Friday, July 19, 2019

The Top Quarterbacks—Pre-WWII

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 GBPG, Pottsville 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),, Pro Football Reference, and more contributed mightily to the rankings.

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

This era started out as mostly single-wing quarterbacks-tailbacks that transformed into the T-Formation quarterbacks (starting around 1940). Early players who played the quarterback or blocking back position were asked to do just that, they would block, and on occasion threw a pass or punt. Lastly, they would be asked to run the ball, or go out on a pass route. Usually they were also asked to kick field goals and extra points.

When the T-Formation came in, the quarterback became even more of a passing “weapon.” “The most essential element of a pro quarterback is to be, number one a great passer. Because no matter how smart you are, how great a leader, no matter what you know about football, if you can’t throw under pressure, you’re never going to be a great quarterback,” once said Sid Luckman, Bears Hall of Fame quarterback. The position then would morph into the quarterback position we see today.
Here is the list of the Top 30 Pre-WWII quarterbacks:

1)    Sammy Baugh (1937-1952) Nicknamed “Slingin’ Sammy,” the slender, 6-2, 182-pound Baugh was simply the best quarterback of the NFL’s two-way era. Nobody threw a better pass and from more angles than the former TCU star. Drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round in 1937…Played 16 NFL seasons (165 games), all with the Redskins…dominated his position playing out of the single-wing (played T-Formation QB starting in 1944)…won 2 NFL championships, 1937, 1942 and played in 3 more, losing in 1940, 1943, 1945…won first title as a rookie in 1937…Led NFL in passing (rating) 6 times- still a record (tied by Steve Young)…Led the NFL in completions 5 times; passing yards 4 times and passing TDs twice (1940, 1947)…twice set NFL record for completion percentage for a single season, in 1940 (62.7) and again in 1945 by completing 70.3%, which lasted until 1982 when Ken Anderson broke it with 70.6…was first QB to threw 6 TDs in a game against Brooklyn in 1943 (Oct. 31)…NFL 1940s All-Decade Team…Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963…NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team…After Baugh retired following the 1952 NFL season, he held every career passing record: attempts (2,995); completions (1,693); passing yards (21,886); TD passes (187)…also a great punter, that could change field position in a flash, a career average of 45.1 was an NFL record for over 60 years; led NFL in punting average 4 times…Named First-team All-Pro by NFL-AP 4 times (1937, 1940, 1942, 1943); by New York Daily News 4 times; by UP 3 times; by I.N.S. and AP 2 times; and once by the Detroit Free Press and Pro Football Illustrated (both in 1943)…Second-team by NFL in 1942; by UP twice (1938, 1941); by I.N.S. in 1940 and by Collyers in 1938 and 1941…Honorable Mention by NFL twice, 1938, 1941 and by UP in 1944.

Baugh’s Best Season, 1943: Led the NFL in passing, punting and interceptions on defense with 11, which set an NFL record (although he did not win NFL MVP, losing to Sid Luckman)…he had arguably the greatest single-game performance in history: on Nov. 14 in a 42-20 win over the Detroit Lions, Baugh fired four touchdown passes, intercepted four passes and got off an 81-yard punt, the longest of the year in the NFL. He guided the Redskins to the Eastern Division title with a 6-3-1 record. Once again he would be outdone by Luckman in the NFL Championship Game, losing 41-21.
“Sammy Baugh is the best player ever. He was so automatic that he hardly ever looked at his receivers. He was the nearest thing to perfection.”—Sid Luckman, former Bears Hall of Fame quarterback.

“He was the best passer I ever saw. He could do everything. He could pass, he could play defense, and he was the best punter.”—Ace Parker, former Hall of Fame quarterback.

“Baugh was the best as far as I’m concerned. He could not only throw the ball. He could play defense, he could punt the football, he ran it when he had to. He knew football, played it, and everybody had confidence in him.”—Bill Dudley, former Hall of Fame back.

“Sammy Baugh, oh, he was brilliant. One of the best quarterbacks that ever played.”—Ralph Kercheval, former Dodgers All-Pro back.

“(Baugh) would cock the ball, bring it down, and drift off as if about to run, coach again, make a mock throw to one side, and shoot a touchdown to the other. I have seen him make bullet-like throws with his tremendous wrist action as he was nailed by a hard tackle and falling.”—Steve Owen former Giants Hall of Fame coach.

2)    Sid Luckman (1939-1950) The perfect signal-caller for the T-Formation during this era. Was first-round pick in 1939. The 6-0, 197-pound Luckman played 12 seasons (128 games) in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears. His peak years in this era (6 seasons) was just as good any player, regardless of position…Member of 3 NFL Championship squads with the Bears, 1940-1941, 1943 (won a 4th in 1946)- he beat Baugh twice in ’40, ’43 (lost to him in ’42)…just a pure winner, from 1939-1944 his Bears teams went 51-11-2…helped usher in the T-Formation as the predominate offense in the NFL by helping the Bears defeat the Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 title game…tremendous athlete, maybe not the pure passer like Baugh but could make all the throws, very good throwing deep; able ball handler and fakes…”I’ve never seen a player who worked as hard as Luckman. When everyone else left the practice field, he stayed on. He practiced pivoting and ball-handling by the hour. When he went to his room at night, he stood before a mirror and practiced still more. He became a great player simply because he devoted about 400 percent more effort to it than most athletes are willing to do,” once said George Halas about Luckman…Threw 5 TD passes in 1943 championship game and had 2 interceptions on defense…Won Joe F. Carr NFL MVP Award in 1943 (beating out Baugh’s great all-around year) when he led the league in passing yards (2,194) and passing TDs with 28, both new single-season records- the TD mark lasted until 1959 when Johnny Unitas threw 32…NFL 1940’s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1965…from 1940-1944 had 16 career interceptions on defense…was the first player in NFL history to threw for 7 TDs in a game against Giants in 1943; also set passing yards in a single game that day with 433 yards…Named First-team All-Pro by NFL in 1941-1942 and by the AP in 1941-1944; by NYDN in 1941-1944; by UP in 1943 and by I.N.S. in 1942, 1944; also by Pro Football Illustrated in 1943-1944…one of the few QBs of his era that had more TDs (137) than INTs (132); in the postseason had 7-4 ratio…  
Years: 1939-1944
Sammy Baugh
Sid Luckman

Games (reg.)
60 games
61 games
Games (post)
4 games
5 games

Attempts (reg.)
1,076 att.
725 att.
Attempts (post)
63 att.
63 att.

