When you are replaced by perhaps the greatest wide receiver who ever lived, your accomplishments can be easily forgotten. So it seems for LaVern “Lavvie’’ Dilweg, perhaps the greatest player in pro football history never to get a sniff of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When Dilweg retired from the Green Bay Packers in 1934, he was almost universally considered the greatest end in NFL history. Then a guy named Don Hutson took his place a year later, and Lavvie Dilweg’s considerable accomplishments were overshadowed.
Hutson helped change the NFL from a grinding land war into a thrill-producing aerial attack. Outperforming every wide receiver before him (and perhaps all who followed until Jerry Rice), Hutson so changed the game that he also changed people’s minds about Lavvie Dilweg.
Dilweg played nine years in the NFL, which was an eternity in those days, and six times was selected consensus All-Pro. In four of those years he was a unanimous choice. Between the dawning of the NFL in 1920 and 1950 only one player, Hutson, was more often selected All-Pro than Lavvie Dilweg.
Dilweg was a reliable and productive receiver at a time when that was undervalued in the NFL. But, more importantly, he was a ferocious blocker and a tenacious tackler on defense. According to football historians and published reports of the time, Dilweg was universally seen as the best all-around end in pro football. Not surprisingly then, he was one of 11 players named to the NFL’s 1920s all-decade first-team along with the likes of Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, Ernie Nevers and Cal Hubbard. But of the 11, Dilweg is the only one without a bust in Canton. In fact, his candidacy has never even been discussed as a finalist.
Dilweg did more than pile up personal success, however. He was also a starter on Green Bay team that won three consecutive NFL titles (1929-31) and was considered the dynasty of its day and the NFL’s greatest team up to that point.
So Lavvie Dilweg played big and won big … and in his spare time earned a law degree from Marquette and practiced law in the afternoons after practicing football with the Packers in the mornings. No less an expert on the players of those days than Hall-of-Fame running back Red Grange, who was thrown to the ground many times by Dilweg while running for the Chicago Bears. He said of Dilweg, “I have always said Dilweg is the greatest end who ever brought me down.’’
Someone known as The Galloping Ghost should know.
Hall-of-Famers Bronko Nagurski and Cal Hubbard both named Dilweg on their all-time teams. They played against him and thus knew better his talents better than historians who many years later tried to explain his absence from the Hall. The only other player on the 18-player 1920s all-decade team not enshrined is Hunk Anderson, a second-team selection.
HIs absence is easier to explain. Anderson played barely four years before leaving pro football for a real job, which pro football was not considered in those days. Dilweg had no such hole in his resume.
His nine-year career was extensive and exemplary from the minute he came to the Milwaukee Badgers in 1926 until the day he retired after eight years with the Packers. In fact, it was so productive he was named to at least one All-Pro team every season he played except his final year.
That he went to become a Congressman as well as a successful attorney has nothing to do with making his Hall-of-Fame case. But if attorney Dilweg could argue for his football-playing alter ego, he could make a strong plea simply by stating the facts.
LaVern Dilweg’s absence in Canton is baffling and only seems explainable by the notion that his replacement, Don Hutson, cast such a long shadow that people simply forgot how good he was. It would be a shame if that injustice continues for a man about whom “Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League’’ once wrote: “LaVern Dilweg, by nearly all contemporary accounts, was the best end in pro football almost from his first game in 1926 until his last in 1934.’’
If you look at the Hall-of-Fame receivers who were his contemporaries in what would be considered the pre-modern era, Dilweg outperformed all but Hutson. That includes Bill Hewitt, Guy Chamberlain, Red Badgro, Ray Flaherty, Wayne Miler and George Halas.
Among them, Dilweg was first in receiving yards (2,069) and yards per catch (16.8), second in receptions behind Milner by the thinnest of margins (124 receptions to 123) and had 27 interceptions. He was also a feared tackler, as Grange would attest.
If one takes a fair and honest look at the facts, the only thing LaVern Dilweg is missing to be considered a Hall of Famer is the bust in Canton he deserves and earned more than 80 years ago.