Monday, April 5, 2021

BOB HUDSON: A Decade of Versatility

 By TJ Troup

The New York Football Giants tied Cleveland for first place in the American Conference in 1950. New York had one of the most powerful rushing attacks ever seen, and a very much improved hard-hitting defense, but after beating the Browns twice in the regular season they could not pull off the hat trick in the playoffs. Many of those stalwart Giants returned in '51, yet every team hopes to help itself in the draft, and New York chose some quality lineman, and halfback Kyle Rote. Standing 6' 4'' and 225 lbs. end Bob Hudson was selected in the 12th round with the 146th pick. 

The second half of Hudson's rookie season he contributed as a deep receiver with catches for 50 yards against Cleveland, 33 yards against Pittsburgh, and 20 against the Yanks. Since the Browns beat New York twice in the regular season; the Giants had to settle for second place. Hudson returned to the Giants in '52 and watching film of their star-crossed season demonstrated though a strong team New York needed more speed and athleticism in the line-up to compete with Cleveland. Hudson is a reserve in 1952. 

Bob Hudson started at left offensive end late in the pre-season of '53 but was released by New York. The Philadelphia Eagles finished second in overall defense in 1952 but needed help in the secondary. Bob Hudson joined the Eagles and became a starter on defense in '53. The Eagles showcased their toughness, and resilience on a weekly basis, but de-throning the Browns from the top was the goal. Philadelphia ended the '53 campaign with a 42-27 victory over the undefeated Browns to finish second. 

They also led the entire league in total defense and ranked sixth in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 53.2 (league average was 53.6), yet this was an improvement over 1952. The first half of the year Hudson began to show he was always around the ball and could take the ball away from an opponent with either an interception or fumble recovery. He had already intercepted one pass on the season, and during the home Saturday night 23-7 victory over their cross-state rivals from Pittsburgh he pilfered two passes and returned them 59 yards. The next week he recovered a Cardinal fumble thus at mid-season he had already taken the ball away four times from Eagle opponents. 

Due to the Indians World Series appearance in 1954, the schedule had to be altered for the Browns, and as such, they would play in December when all the other teams except Detroit had ended regular season play. The Eagles were strong out of the gate in '54 with three straight wins including an opening day home win over the Browns. October 17th, 1954 is a day in Eagle history that many historians and fans remember fondly as lean Texan Adrian Burk shredded the porous Washington Redskin secondary with SEVEN touchdown passes. 

The Philadelphia pass offense was pure precision on short and medium-range passes, yet this saga is about a member of the defense, and what a defense the Eagles had in 1954. Early in the game Redskin halfback Charlie Justice began a sweep to his right and lofted the ball deep to swift Bones Taylor on a streak pattern. Running stride for stride with the lanky end Hudson went up high to intercept deep in Eagle territory for his second interception of the young season. 

Poring over the game film to detail strategy is not everyone's idea of a good time...but for me, it is a joy. Philadelphia would align in a standard 5-2-4 defense but would adjust alignments and coverages many times during a game. 

A key component for the Eagles was Hudson's instinctive ability to play pass defense as he roamed the field. Philadelphia had a very strong front seven which included right linebacker Chuck Bednarik, middle guard Bucko Kilroy, and right defensive end Norm "Wild Man" Willey. Left linebacker Wayne Robinson, and rookie safety Jerry Norton also were key contributors. 

The Redskins would come out of the huddle in a slot formation to the right, and the Eagles would immediately adjust with safeties Norton and Hudson, and with corner help all aligned to the slot formation. Philadelphia did not "red dog" much, but when they did they were very effective and productive. Every team would relish a 4-0 start to a season, but the Eagles could not hold onto first place as they lost four of their next five including a heartbreaking 6-0 loss in the rematch with the Browns. When your team is struggling you hope your next opponent is Washington. During the late November win over the 'Skins Hudson intercepts twice. 

