CANTON, Ohio -- Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski and Sammy Baugh, possibly the greatest "dream" backfield the game has ever known, were among the first 17 immortals voted into the National Professional Football Hall of Fame today.
Also honored for their playing ability were backs Dutch Clark, Johnny (Blood) McNally and Ernie Never, center Mel Hein, tackles Pete (Fats) Henry and Cal Hubbard and end Don Dutson.
The six officials named for the Hall for helping to guide the pro sport from its original role as a stepchild of the college game to its modern popularity were former NF Commissioners Bert Bell and Joe Carr; George Halas, founder of the Chicago Bears; Curley Lambeau, founder of the New York Giants, and George Preston Marshall, founder of the Washington Redskins.
The 17 -- all picked unanimously by a national board of selectors -- will be enshrined in a hall now under construction here where the National Football League was founded on Sept. 17, 1920. Five of the honored men are deceased -- Bell, Carr, Henry, Mara and Thorpe.
The announcement of the first group to enter the Hall was made by Dick McGann, director of the National Professional Football Hall of Fame, who commented: "These are the milestone men of pro football. Their deeds and dogged faith wrote the history of this great game."
Meet each year
The board of selectors will meet annually to consider nominations for new members, with the next meeting scheduled for the eve of the 1963 NFL championship game. No set number will be chosen nor will it always be necessary for a man to be selected unanimously.
Thorpe, Grange, Nagurski and Baugh are perhaps the most famous backs in football history -- and undoubtedly would have formed the "dream" backfield to end 'em all if they ever had performed as a unit.
Thorpe, 6-1 and 205 pounds, joined the Canton Bulldogs in 1915 and played pro football until he was almost 40 years old. A famed all-around athlete with the Carlisle Indians, he was a United States decathlon and pentathlon hero in the 1912 Olympic Games.
Grange, the famed "Galloping Ghost of the Illini," was persuaded by Halas to turn pro at the end of the 1925 college season. At the time college coaches strongly opposed players turning pro but Grange and the Bears went on a historic 17-day tour climaxed by a game that drew 68,000 persons at New York's Polo Grounds. The tour was perhaps the greatest single factor in establishing pro football as a "big time" sport in the public mind.
Stars for bears
Nagurski, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 238-pound All-America tackle and fullback for the University of Minnesota, was the personification of the bone-crushing fullback from 1930 to 1937 with the Bears. He helped to lead the Bears to the first official league championship in 1933, and in 1934 helped power them to 13 straight victories and a perfect regular-season record.
Baugh, brilliant whip-armed passer from Texas Christian completed a league record of 1,709 passes in 16 yards with the Redskins. His passes gained 3,016 yards -- a league mark until it was surpassed in 1961 by Bobby Layne of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A single-wing tailback in his college and early pro days. Baugh also was a great punter and in his later days successfully converted to a T-quarterback.
Clark, a super star at Colorado College, was a triple threat quarterback for the Portsmouth Spartans and Detroit Lions from 1931 to 1938, and one of the greatest field generals and drop kickers in the game's history. McNally, who played under the name "Johnny Blood," played for five teams, including the Packers and Steelers, and is remembered as one of the most colorful players in pro history.
Nevers, an All-America at Stanford, holds the league record of scoring 40 points in one game for the Chicago Cardinals and ranks with Nagurski as one of the greatest fullbacks of all time. Henry and Hubbard, who played at about 250 pounds each in their primes, are considered the greatest defensive tackles of the league's early days.
Hutson, a 6-1, 180-pounder from Alabama, set a league record by catching 489 passes during his career. Teaming with Annie Herber and Cecil Isbell, he gave the Packers a brilliant passing attack. Hutson ran the 100 yards in 9.6 seconds and had remarkable change of pace in the open field.
Carr was pro football's first czar from 1921 to 1939; Bell set the NFL on its post-World War II course between 1946 and 1959, and Halas, Lambeau, Mara and Marshall set their own clubs on firm foundations and battled over the years for hundreds of improvements that contributed to the growth of the sport.