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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: NFL Sunday edition

Just who is this football fellow and when was this taken?

This one was sent to me by a BCB reader, but I also found it elsewhere, floating around the internet.

It’s obviously Wrigley Field and also obviously an old-timey football player with a leather helmet. But who?

I didn’t think it was a Bears player and looking at this page with old Bears uniforms, it’s not a Bears uniform.

The “PACKERS” visible on a jacket in the background hinted that it might be a Packers player and, checking out this page with old Packers uniforms, that turned out to be right. The Packers wore some variation of this uniform from 1939-49.

No. 14 is not just any Green Bay Packer, he’s one of the greatest players in their history and a Pro Football Hall of Famer, Don Hutson. He played for the Packers from 1935-45, and his number is retired by that franchise.

So now we’ve narrowed this down to 1939-45. It can be narrowed down further by the color of the Wrigley scoreboard — green. The board wasn’t painted green until 1944. I asked Mike Bojanowski to look at this photo and he concurs that we are looking at either 1944 or 1945:

The board was painted green in the offseason for the ‘44 opener, supposedly because the red-brown finish was too reflective and distracted batters. The bleachers had been painted drab green as early as 1941. That guy to the left in the gray suit and tan overcoat looks as though he were called up by Central Casting. Did everybody in a ballpark in the ‘40s look like that?

He’s right about the guy in the overcoat, and yes, it did seem like almost everyone in a ballpark in the ‘40s looked like that.

In 1944, the Packers played the Bears at Wrigley Sunday, November 5. In 1944, Green Bay visited Wrigley Sunday, November 4. As is the case now, that was a big rivalry then and a big ticket seller. 45,000+ attended both these games, the largest Bears crowd at Wrigley in both years.

There aren’t many clues beyond this. At the bottom left of the scoreboard there appears to be, as there was for Cubs games in those years, a promo for the next Bears game. In 1944 they had just one remaining home game after the Packers game, against the Boston Yanks (yes, there really was such a team) the following Sunday, November 12. In ‘45, two home games, against Detroit November 11 and Pittsburgh November 25.

The resolution isn’t good enough to figure out what those white blobs on the board say. If I squint a lot, maybe I can make it read “DETROIT NOV 11,” but my confidence level in that is pretty low.

So I went to the Tribune archive to see if the weather on those 1944 and 1945 dates might give us an idea, and that turned out to be the deciding factor. It was cloudy in Chicago on November 5, 1944 and sunny on November 5, 1945.

So this photo of Hutson was taken at Wrigley Field Sunday, November 5, 1945. It was Hutson’s last appearance at Wrigley, which could have been a reason for such a photo to be taken.

The Bears weren’t very good in 1945, a war-depleted squad finished 3-7. But they defeated Green Bay that afternoon 28-24.