The most underrated team in Green Bay Packers history? It might just be the 1936 Packers.
Or, as they should be called, the World Champion 1936 Packers.
The Depression ravaged the nation, unemployment was at a record high and tensions were rising in Europe. But not everything was hopeless. Jesse Owens dominated “Hitler’s Olympics,” Gone With The Wind was published, sunscreen was invented, Jim Henson, Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds were born and the Hoover Dam was completed.
The world changed and it was about to drastically change again.
But in small town Green Bay, amidst an uncertain world, football was a source of growing pride. In a way, the ’36 Packers legitimized the franchise’s three previous World Championships in 1929, 1930 and 1931.
In those seasons the Packers were named World Champions with the league’s best record (something the league did until 1932). In 1936, the Packers’ title finally had an emphatic exclamation point with a championship game.
The ’36 Packers ended their season on an 11 game unbeaten streak, including that crucial Championship Game victory against Boston. They remain one of just four teams to ever finish with one loss (or fewer) in this franchise’s NFL history.
This squad’s 11 game unbeaten streak is the third longest single-season unbeaten streak in Packers history. The ’36 Packers would best the future 1962 Packers (who had a 10 game unbeaten streak). Only the 2011 Packers’ and the 1929 Packers’ 13 game unbeaten streaks top the ’36 Packers all-time.
The 1919 Packers also rattled off 10 straight wins, but that was before the franchise was in the NFL.
The ’36 Packers have the longest unbeaten streak in a single-season in Packers history that also ended in a Championship Game victory. The final seven games of that 11 game unbeaten streak were on the road, too. There’s no doubt that this team mentally tough.
Now why don’t we all know more about this team? Well, I can’t blame anyone for not knowing much about this squad. They did play long before must of us were born, the game of football looked a lot different then and there isn’t a ton of film to watch from these games. Still, just like how Major League Baseball cherishes its ancient past, we feel it’s important to take a deep look at such an impactful season in Packers history.
We do link to highlights from the 1936 NFL Championship Game later in the piece. To see these legends in the flesh is captivating.
Consider this: Green Bay may have never earned the name “Titletown USA” without this first monumental Championship Game triumph.
The Packers’ lone loss in the season was in Week Two to their bitter rival Chicago Bears. But they’d avenge their loss in Week Eight, winning this time on the road in Chicago. The Bears were 6-0 at that point of the season and, after finishing with a 9-3 record, they may have ended up as league champions instead if the Packers hadn’t beaten them on November 1st.
So, Who Led The Way?
Every great team needs a few leaders, right? This team had its share.
The 1936 Green Bay Packers featured four Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees on the offense alone. They were coached by one as well.
Don Hutson and Johnny Blood weren’t just Hall of Famers, they were a part of the legendary inaugural 1963 class. As was their offensively-minded head coach Curly Lambeau.
Clarke Hinkle was inducted the following year in 1964 and Arnie Herber joined his iconic teammates in Canton in 1966. Those five men are Wisconsin nobility.
Despite the fact that this offense was flush with all-time greats, it was arguably the defense that led the way to the fourth World Championship in Packers history (and first with a championship game played).
The defense pitched two shutouts on the season, oddly both against the Chicago Cardinals.
For the season, the Packers averaged just 9.53 points allowed per game including the postseason. Seven times they allowed seven points or less and in the championship game they held Boston to just six points.
So I guess it was true even 80 years ago: defense wins championships.
They had the third best rushing defense in the league and allowed just 3.1 yards per attempt. On top of that, the Packers allowed just seven passing touchdowns on the year (tied for third best in the league).
Unfortunately individual stats from those days weren’t kept for defenders, so it’s hard to say which players were the standouts.
However we’d be incredibly disingenuous if we didn’t credit the Packers’ passing offense with what made this team so specifically special. Led by Lambeau’s aggressive, aerially-minded offensive, Arnie Herber’s elite arm and (arguably) the greatest wide receiver in NFL history — the Packers had, by far, the best passing offense in the league.
In fact, it was the greatest passing offense in NFL history up to that point. As a team they boasted 1629 passing yards, 17 touchdown passes and 6.4 yards per attempt and a 55.2 quarterback rating in 1936. The second best passing team in the league in ’36 (Chicago Cardinals) threw for 506 less yards than the Packers.