Completions (reg.)
617 comp. (57%)
377 comp. (52%)
Completions (post)
39 comp. (61%)
36 comp. (57%)

Passing Yards (reg.)
7,248 yards
6,994 yards
Passing Yards (post)
489 yards
577 yards

TDs-INTs (reg.)
71 TDs/76 INTs
67 TDs/56 INTs
TDs-INTs (post)
4 TDs/7 INTs
6 TDs/2 INTs

Rushing TDs:
1 TD (0 in post)
3 TD (1 in post)

NFL Championships:
1940, 1941, 1943


On defense- INTs:
27 INTs (3 in post)
16 INTs (2 in post)


Wins-Losses (post)

3-3 (1-2 post)
3-3 (2-1 post)
Although Luckman got the best of Baugh in two of three championship games- and bested him in the 1943 MVP race- in the end, Baugh was slightly better as a defensive back and much better as a punter to grab the top spot.

3)    Paddy Driscoll (1920-1929) The best all-around back that played in the 1920s. The 5-11, 160-pound Driscoll played for the Hammond Clabbys (1917) and Hammond All-Stars (1919) before the NFL; then played 10 seasons (118 games) in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals (1920-1925) and the Decatur Staleys-Chicago Bears (1920, 1926-1929). Triple threat player on offense and a flawless defender, and to top it off was the game’s best kicker for almost a decade. “He was the greatest athlete I ever knew,”  once said George Halas about Driscoll…skilled at the drop-kick- once booting one from 50-yards in 1924 against Milwaukee…smart, intelligent player, a coach on the field…great athlete, played one year with the Chicago Cubs (1917)…Member of the 1925 Chicago Cardinals that won the NFL Championship; that season finished 2nd in league with 67 points (Charlie Berry, 74) and led in FGs made with 11…after that season Driscoll was sold to the Chicago Bears…Named First-team All-Pro by the Rock Island Argus in 1920; by Guy Chamberlin in 1922-1923; George Halas in 1922;  by Collyers in 1923, 1925-26; by Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1925-1927; Chicago Tribune in 1926-1928 and by the Ohio State Journal in 1925…Second-team by GBPG in 1924 and 1928 and by NFL President Joe Carr in 1925…NFL 1920’s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965…Inducted into Cardinals Ring of Honor in 2006.

Kicker/Scorer: Driscoll dominated kicking stats during his career. Finished career with NFL record 402 points (broke by Hutson with 542)…set NFL record with 51 career FGs (broke by Bob Waterfield with 60)…set NFL record with points in a season with 78 in 1923; three years later broke that record by scoring 86 points (broken by Hutson in 1941 with 95 points)…First player in NFL history to kick 4 FGs in a game in 1925 (Oct. 11) against Columbus, a 19-9 victory…in his 10 years in the NFL unofficially scored 34 total TDs (28 rush.; 4 rec.; 1 punt ret.; 1 fumble rec.).

“Another great back of that time who should also be remembered was Paddy Driscoll. Paddy was a runner, a passer and a great dropkicker. He could drop-kick it through the uprights from anywhere from 50-yard line in. And he was a good defensive player as well.”—Red Grange, told author Richard Whittingham.

“The greatest quarterback I have ever seen.”—Walter Camp on Driscoll.

“There is no more intelligent player in pro football than Paddy. He handles punts unerringly, excels at the aerial game, and his accuracy in punting and drop-kicking has never been surpassed. He is the final word as a triple threat performer.”—wrote Wilfred Smith of the Chicago Tribune, in naming Driscoll First-team All-Pro in 1926.

4)    Arnie Herber (1930-1940, 1944-1945) A stocky, powerful passer, the 5-11, 203-pound Herber played 13 NFL seasons with the Giants, but mostly with the Packers (11 years)…Because of short fingers and pudgy hands Herber gripped the ball with his thumb over the laces, helped him throw long passes without a wiggle. Mainly throwing out of a tailback spot in Lambeau’s Notre Dame box offense, Herber thrived in passing downfield. “Herber is the best long passer ever,” once said Curly Lambeau….threw 81 career TD passes, including 31 that were 30-yards or more…at one point held all the NFL career passing marks, until Baugh passed him; career stats: attempts (1,175), completions (481), yards (8.041) and TDs (81)…Helped the Packers win 2 NFL Championships, 1936, 1939…threw 4 TD passes in four career playoff games; including two in the 1936 game, a 21-6 victory over the Redskins…Named to NFL 1930s All-Decade Team…Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966…Named First-team All-Pro in 1932 by the NFL (HB) and UP; and in 1935 by Collyers…Second-team by NFL in 1935-1936; Collyers in 1932, 1936; and by GBPG in 1935…Honorable Mention by NFL in 1933 and 1937 and by the Football Writers in 1939…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1972…durable player, played in 129 NFL games…Led the NFL in attempts, completions and TD passes 3 times, 1932, 1934 and 1936…finished in top 5 in TD passes 9 times…elected to 1 Pro Bowl, 1939….not an effective runner, only 3 rushing TDs.