The Detroit Lions have won back-to-back Championships, and lead the western conference as they prepare for the invading Eagles on December 5th. Philadelphia still has a shot at winning the Eastern conference but must win their final two games, and have the Browns lose all three of their remaining games. Have watched the December 5th clash against Detroit numerous times (and probably will again). This era is the transition to every team playing a 4-deep secondary, and there are some legendary defensive backs taking the field in 1954. Richard "Night Train" Lane, Bobby Dan Dillon, Emlen Tunnell, and a personal favorite Jack Christiansen of Detroit. 

The Lion pass coverages are detailed in Buddy Parker's superb book, and Jack is the man who makes those coverages airtight. Many times have written about the defensive passer rating and its' value. Detroit led the league in '54 with a mark of 39.3, with the Giants right behind them at 39.7, and the Eagles just a notch below at 39.9. 

Philadelphia leads Detroit 13-6 in the fourth quarter as Layne has completed just 12 of 26 with four interceptions. Adrian Burk threw 12 touchdown passes against Washington during the season, but today he has just two and is also struggling against Christiansen and his compadres as he has completed 17 of 35 with five interceptions. Watching the film over and over again shows two teams that just "get it" when it comes to pass defense, and covering your territory while taking the ball away. Detroit has two wide receivers to the left, and the inside receiver Dibble runs a streak straight up the field, while the outside "flanker" Doak Walker cuts behind him on a square in. 

Hudson unloads his shoulder into Walker as the ball arrives, and yes the Doaker does get back to his feet, though he probably wondered if he was in Dallas or Detroit? A staple in the Buddy Parker Lion offense is the halfback option pass and Walker's attempt is intercepted by Hudson. Big Bob again pilfers two on the afternoon, but the Eagles who needed a win leave the field tied with Lions 13-13.

 Philadelphia closes the season with a dominant 29-14 win over New York, and yes Hudson intercepts again to give him eight on the year to rank amongst the league leaders, and you are going to ask who those men were at the top? Lane, Christiansen, Landry, and Tunnell. 

Bob Hudson is not going to the pro bowl, and he most certainly has not earned All-Pro distinction, but this is by far the best year in his career. Philadelphia begins the '55 campaign in high style with a come-from-behind 27-17 win over New York. but the next three weeks the Eagles lose three close games. 

So far in '55, the Eagles have shown they are just not the same team from the past two seasons. Hudson continues to contribute and twice he has recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in the same game. He continues to use his shoulder to deliver blows to runners and receivers as he pursues and covers. The victory over the defending league champion Browns took away some of the bitterness of the campaign, and Hudson intercepted Graham in the game. 

Philadelphia then falters the final four weeks. Much has been written about coach Jim Trimble and his players; the blame, the performances, and a team with such high expectations entering the season now in disarray. Bob Hudson over a 33 game span recorded 19 takeaways, but he chooses not to return to the Eagles in '56. Coach Hugh Devore was considered a brilliant coach, but the Eagle offense of '56 scored just 143 points, and only once scored more than 20 in a game. Devore returns in '57 and coming back to the team is Bob Hudson. 

Philadelphia reconfigures their personnel on defense in '57 with Bednarik attempting to play middle linebacker instead of either center or right linebacker. Bob Hudson now will play right linebacker for the Eagles, and with Bibbles Bawel at right safety—Jerry Norton is now the left safety. After an 0-3 start the Eagles manage to win four of the remaining nine games, but with so much youth on offense, and a new style of defense coached by former Giant mastermind Steve Owen the year is considered a failure. 

Devore is dismissed and replaced by a man who was a leader of men and understood how to win and with who—Mr. Lawrence "Buck" Shaw. Jerry Williams is hired by Shaw to coach the secondary and coordinate the defense. Williams had played both safety and running back in his pro-playing career, yet this will be on-the-job training by trial and error when it comes to personnel, especially in the secondary. 

