I’ve seen him on defense pick up an opposing lineman and throw him backward and break up a single wing sweep before it even got started. He was absolutely awesome.”—Mel Hein, former Giants Hall of Fame center, about Edwards in 1969.
“Edwards was a great tackle, he was just a bull of tackle, hard to block. I knew he was going to be hard to block right from the beginning. He was hard to handle, offense and defense. Turk is one of the best.”—George Musso, former Bears Hall of Fame lineman.
“Turk was the biggest man on the field and the fastest lineman on the field. He was a really good leader. He was captain of our team.”—Clyde Shugart, former Redskins teammate and guard.
5) Joe Stydahar (1936-1942, 1945-1946) “Jumbo Joe” was a mainstay for the Monsters of the Midway. The rather large, 6-4, 233-pounder was the Bears first ever 1st-round draft pick, in 1936, and was a starter for 9 years (84 games)- although he missed 2 years due to WWII (1943-1944)….Member of 3 NFL Championship squads with the Bears, 1940-41, 1946, protecting Sid Luckman and paving rushing lanes for backs George MacAfee and Bronko Nagurski with a bulldozing style, throwing around his 233-pound frame…Better on defense than offense, Stydahar was a hard-hitter on the Bears front line. “When you charge, you have to keep your head up. Sure, you lose a lot of teeth that way, but you make a lot of tackles,” once said Stydahar…selected to NFL 1930s All-Decade team…First-team All-Pro four times by the NFL (1937-40), Collyers (1936-37, 1939-40), and New York Daily News (1937-40); three times by UPI (1937-39) and two times by I.N.S. (1938, 1940) and Ray Flaherty (1936, 1938)…Second-team three times by NFL (1936, 1941-42); twice by I.N.S. (1937, 1942); and once by UPI (1936), Collyers (1938), AP (1941)…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
“It helped me tremendously to play next to Joe for so many years. A true partnership built up. We got to know exactly what to expect from one another.”—Dan Fortmann, former teammate and Hall of Fame guard.
6) Duke Slater (1922-1931) Dominate tackle during his ten-year career in the NFL, playing for Milwaukee, Rock Island and Chicago Cardinals (90 games)…One of the early black players in the NFL…The 6-1, 215 Slater was hard to block on defense, making many tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, while on offense one of the hardest to get around…Voted First-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1922, 1925; Second-team, 1930…Voted Second-team All-Pro by Green Bay Press-Gazette, six times, 1923-1925, 1927, 1929-1930…First-team twice by Chicago Tribune (1926, 1929) and once by the Chicago Daily Times, Red Grange and Ernie Nevers, all in 1930. In 1931 Lavvie Dilweg selected Slater for his All-Opponent Team…Leroy Andrews named him First Team in 1927 and Second Team in 1929…On Dec. 8, 1929 scored his only NFL touchdown with the Cardinals on an interception returned in a 26-0 victory over the Orange Tornadoes…blocked for Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers when Nevers scored 6 rushing TDs (his 40-point game) in 1929 vs the Bears…Twice a Hall of Fame Finalist, 1970-1971…a crime that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.
“In the old Cardinals-Bears games, I learned it was absolutely useless to run against (Duke) Slater’s side of the Cardinal line."—George Halas on Slater.
“They can bring all the tackles in the country, but this fellow [Duke] Slater is the best of them all. Slater is a marvel and is so strong and powerful that he seems to sweep one-half of the line aside when he charges. I’ve played against Slater, and I know what I’m talking about.”— Red Grange on Slater.
“Slater makes the most of his position: is powerful, has huge hands, is very seldom caught, and hasn’t slowed a bit in the 6 years I have played opposite to him.”—wrote Lavvie Dilweg in the Green Bay Press-Gazette in naming Slater to his 1931 All-Opponent Team.
“Duke Slater, the veteran colored tackle, seemed the dominant figure in that forward wall which had the Bear front wobbly. It was Slater who opened the holes for Nevers when a touchdown was in the making.” —from Chicago Herald-Examiner, Nov. 29, 1929, on the day Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers scored 40-points.
“Duke was a helluva body blocker and you couldn’t play him outside nor inside because he was big and quick and could easily sideswipe you out of the play with his body block.” —Hunk Anderson, former Bears lineman.