“Herber’s touchdown passes can be as demoralizing as a Ruthian home run. He has the uncanny knack of arching a long pass so that the receiver simply races to the spot, makes the catch and speeds on without breaking stride.”—Clark Shaughnessy, on Herber

5) Benny Friedman (1927-1934) The first pure passing quarterback in the NFL. “No football team can be successful in these days without a good forward passer. The time when a ground attack could carry a team to successive victories has gone forever. To make a running attack successful a passing attack is needed to spread the defense,” wrote Friedman in his 1931 book “The Passing Game”…The 5-10, 183-pound Friedman played 8 seasons (81 games) with 4 different teams- Cleveland, Detroit, N.Y. Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Just a great passer…set NFL record with 20 TD passes in 1929 (broken in 1942 by Cecil Isbell with 24)…Led NFL in passing TDs four consecutive years, 1927-1930…his 66 career TD passes set an NFL record (broken by Herber)…First player to threw 5 TDs in a single game against Frankford in 1930 (Oct. 19)…could run when he wanted to, had 18 career TDs, including 6 in 1928…In 1928 Led the NFL in scoring with 55 points and XPs with 19…made 71 career XPs…only blemish on resume— he did not win a NFL championship; came close in 1929 when he guided the Giants to a 13-1-1 record but lost out to the Packers (12-0-1) by one game…First-team All-Pros- Green Bay Press-Gazette: 4 times (1927-1930); NFL: 3 times (1928-1930); Chicago Tribune: 3 times (1927-1929);  twice by Collyers (1929-1930) and Roy Andrews (1927, 1929); once each in 1930 by the Milwaukee Sentinel, Red Grange, and Ernie Nevers…after decades was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

“Friedman was the first of the great precision passers, the forerunner of the Sammy Baughs and Y.A. Tittles.”—Joe “Doc” Alexander, former All-Pro center, said in 1964.

“Until Friedman came along, the pass was used as a desperation weapon in long-yardage situations on third down- or when your team was hopelessly behind. Benny demonstrated that the pass could be mixed with running plays as an integral part of the offense.” – George Halas, former Bears end and Hall of Fame coach.

“They talk about great passers today, but remember that the football has been changed three times since the early 1930s, and each time it has been made narrower and the axis pulled in. Anybody could throw today’s football. You go back to Benny Friedman playing with the New York Giants in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He threw that old balloon. Now who’s to tell what Benny Friedman might do with this modern football. He’d probably be the greatest passer that ever lived.” – Red Grange, former Bears Hall of Fame halfback.

“Friedman was the first pro I was conscious of strictly as a passer. The pass in those days was a third-down play. Friedman, who was probably ahead of his time, would throw on first down and was criticized for it.” – Wellington Mara, Giants Hall of Fame owner.

6)  Joseph “Red” Dunn (1924-1931) The man they called “Red” was the main engine that helped the Green Bay Packers win 3 straight NFL Championships, 1929-1931…also was on the 1925 Chicago Cardinals championship team (4 total titles)…the 5-11, 177-pound Dunn could do everything within Lambeau’s offense while with the Packers; was best known for his passing; overshadowed by Friedman in passing game…on defense was a sure tackler and ballhawk; as well as returned punts…after playing his first three seasons with Milwaukee and the Chicago Cardinals, joined the Packers in 1927 and would play 8 NFL seasons total (92 games)…in 1925 with the Cardinals threw 9 TD passes…had best year in 1930 with Packers, throwing a career-high 11 TD passes in championship year, including tossing 3 to defeat Frankford (Nov. 27th) on Thanksgiving…he followed that up with 8 TD passes in 1931…unofficially counted for 48 career TD passes; twice he tossed 3 scores in a single game…also ran for 5 TDs and caught one…excellent kicker, converted 75 XPs and 13 FGs; scored 150 career points…First-team All-Pro in 1930 by the NFL and Red Grange…Second Team by the NFL in 1931; by Collyers in 1924 and 1930; by Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1930 by the UP in 1931…Honorable Mention by the GBPG in 1929…Elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1976. Just a notch below Friedman during his era (won more games than Benny) but can make a strong case to be a Hall of Famer.

“He was a very good passer and very good signal caller. He had charge of the team on the field and was a leader.” – Mike Michalske, former teammate and Hall of Fame guard.

“Red Dunn could throw the ball as well as anybody at the time. Benny Friedman was considered the best pro passer then, because he had the big college reputation, but every time we played the (NY) Giants, Red outplayed Benny as far as I’m concerned.” – Johnny “Blood” McNally, former teammate and Packers Hall of Fame back, told author Ralph Hickok.

7)     Cecil Isbell (1938-1942) The tall, athletic Isbell (6-1, 190) played just 5 seasons in the NFL (54 games), all with the Green Bay Packers. His short tenure was one of excellence as he thrived in Lambeau’s passing offense (tailback position). “Isbell was a master at any range. He could throw soft passes, bullet passes, or long passes,” once said Curly Lambeau…Played career with a chain attached from his body under his pads so he couldn’t raise his left arm too high- if he did he would dislocate his shoulder out of place…Compared to some of his contemporaries, Isbell was known as a better passer than Sid Luckman and a better runner than Sammy Baugh….strong passer who made all the throws; took over passing offense from Herber. On film one of best throws was the out route, had great timing with Don Hutson…Member of the Packers team that won the 1939 NFL Championships; where he threw 1 TD pass in the 27-0 victory over the Giants…Highly thought of, named to NFL 1930’s All-Decade Team- Isbell is the only All-Decade QB not in the Hall of Fame…made 4 Pro Bowls, 1938-1939, 1941-1942…in his 54 career games threw 61 TDs…excellent runner, rushed for 10 career TDs- eclipses Baugh (9), Luckman (4) and Herber (3) and over 1,5000 yards; led the Packers in rushing in 1938-1939 (beating out Clarke Hinkle)…great 2-year stretch where in 1941 led NFL in attempts, completions, passing yards with 1,479- set a new NFL record- and TDs with 15…had better year in 1942 when he led league in completions (146), passing yards (2,021) and TDs with 24- all new NFL single-season records- helping All-Pro receiver Don Hutson win NFL MVP…Named First-team All-Pro by UP in 1938 and 1941; by NFL in 1941-1942; by New York Daily News in 1941-1942, and by Collyers in 1941…Second-team by NFL, 1938, 1940; by UP in 1940; by I.N.S. in 1938-39, 1942; and by NYDN in 1938, 1940…Elected to Packers Hall of Fame in 1972.
“I worked with another great passer at Green Bay, Cecil Isbell, he would be in the Hall of Fame today if he hadn’t quit playing football so early. If he stayed in the NFL his name would be all over the record books and they would talk of him in the same terms they do of Luckman and Baugh.”- Don Hutson, told author Richard Whittingham.