Before 1936, no NFL team had ever completed 100 passes in a season. The ’36 Packers completed 108 passes and their passing yards and touchdowns were also the most in league history. Not only did the Packers throw more passes than all other teams, they threw the second fewest interceptions in the league. Let that fact really resonate with you.
The Packers’ 248 points scored in 1936 led the NFL.
On top of everything else, this team also had the best kicking game in the league with three more field goals made than the next closest team and four more extra points made.
All facets of this team–offense, defense and special teams–were dominant.
Let’s focus a bit more on the big arm that led this passing offense.
The First Superstar Quarterback
There’s more to Green Bay’s elite quarterback history than Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers; we’ve written extensively about Arnie Herber’s impact on Packers history.
Herber’s 1936 season is one of the greatest in NFL history.
This stat: Herber led the NFL in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, yards per attempt, quarterback rating and longest pass.
That’s the only time in NFL history that a quarterback has ever led the NFL in all of those significant categories in the same season.
He followed up that historic season with a two touchdown, one interception World Championship Game ending with 86.0 quarterback rating (an insanely high rating for the day).
In fact, Herber accomplished the “QB triple crown” of leading the NFL in completions, passing yards and touchdowns in a single-season for the third time in 1936.
The only other quarterback to win the “QB triple crown” three times in their NFL career is Dan Marino.
Talk about elite company, huh?
Quarterbacks Cecil Isbell, Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jurgensen, John Brodie and Drew Brees are tied for second-best all time when it comes to the “QB triple crown” as each accomplished the feat twice. And remember, Unitas who is universally regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time entered the NFL just 11 years after Herber retired for the final time. Herber’s era wasn’t as distant as most would like to believe.
The elite quarterbacks who accomplished the “QB triple crown” once include: Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Tobin Rote, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning. Some absolutely legendary names on that list, huh? You can see where they rank all-time in NFL history here.
In all, thirteen quarterbacks in NFL history have won a “QB triple crown” for a combined 23 times (so far, I mean, Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson might just win a triple crown soon). Herber will forever be the first quarterback to accomplish the feat.
Sid Luckman, Bob Waterfield, Roman Gabriel, Fran Tarkenton, Brett Favre, John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger and a few other great quarterbacks have come very close to accomplishing the “QB triple crown” but fell just short.
And you can say, “well Herber went against competition that didn’t throw as much” and while that’s arguably true, he also had the best interception percentage in 1936, just as he did in 1934, too.
That means that although he threw more, he was still more precise and efficient than the quarterbacks of his day. I mean, he led the NFL in completion percentage twice and rating three times, too. Clearly it was not just the amount of passes Herber threw.
To this day, Herber is the premier quarterback on the NFL’s official 1930s All-Decade Team. He has never gotten the credit he’s deserved in the lore of Packers history. We aim to help correct that generations-long mistake.
Also on that All-Decade team are Hinkle, Blood and Hutson (and another two players we’ll mention below). None were better than Hutson though. As good as Herber was, the “Alabama Antelope” was a far greater player.
Someone Had to Catch the Ball, Right?
The battery that made this historic offense go was the first great wide receiver in league history. Technically an end, Don Hutson’s creative route running, blazing speed and unmatched hands revolutionized the game. Although Herber’s ability to throw the ball downfield better than anyone in the NFL had ever done so before didn’t hurt the cause.
The most well-known player on the ’36 Packers was Don Hutson. And he still isn’t popular enough nationally for how legendary of a player he was.
Quarterback Herber and wide receiver Hutson combined for eight touchdowns through the air in 1936. They were a thoroughly modern duo, decades ahead of their time. However Hutson’s last touchdown of the year, and the Packers’ final touchdown of the regular season, was a 40 yard punt return for a score.
But Hutson wasn’t the only guy catching passes.
Johnny Blood (a player that was on the Packers’ first three championship teams) was a great pass catcher coming out of the backfield and Milt Gantenbein was also a First Team All-Pro end, opposite the young but already dominant Hutson.
Imagine, an offensive group as stacked as this with future Hall of Fame inductees that also boasts also another All-Pro pass catcher.
The fact that this team featured the first elite QB-WR combination in NFL history, a forward-thinking coach and two Hall of Fame running backs and had such an impressive defense is what puts this team over the top as one of the best groups in franchise history.