7) George Christensen (1931-1938) Nicknamed “Big Chris,” the rather large, 6-2, 238-pound Christensen, played 8 seasons (95 games) with the Portsmouth Spartans-Detroit Lions…Voted to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Member of one NFL Championship team, 1935 Lions…Either First- or Second-team All-Pro by the NFL or UPI, five times, 1932-1936…Twice named First-team All-Pro by the Green Bay Press-Gazette, 1931, 1933 and Collyers, 1933-1934…Lions team captain who also served as line coach while playing…big, fast, athletic tackle, who would sometime pull on end runs for halfbacks Ernie Caddell, Dutch Clark and Glenn Presnell in Potsy Clark’s single-wing offense…was part of offensive line that established NFL record for rushing yards in a single-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)…just like Duke Slater, no reason he’s not in the Hall of Fame.
Good tackles were numerous with Christensen of Portsmouth the best of the lot. This husky Spartan was a demon on the attack while on the defense, he raised havoc with every club Potsy Clark’s hirelings bumped into this past season.”—wrote George W. Calhoun Green Bay Press-Gazette, wrote in 1933 after naming Christensen to All-Pro team.
“On our club was a tackle who I think should be in the Hall of Fame. His name is George Christensen and he was as good a tackle as I ever saw on a pro team. Most of the men who played with him or against him would say the same thing.”—Dutch Clark, Lions teammate and Hall of Fame back.
“George Christensen was the biggest man on the team at 238 pounds and we used to consider him a freak. But I’ll tell you, he was one of the fastest men we had.”—Jim Steen, Lions teammate in 1974.
8) Ed Healey (1920-1927) Healey was an end at Dartmouth, but moved to tackle once he started playing pro ball…Rather compact at 6-1, 207-pounds, Healey played 8 seasons (89 games), his first 2+ years with Rock Island, then during the 1922 season was sold to the Chicago Bears for $100, since he played George Halas so tough, the Bears owner wanted Healey for his team…Known for being tough at the point of attack, Healey used his broad shoulders and rather large hands to good use when blocking. “I loved playing in the line and I loved bodily contact,” said Healey in 1965…First-team All-Pro four times by the Green Bay Press-Gazette, 1923-26; twice by Collyers, 1925-26.; and once by NFL President Joe Carr in 1925; the Chicago Tribune in 1926 and Leroy Andrews in 1927…Second-team by Collyers in 1924 and by the Ohio State Journal in 1925…Selected to NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964 (Hall’s second-ever class)…rugged two-way star, who was called “most versatile tackle ever” by Halas…played on the famous Red Grange-Bears barnstorming tour of 1925-26. “He was as good a tackle as I have ever seen. Oh, how he loved to come downfield under a punt! He was an absolutely vicious football player,” once said Red Grange in 1978.
“Ed Healey was one of the greatest linemen I ever saw.”—Joey Sternaman, former Bears teammate.
“Healey, giant tackle of the Chicago Bears, didn’t have to take his hat off to any lineman in the pro game. He is a perfect blocker.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in naming Healey First Team All-Pro in 1925.
9) Frank “Bruiser” Kinard (1938-1944, 1946-1947) The 6-1, 216-pound Kinard, played with a tough, aggressive, durable work ethic for 9 seasons (101 games) for two teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees of the AAFC after WWII (1946-47).…his nickname of “Bruiser” was perfect…also known to be very fast, running a 10.4 in the 100 in full gear, which helped Kinard in running down ballcarriers from sidelines to sidelines...60-minute player, only missed 1 game due to injury…flourished with the Dodgers in 1940-41, when Jock Sutherland was hired as head coach. Kinard was ideal for his single-wing attack which took advantage of Kinard’s aggressive, speedy style…very surprising to not have made the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1940s, should’ve made it over Al Blozis and Vic Sears…First-team All-Pro three times by AP (1940, 1943-44) and New York Daily News (1940-41, 1944); Named First-team twice by the NFL (1940-41), I.N.S. (1940, 1942) and once by Collyers (1940), Football Writers (1938), UPI (1941) and the Detroit Free Press (1944)…Second-team three times by UPI (1938-39, 1944) and the by NFL (1938-39, 1942), and twice by AP (1941-42), NYDN (1938, 1942) and I.N.S. (1938, 1944)…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
“The Brooklyn team used to have plays designed just for the blocking of Kinard. They’d get Frank out there against a defender and he’d just mow them down. He made the work easy for the ballcarrier…Once Bruiser threw the lead block, there was daylight for the ballcarrier- and Bruiser never missed throwing that block.”—Joe Stydahar, former Bears Hall of Fame tackle.