“Played a couple of years with Cecil. In my book, he ranks along the side of Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh. He had a nice soft pass, he was a pinpoint passer, he could pass to a spot. He was a beautiful passer.”- Clarke Hinkle, former Packers Hall of Fame fullback.

“Arnie Herber is just a passer…But this Isbell is a passer, kicker, runner and a line bucker… Green Bay’s attack is three times more potent now than it has been in recent years and the answer is Isbell.”- George Halas said in 1938 about Herber.

8)     Jimmy Conzelman (1920-1929) The 6-0, 175-pound Conzelman was a versatile player with 5 teams during a 10-year career (102 games). Playing for Decatur, Rock Island, Milwaukee, Detroit and Providence. Great leader, he was player-coach for nine of those ten years…Named to NFL 1920’s All-Decade Team…had career game in 1922, despite an inferior opponent, scoring 5 rushing TDs against the Evansville Crimson Giants- he followed that up by rushing for two TDs the following week to defeat Rochester, 26-0. That’s 7 rushing scores in two games…Player-Coach of the 1928 Providence Steam Roller who won the NFL championship…unofficially scored 29 total TDs in career (16 runs; 1 KOR, 1 INT return); excellent receiver as 11 of them came in the passing game…Named First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Guy Chamberlin and Canton Daily News…Second Team in 1923 by Green Bay Press-Gazette and in 1925 by Collyers…Honorable mention in 1922 by Chamberlin…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964.

9)     Ace Parker (1937-1941, 1945-1946) One of the best all-around athletes to play the quarterback position. The 6-0, 178-pound Parker played major league baseball for 2 seasons with the Philadelphia A’s; while also playing 6 seasons in the NFL with 2 teams, Brooklyn and Boston. Finished career playing one season in the AAFC in 1946 after the war- which he lost three prime years…very versatile, could run, pass and play defense with the best of them; tough as nails on the field. In the passing game was very instinctive- like Baugh- and was creative who could impact the game…played first three seasons under Potsy Clark, but played his best as a pro for two years under Jock Sutherland in 1940-1941…great year in 1940; won NFL Joe F. Carr MVP Award; was 2nd in NFL in passing TDs with 10 (Baugh- 12); 3rd in punting; and 1st in extra points made (19) and was tied for 1st in interceptions on defense with 6; he led the NFL in interceptions return yards (146); while guiding Brooklyn to an 8-3 record, one game back of the Eastern Division champions Redskins….First-team All-Pro in 1938 by NFL, I.N.S., UP, Football Writers, Ray Flaherty and New York Daily News; in 1939 by Football Writers and Collyers; in 1940 by NFL, I.N.S., Collyers and NYDN…Second-team by NFL in 1939; by I.N.S. in 1937, 1939; by Collyers in 1938, and by NYDN in 1939…Honorable Mention by the NFL in 1941…had 22 career passing TDs, 10 rushing, 3 receiving, 2 on interception returns and 1 on a punt return; also punted and kicked 25 extra points…Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.  

“I’ll tell you the best I ever saw: Ace Parker… He could punt, he could pass, he could run, he could play defense. I mean, he could do it all.” – Sammy Baugh on Parker.

“Parker could throw the ball. He could kick. He could call signals. He could do all those things.” – Hank Soar, former Giants Pro Bowl back.

10)  Ed Danowski (1934-1939, 1941) Maybe not quite as gifted a passer as Baugh or Herber during his time, the 6-1, 198-pound Danowski made up for it with great leadership and accuracy. He played 7 NFL seasons (71 games), all with the New York Giants…Played 1940 season with the Jersey City Giants…Helped guide the Giants to two NFL Championships, 1934, 1938…1 Pro Bowl, 1938…threw 37 career TD passes; rushed for 4…had best statistical year in 1935, led NFL in attempts (113), completions (57), yards (794) and TDs (10)…also led NFL in passing completion percentage twice (1934-35)…highly accurate during his career, completed 48.5 % of passes (Herber at 40.9; Parker at 46.7; Isbell at 50.2, Luckman at 51.8; Baugh at 56.5)…Named First-team All-Pro in 1935 by UP, NFL (HB), GBPG, and Collyers; and in 1938 by NFL, UP, Collyers, Football Writers, NYDN and I.N.S….Named Second-team in 1937 by NFL and Collyers…Honorable Mention in 1936 by NFL and in 1937 by NFL and Collyers; coach Ray Flaherty named him Second-team in 1938…in 4 post-season games completed over 50 % of his passes and 4 TDs (team went 2-2)…big-time performer in two NFL Championship Games; in 1934 (Sneakers Game) against the Bears, Danowski had an interception on defense, then during 4th quarter rally, threw 1 TD and rushed for another in the 30-13 victory (had 59 rushing yards on 20 carries)…in the 1938 title game against the Packers, he went 7 of 11 for 74 yards and tossed 2 TDs, including the go-ahead score in the 3rd quarter to defeat Green Bay, 23-17…also threw a TD pass in the 1935 NFL Championship game against the Lions, although they lost (26-7)…During the 1930s threw for 3,688 yards- only Herber threw for more (6,464, unofficial stats since started career in 1930).

