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Book Report: Dutch Clark

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Monday, September 3, 2012


In the new book, Dutch Clark, The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions, author Chris Willis tells the story of one of the early stars of the National Football League, quarterback Earl "Dutch" Clark. Willis works for NFL Films in New Jersey and has been the head of the company's research library since 1996. He is in a unique position to tell Clark's story, given his access to the enormous amount of research material at his fingertips.

But for this book, Willis also had exclusive access to the Clark family scrapbooks which Dutch's mother, Mary, kept over the years. She was a very proud mother and began keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles on her son, from his high school days all the way through his NFL career. Willis also interviewed many former teammates as well as Clark's family members for the book.

Dutch Clark excelled in sports while growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, mainly football, basketball and track. In his senior year, 1925, he played center and led the Central High basketball team to a state title.

Even though he was a talented athlete, Clark suffered from poor vision all his life. He had 20/100 vision in his right eye and 20/200 vision in his left eye. A person with 20/200 vision today would be considered legally blind in most states. His family could not afford glasses for Dutch, so he never had them until he was in college. He used them mainly for reading and never wore them while playing sports.

After high school, Clark attended tiny Colorado College in Colorado Springs. His talent on the football field did not go unnoticed, however. After his junior season, he was named to the 1928 Associated Press All-American team at quarterback, a first for any player from the state of Colorado.

Clark began his NFL career in 1931 with the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. He played for the team for two seasons, but he missed out on being a part of NFL history. You see, Clark returned to Colorado after the regular season was over in 1932 to continue his offseason job as head basketball coach at his alma mater, Colorado College. When a championship game was hastily arranged a few weeks later, (the first ever in the NFL) the college refused to allow Clark to leave. The Spartans lost to the Chicago Bears 9-0 in the 1932 NFL championship game.

In 1934, the Portsmouth team was sold to George A. Richards of Detroit. Richards owned two radio stations, WJR in Detroit and WGAR in Cleveland. The Detroit Lions were officially introduced at a luncheon in Detroit on April 10, 1934 by NFL Commissioner Joe F. Carr. The team would play its home games at the University of Detroit.

Clark led the Lions to a 7-0 record to start the 1934 season, all by shutouts. In those seven games, the Lions outscored their opponents 118-0! Sports writers in Detroit began referring to Clark as the Ty Cobb of Football.

In a bold marketing move, Richards scheduled a game on Thanksgiving, the way colleges and high schools had done for many years, in order to showcase his team nationally. Richards arranged for the game to be broadcast live over 94 radio stations across the country. The Lions lost to Bronko Nagurski and the Chicago Bears 19-16 in front of 26,000 fans, but an NFL tradition was born that continues to this day.

The 1935 season saw Clark and the Lions hosting the NFL championship game. In just their second season in the Motor City, the Lions became NFL champions, beating the N.Y. Giants 26-7.

That year was huge for sports in Detroit, the Tigers won the World Series over the Chicago Cubs four games to two. Soon after, the Lions won the NFL title and the following year, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, making the Motor City a true city of champions.

Clark played for the Lions through 1938. The last two seasons he was not only the team's quarterback but head coach as well!

Clark even had a stint as the head coach of the NFL Cleveland Rams from 1939-1942 before returning to Pueblo, Colorado. In the wake of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1942 he tried to enlist in the military, but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.

Coaching was in his blood and he didn't stay away from the game for long. In 1944, he became the head coach of the Seattle Bombers, a team in a new pro football league called the American Professional Football League. The APFL consisted of eight teams, all on the west coast. Clark led Seattle to a 7-5-1 record, third place in the league. The APFL folded after just one season.

He also spent a season as the backfield coach of the Los Angeles Dons of the All American Football Conference in 1949. Clark ended is coaching career back in Detroit where he took a job as the backfield coach at the University of Detroit in 1950. From 1951-1953 he was the team's head coach and also the school's athletic director.

Over the years, Clark was honored many times for his athletic accomplishments. In 1951, he became a charter member in the first class of 54 inductees in the newly created College Football Hall of Fame. In 1963, he was inducted as one of the 17 charter members of the new Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Two years after that, he became a charter member of the new Colorado Sports Hall of Fame along with two fellow Colorado natives; Byron "Whizzer" White, a star football player in college and in the NFL, and boxer Jack Dempsey.

This book is a must read for any fan of the Detroit Lions. While the team may have been a laughing stock in recent years, this book will remind long-suffering Lions fans that it wasn't always that way. There was a time when the Detroit Lions were one of the best teams in the NFL, and Dutch Clark was their first Gridiron Hero!

DID YOU KNOW: NFL Films president Steve Sabol attended Colorado College and also played on the school's football team? However, in 2009, the school dropped football for financial reasons. The team had been competing at the Division III level.


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