“Bruiser was one of the great football players for his size, that was ever in football.”—Ray Flaherty, former Hall of Fame coach.
11) Jim Barber (1935-1941) Another massive tackle, at 6-3, 223-pounds, Barber played 7 seasons (76 games) for the Boston-Washington Redskins at right tackle, anchoring their line with fellow tackle Turk Edwards. Protecting Sammy Baugh for his entire career, Barber was a physical and smart player, played six of his seven years under Hall of Famer Ray Flaherty…Member of 1 NFL championship team with the Redskins, 1937…First-team All-Pro twice by the UPI (1939-1940) and once each by the NFL (1939), Football Writers (1939) and by his coach Ray Flaherty in 1938…in 1939-1940 he beat out Kinard, Edwards for First-team honors…Second-team by Collyers and New York Daily News in 1940; and Honorable mention by the NFL four times, 1936, 1938, 1940-41.
“Jim didn’t get the notoriety of some, but he was a fine, dependable player, and a tough one.”—Ray Flaherty, former Redskins Hall of Fame coach.
12) Bill Lee (1935-1942, 1946) The 6-2, 231-pound Lee played 9 seasons (82 games) with two franchises; Brooklyn Dodgers for his first three years and the Green Bay Packers for six seasons- where he had his best years from 1937 to 1942…Played mainly right tackle…Member of 1 NFL championship team with Green Bay, 1936…Elected to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team, despite not any First-team All-Pro selections…Selected to 1 Pro Bowl (1939)…NFL Honorable mention four times, 1935-36, 1938-39…Named Second-team All-Pro in 1935 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette; in 1936 by Chicago Daily News; in 1939 by Football Writers and in 1940 by the AP.
“Bill Lee covered himself with glory for Brooklyn and was one of the best of the 1935 crop of recruits. Lee had all the qualifications of an ‘ace’ tackle. He has lots of fight and always was right on top of the ball.” —wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette about Lee in 1935.
13) Buford “Baby” Ray (1938-1948) The biggest tackle on the list, the aptly nicknamed “Baby” Ray, stood 6-feet-6, 250-pounds, massive, but very agile tackle who played 11 years (116 games) for the Green Bay Packers at left tackle…Could dominate on both offense and defense; plus with height would block kicks and punts…Member of 2 NFL Championship teams with Green Bay, 1939, 1944…Elected to NFL 1940s All-Decade Team…1 Pro Bowl (1939)…First-team All-Pro twice by Collyers (1939, 1941); Pro Football Illustrated (1943-1944) and once by UPI (1941) and New York Daily News (1943)…Second-team by UPI (1939, 1943-1944); Detroit Free Press (1943) and the NYDN (1941, 1944)…Honorable mention by NFL five times (1939, 1941-1944)…Elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1973…after his playing career was over became a coach (college) and then a scout for the Packers.
“He was a big boy. In those days, anybody who was bigger than 6-2 or 6-3 was a big guy. He was steady. He was there every game. I don’t think he ever got hurt. Reliable.”—Aldo Forte, former NFL lineman with Bears and Lions and played one year with Ray in Green Bay (1947).
14) Steve Owen (1924-1931, 1933) “Stout” Steve played 9 years (97 games) in the NFL with three different franchises, but mostly with the Giants (1926-31, 1933)…won 1 NFL Championship with the Giants as a player, 1927- helping the defense allowed only twenty points all season and pitching ten shutouts in 13 league games (playing alongside Cal Hubbard and Al Nesser)…Commonly referred to as a “bull-dozer with a brain”…Had best years in 1929-1930 being named First-team All-Pro by Collyers (1929), Leroy Andrews (1929) and the NFL (1930)…Second-team in 1926 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette and honorable mention in 1929…Selected to the NFL 1920s All-Decade Team…went on to coach the Giants for 24 years…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966 (as a tackle-coach).
“No doubt he was the toughest man I ever knew. He was bigger than most of the players then, and he loved to mix it up. If you liked that kind of action, you just had to love watching Steve in action.”—Tim Mara, Giants Hall of Fame owner.