“Ed Danowski was a great player. But he didn’t think he was a good player. He was timid. I loved playing with him. He could throw the football, it was like picking it off a table, right in your hands. Hit you right there. He could punt and he could run with the ball.” – Hank Soar, former Giants Pro Bowl back.

“Ed Danowski was one of the finest passers the Giants ever had, and one of the most accurate in football history…Danowski never paid any attention to a rusher. He never took his eyes off his receivers. He threw many a pass which he never saw completed, when rifled the ball he was hit and went down. ”- wrote Steve Owen in his book, My Kind of Football (1952).

11)  Joey Sternaman (1922-1930) The younger brother of former Bears co-owner Dutch Sternaman, the diminutive 5-6, 150-pound “Joey” played much bigger than his smallish size. Joey played one year with Duluth (1923) and in the rival AFL with the Chicago Bulls (1926), but otherwise played most of his NFL career with the Bears (7 years)…playing in the Bears T-Formation, Sternaman did everything well, especially running the offense and calling signals; Sternaman could run, pass and excelled in the kicking game- mostly by dropkicking...he accounted for 18 career FGs and 58 extra points; as well as scoring 26 total TDs in the NFL (101 games)…In 1924 alone he provided the only points in three Bears victories including a 6-0 win over the Cardinals (Oct. 19) by kicking both FGs- he outdueled Paddy Driscoll that game…in 1925 NFL President Joe Carr selected Sternaman over Driscoll for his All-Pro team…in 1926 while playing in the AFL he finished 2nd in scoring with 52 points, on spot ahead of Red Grange (50 points); while leading the league in FGs made with 9…Named First-team All-Pro in 1923 by Canton Daily News; in 1924 by Collyers and Green Bay Press-Gazette, who named him again in 1925…Second Team by Collyers in 1923, 1925 and by the Chicago Tribune in 1926…Honorable Mention by Collyers in 1930.

“When I joined the Bears little Joey Sternaman was the quarterback, and there was never a better one than him. He could run with the ball, he was smart, he could pass, he could kick.”—Red Grange, former teammate and opponent in 1926.

12)  Curly Oden (1925-1928, 1930-1932) A dynamic athlete during his career in pro football staring with the Providence Steam Roller before they joined the NFL. The 5-6, 163-pound Oden then played 7 seasons in the NFL with the Steam Roller (6 years) and Boston Redskins (1932)…excellent at controlling a game, team leader for Steam Roller…had a monster 1926 season in which he scored 10 total TDs (6 rush; 3 punt ret., 1 rec.) of the team’s 13 that season- he scored 60 points- tied for 3rd in NFL…Two years later helped Providence win the 1928 NFL Championship, effecting games with his play. That year against Frankford (Nov. 18th) caught game-winning TD (46 yards) to win 7-0, and then late in the season against Green Bay (Dec. 2) caught a TD pass in 3rd quarter to help tie game 7-7. The tie helped the Steam Roller clinch the NFL title…was electric in returning punts, had 4 career returns for scores…Second-team All-Pro in 1926 by Green Bay Press-Gazette and in 1928 by the NFL, Chicago Tribune and GBPG. Coach Leroy Andrews named him 2nd team in 1927…finished with 17 career TDs.

13)  Keith Molesworth (1931-1937) Nicknamed the “Rabbit” because of his quickness, the 5-9, 167-pound Molesworth played 7 seasons (81 games), all with the Chicago Bears. Played minor league baseball and a few years of semi-pro football with the Ironton Tanks- where Halas saw him play against his Bears- before joining the Bears…Member of 2 NFL championship teams with the Bears, 1932-1933…ran the quarterback spot out of the Bears’ T-Formation…responded well to coaching, first with Halas and especially Ralph Jones’ coaching in system…scored 10 career TDs- including 2 in 1935 to help defeat the Cardinals, 13-0…but excelled in the passing game, tossing 18 career TDs- in those games when he threw a TD the Bears were 15-0…Finished in Top Five in TD passes for 5 straight years (1932-1936)…Named First-team All-Pro in 1932 by GBPG and in 1933 by the Brooklyn Eagle (HB spot)…Second-team in 1932 by NFL, Collyers and UP…Honorable mention in 1933 by NFL…shared time with Carl Brumbaugh and then later with Bernie Masterson in backfield…after playing career finished, went into coaching and scouting…in 1937 Cal Hubbard, Packers great Hall of Fame tackle, picked an all-time team and selected Molesworth (QB) in his backfield with Dutch Clark, Ernie Nevers, and Bronko Nagurski.

“Moley was a very good runner and also a good passer. He was a threat to us all those number of years with the Bears.”—Glenn Presnell, former Spartans-Lions All-Pro back.

“He’s smart and better than two men in the secondary line,”—said Chris Cagle, Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1933, to the Brooklyn Eagle naming Molesworth First-team All-Pro. 

14)  Curly Lambeau (1921-1929) Playing two seasons (1919-1920) before they joined the NFL, the 5-10, 187-pound Lambeau played 9 years (77 games) in the NFL, all with the team he helped founded, the Green Bay Packers. He was also the coach…Either player or coach of 6 NFL championship teams in this era, 1929-1931, 1936, 1939, 1944…played all backfield spots, including quarterback…called plays on field, loved to use the forward pass as a weapon and not as last resort. 

“Curly Lambeau was one of the finest passers that ever lived. Because of him and his concept of the passing game out team was way ahead of the times. Where other pro teams used the pass as a last resort, the Packers employed it as an offensive weapon,” once said Cal Hubbard in 1967. …

Second-team All-Pro by George Halas in 1922 and by the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1923-1924…was excellent passer, his best skilled and he taught it to his backfield players as the key weapon in his Notre Dame box offense, especially in the 1920s…unofficially threw 24 passing TDs; 8 rushing; 3 receiving; kicked 6 FGs and 19 XPs…had best year throwing in 1924 when he tossed 8 TDs- all wins for the Packers…NFL 1920’s All-Decade Team (halfback)…Charter Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 (mainly for coaching)…Selected for Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.