Clark Hinkle Field, one of the Packers’ two still-used outdoor practice fields, was obviously named after Hinkle. In 1936 he was named First Team All-Pro (the second of four consecutive seasons in which he was awarded that honor). Yes, he was at the height of his power during this legendary Packers season. All he did was become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher at the time of his retirement.
Again, he wasn’t even the best player on this offense. There’s no wonder as to why this team couldn’t be stopped in ’36.
Oh and here is that video highlight we promised from the 1936 NFL Championship Game. You’ll see some brutal gang-tackling and then a beautiful 40 yard touchdown pass from Herber to Hutson. Next you’ll see another pass from Herber, this time to Johnny Blood, that travels at least 50 yards in the air. The aging Blood looks like a wide receiver out there. It’s mesmerizing.
Next Man Up:
In 1936 the Packers were deep, however many of the great players from the team’s late-1920s “glory years” had moved on from the team.
The winning culture and head coach remained, but this team had to retool at a few key positions.
The ’36 Packers overcame losing their pair of Hall of Fame linemen in tackle Cal Hubbard and guard Mike Michalske. Still, their offense didn’t falter thanks to a few linemen who stepped up.
Buckets Goldenberg is one of the more obscure stars from this era of Packers football, but he still found himself on the 1930s All-Decade Team. He helped fill the hole that Michalske left at guard.
Joining him on that All-Decade Team was George Svendsen. He was the first elite center in Packers history, despite playing in the NFL for just five years (this lineage would be strong until the 1970s).
Also on the offensive line was Russ Letlow, the Packers’ first ever draft pick in 1936. He added instant depth to the Packers’ line and for a team that passed more than any team in NFL history; premier blocking was crucial to Herber’s success.
Beyond the Packers’ future Hall of Fame offensive skill players were numerous other guys that contributed to this team’s multifaceted offense.
A lesser celebrated utility player for this Packers’ offense was Bob Monnett. He was a tailback that ran, could catch passes and actually led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 1938. It’s obvious that he could do a little bit of everything for the Packers.
However Joe Laws was also a dual-threat player in that stacked backfield that could both run and catch the ball. Laws, like Hutson, was not just an offensive threat but a standout defensive back, too.
Monnett and Laws were a versatile halfback duo for this team. The backfield was clearly deep, even for its era of heavy running. Rookie halfback Paul Miller should probably be mentioned, too. The depth on this offense wouldn’t be replicated in Green Bay until the days of Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.
For this team, with so many stars, to not be statistically top heavy when it comes to scoring touchdowns is a credit to Lambeau’s offense.
Curly Lambeau’s Packers would go on to win two more World Championships after this 1936 squad, but this team was the centerpiece of his tenure in our opinion.
This team certainly doesn’t get the credit it’s due in helping build the proud tradition that is the Green Bay Packers, their expansive fandom and distinctive winning culture. Lambeau won three World Championships before championship games were played and he won another three once the NFL shifted to a championship game. As we’ve mentioned, the ’36 championship was the first of his three championship game victories. His legacy isn’t the same without this specific team.
But the success didn’t fade when the lights went out on the ’36 season.
The Packers would remain competitive as other great players came to Green Bay in the late 1930s. Those greats included quarterback Cecil Isbell and center/linebacker Charley Brock. They were both instrumental in the Packers’ next World Championship team (1939). The success that the 1936 team enjoyed would be continued over the next decade.
Brock would go on to join Tony Canadeo on the next, and final, Lambeau-led team to win a World Championship (1944). In Green Bay, it’s a continuum of greatness — not just another decade of football.
The winning culture of the Green Bay Packers had been long established by that ’44 season and this success would sustain the eventually hapless Packers until Vince Lombardi came to the team in 1959.
Sure the gap between Lambeau and Lombardi, deemed “The Wilderness” wasn’t easy, but the winning culture was so entrenched in Green Bay that it was destined to survive. Would it have without the accomplishments of men like Hutson, Herber, Hinkle and Blood? Would it have survived had the Packers not won that Championship Game in 1936?
It’s certainly doubtful.
Will another Green Bay Packers team go 11 straight games without a loss en route to a World Championship? We’ll see, that’s a tall order. But if it happens, it’ll certainly be a nod back to one of the most underrated teams in Packers History — the 1936 Green Bay Packers.
As we look forward, we must also look back to truly appreciate what we’re witnessing. We weren’t able to witness this transcendent team, but we can certainly appreciate them.