15) Bill Owen (1926-1936) The younger brother of Hall of Famer Steve Owen (he’s one spot below), gets overlooked but was just as good a player as his more popular brother. Stocky, at 6-foot, 210-pounds, Bill bounced around the NFL in his first three seasons playing one year each with Kansas City, Cleveland and Detroit. But found a home with his brother with the Giants, playing 8 seasons at right tackle in New York… Played 11 total seasons (138 games)…Member of 1 NFL Championship team with Giants, 1934…Had his best years in 1930-1931, Named First-team All-Pro by Collyers (1930-31); Chicago Daily News (1930); Red Grange (1930) and Curly Lambeau (1931)…Second-team by UPI (1931) and the NFL (1931)…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1932-1933.
“Owen had a great year on the gridiron for Detroit. He was a 60-minute line man and wanted more. Built on powerful lines, Owen made good use of his strength and there wasn’t a line that was able to hold him out.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Owen, in naming him First-team All-Pro in 1928.
16) Russell “Bull” Behman (1924-1931) Nicknamed “Bull”, the squatty, 5-feet-10, 215-pound Behman played 8 years (100 games total) of pro football, all with the Frankford Yellow Jackets, except for in 1926 when he played for the Philadelphia Quakers of the rival AFL. Very athletic and versatile tackle during the 1920’s; also very intelligent, acted as line coach for Yellow Jackets…in a game against the Columbus Tigers in 1925 (Oct. 31st) Behman scored 2 TDs, one on blocked punt return and one on a 45-yard interception return, in a 19-0 victory…that same year he made 5 FGs and 12 XPs (scoring 39 points)…Won 1926 AFL Championship with the Quakers, playing right tackle; was best tackle in the AFL that season…First-team All-Pro by Green Bay Press-Gazette and the NFL (ahead of Link Lyman) in 1928; by GBPG, Collyers, Chicago Tribune and coach Leroy Andrews in 1929…was head coach of the Yellow Jackets for three seasons as player-coach, 1929-1931 (13-20-7 record).
“A monstrous man who could stand firm as Gibraltar or move like a cat. Behman was almost impossible to block. Coaches had to assign so many extra blockers to him that plays came apart.”—wrote historian Roger Treat in the 1952 NFL Encyclopedia, naming Behman to his All-Time Team.
“Bull Behman of Frankford was the best tackle in the league. Behman is built right for this pro footballing and he makes all of his 200 plus poundage count. The former Bucknell captain is very smart and he often sensed the play before the ball was snapped.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, naming Behman First-team All-Pro in 1929.
17) Ed Widseth (1937-1940) Widseth replaced Grant-B. Owen when he arrived in New York in 1937 as a first-round draft pick (fourth overall). The 6-1, 223-pound Widseth played just 4 seasons (44 games) with the Giants, but was highly respected by opponents and his coach Steve Owen….Very strong at point of attack, used his strength to make plays in the backfield…Member of 1 NFL championship, 1938 Giants…Had best year that championship season by being Named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, UP, I.N.S., Collyers, Football Writers and New York Daily News- voted ahead of Kinard and Edwards…Second-team in 1937 by UPI, Collyers, and NYDN…Named Second-team by the NFL in 1937 and 1939 and honorable mention in 1940—also named H.M. by the AP in 1940.
18) Jack Johnson (1934-1940) Rather large at 6-feet-4, 216-pounds, Johnson played all 7 seasons with the Detroit Lions (76 games)…member of 1 NFL championship team, 1935 Lions; played on same line as All-Pros, tackle George Christensen and guard Ox Emerson…scored 2 career TDs, including one on a 60-yard fumble recovery in 1937 against the Cleveland Rams…always a notch below the big time tackles during his era, as he was named honorable mention by the NFL for six straights seasons, 1934-39…First-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1936 and Second-team by I.N.S. twice (1938-39)…in 1939 was Second-team by Collyers and I.N.S. and Honorable mention by Football Writers…1 Pro Bowl (1939).