“Curly was rough and rugged. He was a very good passer and a good hard runner, too. He was about 190 pounds, he had the weight and the determination.”—Charlie Mathys, former Packers teammate.

15)  Harry Robb (1921-1923, 1925-1926) Compact for a QB-BB at 5-10, 186-pounds, Robb played 5 years in the NFL (46 games), all for the Canton Bulldogs….he played the 1924 season with the Pottsville Maroons, who hadn’t joined the league yet…A key member of the Canton Bulldogs in 1922-1923 that won back-to-back NFL Championships with an incredible combined record of 21-0-3…had 10 career TDs (6 rush; 4 rec.)…smart, intelligent player, highly thought of by Bulldogs player-coach Guy Chamberlin, naming him First-team All-Pro in both 1922 and 1923, that season named along with J. Sternaman and J. Conzelman as 1st team QBs…tough runner and blocker, worked well in same backfield with “Doc” Elliott, Lou Smyth, “Wooky” Roberts and “Tex” Grigg…was player-coach for Bulldogs in 1925-1926, going 5-13 overall…after playing career was over became an NFL referee-official.

16)  Henry “Two-Bits” Homan (1925-1930) Aptly nicknamed “Two-Bits” the tiny 5-feet-5, 145-pound Homan played 6 years (81 games), all with the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Very elusive, Homan was known for his ability to make defenders miss. Was an excellent receiver and was one of the best kick returners in the NFL’s early years…key member of the Yellow Jackets team that won the 1926 NFL Championship. On Dec. 4th of that year Homan made the biggest play of the year. Down 6-0 to the Bears with less than two minutes remaining Homan caught a 27-yard pass from Hust Stockton to score the game-winning TD, with the extra point the Jackets pulled off a 7-6 miracle win. The win over the Bears proved to the difference in the standings as they held off the Bears with a 14-1-2 record (Bears 12-1-3)…scored 10 career TDs, with 7 of them receiving…underappreciated in the honors department…Named Third-team All-Pro by Collyers in 1926…unofficially listed as having a average of 13.6 yards on punt returns (82 returns), ranking higher than Hall of Famers, George McAfee (12.8) and Jack Christiansen (12.7); had a 70-yard punt return for a TD in 1925 to help defeat Cleveland, 13-7.

“Give me ‘Two-Bits’ and I’ll give you the best football team in the country.”—Red Grange, about Homan in 1969.

17)  Tommy Hughitt (1920-1924) One of the best Pre-NFL signal-callers in pro football. Played for the Detroit Heralds (1917), Youngstown Patricians (1917-1919) then moved to Buffalo to play for the Niagaras (1918) and Prospects (1919)…then the 5-8, 159-pound Hughitt played 5 seasons (56 games) in the NFL, all with Buffalo All-Americans-Bisons….Like many players whose career started before the NFL was founded in 1920, Hughitt was older, being 28-years old that first year…team leader with Buffalo, he was player and head coach. Best player on the team for his career there, had overall coaching record of 34-15-7…always stressed toughness and was a stickler for “proper tackling”…almost led the All-Americans to the 1921 NFL Championships, losing out by one game to Halas’s Chicago Staleys- with a 9-1-2 record, losing only to the Staleys…scored 6 career TDs…Named First-team All-Pro by George Halas in 1922, while Guy Chamberlin named him Honorable Mention…durable player…could pass very well, had 5 career TD passes.

“Hughitt, in addition to being a great passer, wins his position because of his canny field generalship.”—wrote George Halas, naming Hughitt First-team All-Pro in 1922.

18)  Jack Ernst (1925-1930) The 5-11, 180-pound Ernst played 6 years (60 games) for 4 teams, but played his best for the Pottsville Maroons (4 seasons). Known for his passing prowess, Ernst helped guide the Maroons to their best year in 1925, when they almost won the NFL title (broke rule). That season Ernst threw for 8 TDs and scored 3 more- including a punt return to help beat Cleveland. He tossed 3 in one game against a good Frankford squad, leading to a 49-0 victory…Did not get any honors in 1925 due to sharing backfield with backs Walter French, Barney Wentz, and Tony Latone…finished career with 15 TD passes and caught 4 TDs.

19)  Harry Newman (1933-1935) A protégé of Benny Friedman (both played at Michigan), the 5-8, 179-pound Newman played just 3 seasons in the NFL (32 games), all with the New York Giants. Key contributor to the Giants, playing in the NFL’s First Championship Game against the Bears. Had a great title game going 13 of 19 for 209 yards and 2 TDs (had 1 INT); also had 2 punt returns for 36-yards and 2 kickoff returns for 48-yards)…hurt back and missed the last four games of the regular season in 1934 and the NFL Champ. Game (Sneakers Game; Danowski starred)…as a rookie in 1933, dominated the QB position by leading the NFL in attempts (136), completions (53), yards (973) and TDs with 11—closest to him was Glenn Presnell with 6…Despite being a gifted passer, Newman set an NFL record for rushing attempts in a game against the Packers in 1934 (Nov. 11). He ran the ball a whopping 38 times—a mark that wouldn’t be equaled until Jim Nance of the Patriots did it in 1966 and surpassed by O.J. Simpson (39 carries) in 1973…In 1933 named First-team All-Pro by the NFL and Second-team by UP, GBPG and the Brooklyn Eagle…Second-team in 1934 by NFL, UP, and GBPG…scored 6 rushing TDs and 1 kickoff return TD…after a contract dispute with Tim Mara, left the Giants and played in the rival AFL for two seasons, 1936-37…did not play in the NFL again.

“Harry was a sort of Benny Friedman clone, he was short, stocky an indestructible (player) and a very smart quarterback, just like Friedman.”—Wellington Mara, former Giants owner, about Newman.

