In this edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to the Lions first superstar and an inaugural member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Earl “Dutch” Clark
Single-Wing Tailback (Quarterback), Defensive Back. 1931-32 Portsmouth; 1934-38 Detroit
Original Detroit Lions’ coach, George “Potsy” Clark, once described his biggest star in terms that could have easily been applied to another electrifying Motor City ball-carrier named Barry Sanders, sixty years later:
“Dutch is like a rabbit in the brush. He has no set plan, no definite direction. He is an instinctive runner who cuts, pivots, slants and reverses. No back ever followed interference better and, when the interference gets him into the secondary, he begins his mad twists and turns. He’ll get out of more holes than any player I ever saw. Just about the time you expect him to be smothered, he is free of tacklers.”
However, Earl “Dutch” Clark (no relation to Potsy), was more than just a cunning ball-carrier. He was one of the greatest triple-threat stars in NFL history. During his abbreviated seven-year career, (1931-32, 1934-38) he was the league’s scoring champ three times (1932, 1935-36), and finished among the top four on three other occasions (1931, 1934, 1937). He was among the top four in rushing yardage four times (1932, 1934-37). He led the league in field goals made in 1932, and in extra points in 1932, 1935, and 1936, doing so as one of the league’s last drop-kicking specialists. Finally in 1936, Clark led the league in completion percentage, connecting on 53.5 % of his passes when the league average was only 36.5 %.
In the record books, Clark is listed as a quarterback, but in reality he was a single-wing tailback. The single-wing formation was the standard NFL offensive formation throughout most of the league’s first twenty-five years. The tailback spot in the single-wing is positioned, depending on formation strength, roughly 4-and-1/2 to six-yards behind the center’s left or right foot. From that position Clark, along with teammate Glenn Presnell, led the Lions’ dreaded “Infantry Attack” offense. In 1936, the Leos set an NFL team rushing record of 2,885 yards. It was a mark that would stand for 36 years, until the 17-0 Miami Dolphins would break it in 1972 with the help of an expanded schedule.
See Clark in action in the clip below (at the 1:51 mark) in the 1935 NFL Championship Game at old University of Detroit Stadium. The Lions won the game, and their first NFL title, 26-7, over the New York Giants.
The end of the 1936 season saw Potsy Clark leave the Lions to become head coach of the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Detroit owner George A. Richards promoted Dutch to the vacant position. Clark served as a player-coach, until conflicts with Richards over philosophy and personnel led him to resign following the 1938 season. While as a player and player-coach, Dutch’s Lion teams never lost more than four games in a season. In the twelve-year gap between the Dutch’s resignation and the hiring of Buddy Parker in December 1950, the Lions would collect only three winning seasons.
Earl “Dutch” Clark was the original Detroit Lion football hero. He was so skilled, so dominant, and so awe inspiring that, in 1963, he became one of seventeen-original inductees into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.