19) Howard “Cub” Buck (1920-1925) The rather portly, 6-feet, 260-pound Buck started his professional career before the NFL was founded in 1920; playing for the Canton Bulldogs from 1916-1920, alongside Jim Thorpe, Pete Calac and Joe Guyon….he joined the Packers in 1921…played 6 seasons in the NFL (60 games)…would probably be higher if his prime years were in the NFL; known to be the strongest man in pro football during his time…coached by Curly Lambeau in Green Bay, showing a desire to win. Buck couldn’t stand to lose…also kicked, converting 24 XPs and 10 FGs, and was one of the league’s better punters during the early 1920’s…based on newspaper accounts, Buck led the Packers in scoring in 1923 and was credited with having 19 punts in a game against St. Louis in 1923…Elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1977.
“The finest lineman I ever played with or against,” – once said Jim Thorpe, about Cub Buck.
“He knew every rule in the book. And in view of the fact that he had captained the team at Wisconsin and had played some pro football at Canton before he joined us, he was an awful lot of help to Curly with the coaching, particularly concerning line play. And in that line, he was a stone wall.”—Charlie Mathys, former teammate and Packers Hall of Famer.
20) Willie Wilkin (1938-1943, 1946) Huge tackle at 6-4, 260-pounds, Wilkin simply overpowered you at the line of scrimmage- could also run, one newspaper wrote that Wilkin “could run the 100-yard dash in less than 11 seconds”…protected Sammy Baugh, mainly at left tackle (replaced Edwards in 1941). “He was extremely fast for a lineman. He was one of the most valuable players we had,” said Sammy Baugh about Wilkin…member of 1 NFL Championship team, 1942 Redskins…3 Pro Bowls (1940-42)…in 1939-1940 named Honorable mention All-Pro by the NFL…best years were in 1941-1942; was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, AP, and New York Daily News both years…in 1943 Honorable mention by the Detroit Free Press…did join Marine Corp in 1944, then came back to play one more year in 1946.
“(Wilkin) is just about as strong as Samson was reported to be- maybe stronger.”—wrote Collier’s magazine.
21) Gus Sonnenberg (1923, 1925-1928, 1930) The shortest tackle on the list is Sonnenberg, at 5-feet-6, 196-pounds, the man they called “Gus,” played 6 seasons in the NFL for 4 teams, playing mostly for the Providence Steam Roller (3 of those years). A former pro wrestling champion, Sonnenberg was a tough opponent, willing to knock anybody down to open a hole; well known for his trademark “flying tackle” technique…Member of the 1928 Steam Roller squad that won the NFL Championship, helping open holes for All-Pro backs George “Wildcat” Wilson and Curly Oden…also kicked at times, making 18 career FGs and 33 XPs. In 1925 with Detroit, had great two weeks in October (11th, 18th), kicking FGs to defeat Frankford (3-0) and Dayton (6-0, both FGs)…Scored only career TD when playing for Columbus in 1923, a 1-yard run in a 27-3 victory over the Oorang Indians…First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Guy Chamberlin and in 1925 by the Ohio State Journal and Green Bay Press-Gazette…In 1927 was named First Team again by the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Second-team by coach Leroy Andrews…In 1925 NFL President Joe Carr named him Second-team…In 1928 was First-team by the Chicago Tribune and Second-team by the NFL and GBPG…Carl Storck, manager of the Dayton Triangles and NFL Vice-President, said Gus “is one mighty sweet athlete.”
“Sonnenberg is a veteran pro footballer who made a great comeback when he changed from Detroit to Providence. The Steamroller is a superb lineman and often galloped down the field faster than his ends. In addition to this he is quite some kicker.” —wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette, in naming Sonnenberg First-team All-Pro in 1927.
22) Armand Niccola (1934-1942) The 6-2, 226-pound Niccola was one of the most underrated players during his era, simply because his team always lost. Niccola played 9 seasons (97 games) with the Pittsburgh Pirates-Steelers. Had only 1 winning season with Pittsburgh- in 1942- went 7-4 (overall record was 29-69-4)…Durable and strong tackle…Named honorable mention by the NFL three times (1935-36, 1938)…Second-team All-Pro twice by the UPI (1935-36) and Third-team by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1935…very versatile, kept with team as a kicker, making 34 career FGs and 71 XPs; twice he led the NFL in FGs made in 1935 (6) and 1936 (7), and finished second in 1940 (6 made; Clarke Hinkle first with 9). Would also kickoff…After playing days were over had a successful career as a high school coach in the Pittsburgh area.