“I was very impressed by Newman. I thought he was a great quarterback. Good ball faker. I liked him, thought he was a good ballplayer.”—Charles “Ookie” Miller, former Bears All-Pro center.

20)  Benny Boynton (1921-1922, 1924) Nicknamed the “Purple Streak,” the 5-10, 165-pound Boynton was no small player on the gridiron…In 1922 played only 1 game with Rochester, playing minor league baseball, and in 1923 he played for the Pottsville Maroons, who were not in the NFL yet…played 3 seasons in the NFL and just 16 games, but scored 9 career TDs; kicked 22 extra points and 5 field goals…a very swift runner, strong-armed passer and was a very aggressive tackler on defense. Also, good punter and kicker. He had an outstanding year in 1924 with the Buffalo Bisons (6-5 record) throwing 6 TD passes; rushing for 2 and catching 3; while kicking 4 FGs and 11 XPs- scoring 59 total points- finishing 3rd in NFL in scoring- all while playing just 10 games…Named First-team All-Pro in 1921 by the Buffalo News and in 1924 by Collyers and the Green Bay Press-Gazette (HB)…Second-team in 1922 by George Halas…Rochester manager Leo Lyons named Boynton the second greatest football player of his era, behind Jim Thorpe.  

“There was a football player. He could do everything. Brainy? Say he could pick a flaw in the opposition’s defense quicker than any player to ever step into a pair of cleats.”—Leo Lyons, former Jeffersons player and team manager, about Boynton.

21)  Davey O’Brien (1939-1940) The diminutive O’Brien stood only 5-feet-7 and weighed 150-pounds, but knew how to throw the football. Was the fourth overall pick in the 1939 NFL Draft…Because he joined the FBI after the 1940 season, he only played 2 NFL seasons and 22 games for the Philadelphia Eagles. His teams loved to throw as he Led the NFL in passing yards in 1939 and in attempts and completions in 1940…Named First-team All-Pro in 1939 by the NFL, over Baugh and Parker….Second-team in 1939 by UP, Collyers, New York Daily News and Football Writers and in 1940 by the NFL…monster last game of his career when he set NFL records for passing attempts (60), completions (33) and passing yards (316) against the Redskins (Dec. 7)…one big negative was his ability to throw interceptions, a whopping 34 in his career, to only 11 TDs…Eagles team in 1940 was awful going 1-10…might’ve been higher if he kept playing.

22)  Frank Filchock (1938-1941, 1944-1946, 1950) Playing alongside Baugh, the 5-11, 193-pound Filchock sometimes held his own with the number one QB on this list. Playing 8 years (76 games), we are going to look at his 5 seasons in this era playing with the Redskins, as his career was interrupted by the War. He threw 34 TDs during those years and rushed for another 5…Twice led the NFL in TD passes (more than Baugh) in 1939 and 1944…also led the NFL twice in completion percentage, 1939 and 1944, that same year led league in completions with 84…In 1939 became the first player in NFL history to threw a 99-yard TD pass (to Andy Farkas) against Pittsburgh in 1939…Named First-team All-Pro in 1939 by I.N.S. over Ace Parker…Second-team by UP and NYDN in 1939, 1944; by I.N.S. in 1944…Honorable mention by the Football Writers in 1939 and by the NFL in 1941…known for being part of the betting scandal that broke before the 1946 NFL Championship Game.

23)  Parker Hall (1939-1942, 1946) Next on this list is the 6-0, 198-pound Hall, who had one monster year in his 4-year career (42 games). Was drafted in the first round of the 1939 Draft (3rd overall) by the Rams. That season Hall won the Joe Carr NFL MVP Award as a rookie. Led the NFL in attempts (208), completions (106), completion percentage (51%) and punting yards; was 2nd in passing yards (behind Davey O’Brien) and TD passes (Filchock- 11) with 9, for a Rams team that went just 5-5-1…his attempts and completions in ’39 were NFL records, which lasted just one year when O’Brien broke them in 1940…the following season finished 2nd in attempts, 3rd in completions and passing yards and 4th in TD passes; and once again 1st in punting yards…for his monster 1939 year was named First-team All-Pro by the Football Writers, I.N.S., New York Daily News and UP; was Second-team by the NFL…in 1940 was Second-team by UP and honorable mention by the NFL…finished career with 30 TD passes and 6 rushing…did have 67 interceptions; including becoming the first QB to threw 7 interceptions in one game, against Packers in 1942…career interrupted by War, did come back to play for the 49ers in 1946.

"I've seen Sammy Baugh play. I've seen Sid Luckman, Davey O'Brien and Ed Dankowski in action. Going back past the current crop, I've watched Benny Friedman and the passing greats of his era. I never saw one who could pass quite like Hall."—said Dutch Clark, Rams coach, to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1939.

24)  Bernie Masterson (1934-1940) Tall and wiry at 6-3, 195-pounds, Masterson played 7 seasons (72 games) in the NFL, all with the Bears. Durable and steady in Halas’s T-Formation, Masterson didn’t wow you with his athletic gifts, but was one of the best passers Halas ever had in the first two decades…very productive in the passing game, had 34 career TD passes and twice led the NFL in Y.P.A., 1935, 1937…Led NFL in TD passes in 1937 with 9 (ahead of Baugh, Danowski, Herber)…9 times he tossed 2 TDs in the same game…Member of the 1940 Bears NFL championship squad, as well as 3 division-winning teams…1 Pro Bowl, 1940…Honorable mention by NFL in 1936; somehow snubbed in 1937…during the decade of the 1930s threw for 3,154 yards, only Herber and Danowski threw for more…went into coaching after his playing career was done.