Much was expected of Bob Pellegrini when he came out of college. He had size, strength, quickness, and was very motivated—BUT he was just not instinctive enough to play middle linebacker though he is sure given the chance to do so. Big Bob also has injury issues that limit him, and as such the effectiveness of the defense. Concrete Charley Bednarik is in his 10th season, and though he is an outstanding center, there are times he starts again at middle linebacker and John Simerson starts at center. 

Hudson actually enters the game at inside or middle linebacker early in the year, and even "red dogs" a few times, but this is not where he belongs. Brookshier is tried at right safety, with Rocky Ryan at the right corner, and yes folks this is not going to work either. Eddie Bell is the left corner in his last year as an Eagle, while Norton is usually at left safety. Lee Riley starts at both safety posts, but the second half of the season Bob Hudson is the right safety. The early season upset of the Giants is a distant memory as the Eagles travel to take on the Cardinals.

The teams tie but a loss is avoided when Hudson pursues across the field to recover Ollie Matson's fumble and return the ball 46 yards into Cardinal territory. The Eagles crush the Cardinals in the rematch but then lose three straight. Philadelphia travels to the nation's Capitol to close the year and hopefully a victory over a struggling Redskin team. Washington has a strong ground game, and will align unbalanced much of the time...thus every defense must adjust. New York and Baltimore handle the unbalanced ground attack of the 'Skins with aplomb, but Philadelphia does not in the 20-0 disappointing loss. 

Hudson makes an occasional shoulder hit/tackle, and his coverage is adequate, but he is aligned so close to the line of scrimmage for a safety that he is out of his element (strength). Late in the game, Bill Anderson makes a terrific fingertip catch for Washington to seal the victory (Hudson was not involved in the coverage).

Shaw is one frustrated angry coach having his first-ever losing season and states there will be many changes, and one of those is the release of Hudson among others. Bob Hudson joins a Redskin team in 1959 that is in a state of flux at the linebacker position. Don Schiffer's 1959 Pro Football Handbook states that Drazenovich "is among the best middle linebackers and with Larry Morris, and Torgy Torgeson on the same defensive unit figure to get stronger". This trio never takes the field for the 'Skins, and as such Hudson starts the season at right linebacker. 

Washington aligns with the right linebacker head upon the tackle and the right defensive end outside and then penetrating. Bob Hudson can only help a team when he is allowed to move and roam. His Redskin career is short and he is gone by midseason, but his pro career is not. 

The Dallas Texans of the brand new American Football League need experienced players who understand the game and have the talent to win games. Bob Hudson starts a handful of games in the middle of the year at left linebacker and gives a creditable performance including an interception against Denver in November. 

The Broncos have the worst linebacking corps in pro football, and Hudson joins them late in the year, and starts the final game of the year against Oakland. Bob plays left linebacker for the Broncos in '61. 

Watching film of him in those vertically striped socks playing for a team that has little talent after watching him play so well for those strong Eagle teams of '53 & '54 in their classic uni' almost painful. 

November the 5th the Broncos are destroyed by the champion Oilers and having a complete game film tells the tale of the best and worst of the league. Earlier in the year in October Hudson intercepted against Oakland with the score tied with 1:45 left on a first down pass to Doug Asad that Bob read, reacted, and made the play. Hudson could still make the big play. Against the Chargers in November with the Broncos down 19-16, he intercepts Kemp in the 4th quarter on a fourth and goal play. 

Finally, in the rematch with Houston on November 26th, he records the final interception of his career. Schiffer's 1962 Pro Football Handbook on page 139 states "(T)here are six linebackers looking for work the best of whom are probably Johnny Hobbs. Others are Bill Roehnelt, Bob Hudson, Wahoo McDaniel, Jerry Stalcup, and Pat Lamberti." Hudson did not make the team and his pro career is over. 

Recapping his career briefly: Begins as an end with an 80 number for the contending Giants, finds success wearing #42 as a left safety, and outside linebacker with the Eagles, and then his final three years with the Redskins, Texans, and Broncos playing either left or right linebacker. Today would have been Big Bob's 91st birthday. 

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