23) Tony Blazine (1935-1941) Similar to Niccola, the 6-0, 232-pound Blazine didn’t win too many games, playing 7 seasons (73 games) in the NFL with six of them with the Chicago Cardinals (one with the Giants, 1941). His overall record with the Cards was 19-43-6. Did play in the 1941 NFL Championship Game with Giants (lost 37-9)…Described by sportswriters as a little “chubby” Blazine became well respected for his toughness and blocking skills…In 1935 was named Second-team All-Pro by the NFL; then named Honorable mention by NFL three times (1937-39)…also Honorable mention by Football Writers in 1938-1939…scored 1 career TD, against the Bears in 1938 (lost 16-13) on a fumble recovery…In 1963 after Blazine passed away, former NFL tackle Lou Rymkus was quoted as saying he “rates Blazine the greatest tackle he has watched perform.”
24) Frank Cope (1938-1947) Built like a brick wall, the 6-2, 225-pounds Cope played 10 years with the New York Giants (98 games), mostly at left tackle…member of 1 NFL Championship team, 1938 Giants…First-team All-Pro in 1944 by UPI, Pro Football Illustrated, and I.N.S. and in 1945 by the AP…Second Team by I.N.S. in 1940; UPI in 1945; and by the New York Daily News in 1944-1945…Honorable mention by the NFL in 1942…Cope was a master at blocking kicks-punts.
“Morgan climaxed a great season by playing super-ball in the championship game against the Bears. Morgan is a lively customer on the defense and he seemed to have a super sense when it comes to solving plays.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette in naming Morgan First-team All-Pro in 1934.
“Bill Morgan again earned All-American recognition for his performance at tackle with New York. He was the slashing type of forward and generally spent a lot of time in the opponents’ backfield. Morgan started off at a fast clip and gained speed as the season went on. On offense, Coach Steve Owen used him as the ace hole maker and he seldom left anything standing up.”—wrote the Green Bay Press-Gazette the following year in 1935.
26) Hugh Blacklock (1920-1926) Tall and thick at 6-0, 220-pounds, Blacklock played 7 years in the NFL (59 games) with six of them at tackle for the Chicago Bears (one with Brooklyn in 1926)…After college he went into the Navy for WWI, then in 1919 played for Hammond All-Stars with Halas, pre-NFL…Played right tackle (started all 11 games) and was member of the 1921 Chicago Staleys that won the NFL Championship…First-team All-Pro by the Rock Island Argus in 1920 and by George Halas in 1922…Named honorable mention in 1922 by Guy Chamberlin…like fellow tackle Ed Healey he played on the famous 1925-1926 Red Grange-Bears barnstorming tour.
“Henry of Canton, and Blacklock of the Staleys, have no peers in the professional field with all the angles of the game considered…Blacklock was less sensational than Henry, but a terror to all opponents within his reach. His perfect condition told, too.”—wrote Bruce Copeland, sports editor, Rock Island Argus, naming Blacklock First-team All-Pro in 1920.
27) Fred Gillies (1920-1926, 1928) Played before the NFL was founded with Cornell-Hamburgs and the Hammond All-Stars in 1919 against the Canton Bulldogs (Nov. 27th) with Jim Thorpe- teammate of George Halas and Paddy Driscoll…One of the early good tackles in the APFA-NFL era, the 6-3, 218-pound Gillies played 8 seasons (71 games) with the Chicago Cardinals.- although he only played 1 game in 1928 as he was the head coach (had 1-5 record). Helped opened holes for All-Pro back Paddy Driscoll…Won 1 NFL Championship with Cardinals, 1925…Nicknamed “Boo,” Gillies was very good at run blocking; started out playing left tackle, but mostly played on the right side…Named Second-team All-Pro by George Halas in 1922 (Bears played against the Cardinals twice that year, defeating the Bears both times) and by the Canton Daily News in 1923.
“I have found him (Gillies) to be a great team player who respects everyone’s opinion and who had the ability to form any group of players into a working and winning team.”—said Red Grange about Gillies in 1961.