25)  Riley Smith (1936-1938) Tall and stocky, the 6-2, 200-pound Smith played 3 NFL seasons (30 games), all with the Boston-Washington Redskins. Drafted in the NFL’s first-ever Draft in 1936, picked number 2 overall by the Redskins…Riley was a member of the 1937 Redskins that won the NFL Championship…played in same backfield with Sammy Baugh, blocking mostly…Named Second-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1936, 1938; by the UP in 1937 and I.N.S. in 1938…Honorable Mention by the NFL in 1937 and Football Writers in 1938…scored 6 career TDs…solid kicker, in 1937 NFL Championship Game converted all 4 extra points in the Redskins 28-21 victory over the Bears.

26)  Al “Bert” Bloodgood (1925-1928, 1930) At 5-8, 153-pounds, the smallish Bloodgood played 5 years (35 games) for 4 different teams- Kansas City, Cleveland, N.Y. Giants and Packers. He had two good years playing with Kansas City (25-26) playing for Roy Andrews; in 1926 scored 47 of the Cowboys 76 points for a team that went 8-3. Also that season was just the 2nd player in NFL history to kick 4 FGs in a single-game defeating Duluth, 12-7, joining Paddy Driscoll (1925)…in 1927 joined Cleveland with Benny Friedman and coached again by Andrews, playing more tailback, scored a team-high 45-points- that went 8-4-1. Finished 2nd in NFL in scoring that year behind Jack McBride (57 points) He was ahead of Paddy Driscoll, Ernie Nevers, and Verne Lewellen…Member of the 1930 Packers championship team (but only played 3 games)…a very good all-around back, scored 10 career TDs, including a career-high 3 to help defeat Red Grange’s New York Yankees in 1927 (Nov. 24); he also kicked 11 FGs and 12 XPs…In 1926 named First-team All-Pro by Collyers and Second-team quarterback by Green Bay Press-Gazette…Named Third-team by Collyers in 1925.

27)  Carl Brumbaugh (1930-1934, 1936-1938) Complementing Molesworth, the 5-10, 170-pound Brumbaugh played with the semi-pro Portsmouth Spartans before playing 8 seasons (96 games) with Cleveland, Brooklyn, but mostly with the Chicago Bears (played games in all 8 seasons). Tough, all-around player, not as good a passer as Molesworth…Member of 2 Bears championship teams, 1932-1933…smart, intelligent player, former Lions-Dodgers head coach Potsy Clark once called Brumbaugh, “the smartest quarterback in the league,” a sentiment often echoed by George Halas…Named Second-team All-Pro in 1931 by Collyers and in 1934 by the Boston Post…Third-team in 1930 by GBPG and Honorable Mention in 1930 by Collyers and by the NFL in 1934 and 1936…threw 8 career TDs and scored 6 TDs…would also hold for extra points and field goals.

28)  Charlie Mathys (1921-1926) After playing one year with Hammond (1921), the 5-10, 195-pound Mathys played the next five seasons with the Green Bay Packers (52 total games). Although he only tallied 5 total TDs in his career, Mathys excelled in the passing game for Curly Lambeau’s Notre Dame box offense. In his 47 career games he tossed 8 TDs (maybe 10 in career)…unofficially threw 6 TDs in 1925 for the Packers. In those games, they went 5-1…retired after suffering an arm injury in 1926…Elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1977.

“Never did we have a more loyal player on the team. And we won’t ever forget that it was Charlie’s brilliant play that helped put the Packers where they are today in the pro football world.”—Curly Lambeau, about Mathys retirement in 1926.

29)  William “Wild Bill” Kelly (1927-1930) One of the more colorful characters who played in the NFL’s early years. “Wild Bill” Kelly played 4 seasons (52 games) in the NFL for 3 different teams- New York Yankees, Frankford, and Brooklyn. The 5-10, 184-pound Kelly was a tremendous athlete, being able to do everything, but thrived in the passing game. Could throw with the best of the early quarterbacks including Benny Friedman….in his career threw 23 TDs…7 times in career he threw at least two TDs in a game…rushed for 6 TDs…had best year in 1928 with the Yankees (playing more tailback in single-wing and Gibby Welch playing BB role) when he tossed 8 TDs…tragedy struck Kelly when he died in 1931, from what some reports said of alcohol, at the age of 26.

30)  Wolcott “Wooky” Roberts (1922-1926) A key member of winning teams, the 5-7, 160-pound Roberts played 5 years (36 games) in the NFL with 3 different teams, Canton, Cleveland and Frankford- he won NFL titles with each team- winning 4 championships (Canton, 1922-23, Cleveland 1924 and Frankford 1926). A favorite of Guy Chamberlin as Roberts played four years for him…split time with Harry Robb at QB-BB, known more for his outstanding blocking, Roberts wasn’t asked to throw often, but would be involved in the passing game as a receiver. He had 7 career TDs with four of them TD catches…in the last game of the year in 1924 with Cleveland caught a TD to help defeat Milwaukee that clinched the NFL championship with a 7-1-1 record…Named honorable mention All-Pro by the Canton Daily News in 1923.

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 quarterbacks:
Carl Brumbaugh
Paddy Driscoll
Red Dunn
Ed Danowski
Benny Friedman
Arnie Herber
Cecil Isbell
Harry Newman
Curly Oden

Best of the Rest:
Johnny Armstrong (1923-1925)
Johnny Bryan (1922-1927)
Milt Ghee (1920-1921)
Jack Hagerty (1926-1930, 1932)
Arnie Horween (1921-1924)
Al Mahrt (1920-1922)
“Bo” McMillin (1922-1923)
Walt “Pard” Pearce (1920-1922, 1924-1925)
Bob Rapp (1922-1926, 1929)
Harry “Cobb” Rooney (1924-1930)
Phil Sarboe (1934-1936)
Rube Ursella (1920-1921, 1924-1926, 1929)
Gilbert “Gibby” Welch (1928-1929)
Roy Zimmerman (1940-1948)

Tomorrow: Halfbacks

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