28) Ed Kolman (1940-1942, 1946-1947, 1949) Kolman played 6 years in the NFL (66 games) with 2 teams- the Bears for five and the Giants for one…Nicknamed “Big Ed,” Kolman had his career interrupted by the War, when he joined the Navy…the 6-2, 232-pound tackle (mostly playing the left side) was a key contributor to the great Bears teams of the early 1940s (playing on the same line with Stydahar, Fortmann, Turner)...Member of 2 NFL Championship teams with Bears, 1940-1941…Honorable mention All-Pro by the NFL in 1940 and 1942, while earning Second-team honors in 1941…Named Second-team All-Pro by UPI in 1940 and by the New York Daily News in 1941-1942…I.N.S. named him First-team in 1942…intelligent player on the field, that when after career was over, became a long-time offensive line coach with the Giants
“Maybe there are better tackles in the league than Ed Kolman and Bruiser Kinard but we doubt it.”—wrote Jack Mahon of I.N.S. when naming Kolman First-team All-Pro in 1942.
“(Kolman) was a feisty guy who’d give you 100 percent.”—said Luke Johnsos to the Chicago Tribune in 1963 about Kolman.
29) John Mellus (1938-1941, 1946-1949) Compact at 6-0, 214-pounds, Mellus played 4 years with the New York Giants (41 games) before joining the service for WWII…he came back to play in the AAFC for San Francisco and Brooklyn….but his four years with the Giants gets him on the list…Member of the 1938 New York Giants that won the NFL Championship…although he didn’t start for the Giants in 1938 he made the Pro Bowl; making another one in 1941…First-team All-Pro in 1941 by Collyers and AP…Named Second-team in 1939 by Football Writers, I.N.S. and the New York Daily News; and by the NFL for two years, 1940-1941…Also named First-team by the Chicago Herald-Examiner in 1939 and Second-team in 1941…scored 1 career TD, returning a fumble 21-yards to help beat the Redskins, 21-7, in 1940 (a year that the Redskins only lost 2 games in the regular season).
31) Russ Hathaway (1920-1927) Built like a bowling ball, the 5-11, 238-pound Hathaway played eight NFL seasons for 5 teams (64 games)…In 1919 before the NFL was founded Hathaway played a few games at tackle-guard for Pine Village…His best NFL years were with the Dayton Triangles (1920-1924) and the Pottsville Maroons (1925-1926)…Played in 2 games with the 1922 Canton Bulldogs that won the NFL Championship…Known to be very powerful and fast, Hathaway was a member of the 1925 Pottsville Maroons that nearly won the NFL title, he started all 12 games, mostly at left tackle…Named First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Guy Chamberlin who named him Honorable mention the year before, 1922…Second Team by George Halas in 1922 and by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1923…also a kicker, making 10 career FGs and 28 XPs (scoring 58 career points). In 1921 he kicked a 20-yard FG to defeat Akron Pros, 3-0, snapping the Pros 19-game unbeaten streak and cost them a chance at winning back-to-back APFA-NFL championships.
“Hathaway, the other wingman, tips the beam at 240…His speed is not interfered with by his immense bulk and he gets down under kicks with amazing speed.”—wrote the Shamokin News-Dispatch, Oct. 20, 1926.
“Hathaway is a good enough tackle for any man’s team.”—wrote the Pottsville Republican, 1926.
32) Chet Adams (1939-1943, 1945-1950) Adams played five years for two teams- Cleveland, Green Bay- before joining the Marines during WWII (total of 52 games). He played 6 more years after that. Will focus more on his first five years before the War…the 6-3, 233-pound Adams made 2 Pro Bowls with Cleveland Rams, 1941-1942, playing mainly left tackle and sometimes playing next to All-Pro guard Riley Matheson…also kicked making 39 XPs and 6 FGs during these five seasons…Second-team All-Pro by the NFL (1942); AP (1942-1943); I.N.S. (1940), Collyers (1941) and New York Daily News (1940, 1943)…Honorable mention twice by the AP (1940-41) and once by the NFL (1941).
“Adams was the most versatile and hard-worked tackle in the league. He was shifted from one side of the Green Bay line to the other and received little rest during the tough season.”— wrote the Detroit Free Press on naming Adams First-team All-Pro in 1943.
“Now this same ‘Steamer’ is out there with the Toledo Maroons and is playing his old game of tackle, which is said to be one of the very best in the country.”—wrote the Fremont (OH) News-Messenger, Oct. 6, 1923.
“In Steamer Horning, captain of the team, the Detroit Heralds claim to have one of the greatest offensive tackles in the game today.”—wrote the Dayton Herald, Dec. 4, 1919.
34) Milo “Lou” Lubratovich (1931-1935) The 6-2, 230-pound Lubratovich played 5 years (53 games) in the NFL, all with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A stalwart for the Dodgers at left tackle, Lubratovich was consistently the team’s best lineman…First-team All-Pro in 1932 by the Green Bay Press-Gazette (along with Hubbard and G. Christensen)…in 1933 named honorable mention by the NFL.
35) Lee Artoe (1940-1942, 1945-1948) Artoe is another tackle, like Chet Adams and Ed Kolman, who had their early years interrupted by the War when he joined the Navy…The 6-3, 234-pound Artoe was another mainstay on the Bears front line (Fortmann, Musso, Kolman, Turner, Stydahar)…gained reputation of being a tough, hard player to play against, some say he was rather “mean on the field”…Member of 2 NFL Championship teams with Bears, 1940-41…best year was in 1942 when he was named First-team All-Pro by the NFL, AP, New York Daily News and Second-team by I.N.S…in 1940 he was named honorable mention by the NFL and AP; while in 1941 named by NFL, AP and Collyers…selected to 3 straight Pro Bowls (1940-1942)…in 1942 NFL Championship Game against the Redskins had a 50-yard fumble return for a TD- although the Bears would go on to lose, 14-6…excellent kicker, who booted a Bears record 52-yard field goal against the Giants in 1942 (Oct. 27th), the record lasted until 1975 when Bob Thomas kicked a 55-yarder.
“He was a real tough guy, a real hitter. He played both sides of the ball for us and even kicked for us. That was Lee Artoe.”—said Ken Kavanaugh, former Bears end and teammate, in 2005.
Here are three players who I wanted to get on the list but just couldn’t fit them—
Al Blozis (1942-1944) Gentle giant, Blozis stood 6-feet-6, 250-pounds. He played just 3 years with the Giants and only 23 games. But made an immediate and lasting impact. When on the field, truly dominated the line of scrimmage, both on offense and defense. In 1943, just his second season, was named First-team All-Pro by UPI, Pro Football Illustrated and AP…life was cut down when killed in France during World War II, he was just 26 years old…thought so highly of, he was named to the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team.
Century Milstead (1925-1928) The 6-1, 213-pound Milstead took the NFL by storm with the New York Giants in 1925, making First-team All-Pro as a guard, Collyers. Then in 1926 signed with the Philadelphia Quakers of the rival AFL, teaming with fellow tackle Bull Behman to help the Quakers to the title…after the league folded returned to the Giants to play just two more seasons (1927-1928), playing tackle. In 1927 was named First Team by the Chicago Tribune and Second-team by the Green Bay Press-Gazette and helped the Giants win the 1927 NFL Championship (on the line with Hubbard, Nesser, Stahlman and Owen).
George Musso - listed on the Guard list…played his first four seasons at tackle for the Bears (1933-1936); excelling at tackle too; making First-team All-Pro by Brooklyn Eagle in 1933 and NFL, Collyers, and Chicago Daily News in 1935…helped the Bears win the 1933 NFL Championship…elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
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 tackles:
Pete “Fats” Henry
Best of the Rest:
1) Ralph Scott (1921-1927)
2) Boni Petcoff (1924-1926)
3) Bub Weller (1923-1928)
4) Walt “Speed” Ellis (1924-1927)
5) Russ Stein (1922, 1924-1926)
6) Paul Jappe (1925-1928)
7) Ed Weir (1926-1928)
8) Roger Ashmore (1926-1929)
9) Don Murry (1922, 1924-1932)
10) Bill Kern (1929-1930)
11) Jap Douds (1930-1934)
12) Herb Blumer (1925-30, 1933)
13) Lou Gordon (1930-1938)
14) “Tiny” Engebretsen (1932-1941)
15) Lloyd Burdick (1931-1933)
16) Harold Ely (1932-1934)
17) Harry Field (1934-1936)
18) Jim MacMurdo (1932-1937)
19) Ade Schwammel (1934-1936, 1943-1944)
20) Ernie Smith (1935-1937, 1939)
23) Al Babartsky (1938-1939, 1941, 1943-1945)
24) Phil Regazzo (1938-1941, 1945-1947)
25) Bill Young (1937-1942, 1946)
Mostly After WW II or Career Interrupted by War:
26) Vic Sears (1941-1943, 1945-1953)
29) Chet Bulger (1942-1950)
30) Joe Coomer (1941, 1945-1949)