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Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
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Over the years I’ve spent more time than the average human perusing the NFL’s Record Books. It’s especially interesting when you take a look at some of the earlier versions of the league’s official milestones and see records that are no longer kept.
One such unusual mark that jumps to front of mind as my all-time favorite NFL records is the shortest pass reception for a touchdown. According the league records, the Green Bay Packers Don Hutson held the mark with a 4-inch TD grab against the Cleveland Browns Rams* on October 18, 1942. That’s right, the score was measured in inches! Eighteen years later Hutson’s rather indistinguishable record was snapped by Dick Bielski of the Dallas Cowboys when he hauled in a 2-inch pass from Eddie LeBaron. I sure wish we had replay back in those days to confirm these distances.
Yesterday, while doing some quick research on 2012 senior nominee Jack Butler, I came across another one of these weird records that are no longer recorded. As I thumbed through an old record book, I learned that there used to be a category for Miscellaneous Scoring. And, under that there was the subcategory of “Passer Catching Own Pass.” At first glance that didn’t really catch (no pun intended) my attention. Thanks to my nephew Joseph, a Pro Football Hall of Fame Insider Club member from New York, I know that Brett Favre’s first completion was to Brett Favre. Joe, a huge football fan, once shared that interesting fact with me and I keep it as one of those really interesting trivia questions.
But, as I reviewed the record holders of this offbeat NFL mark, something really jumped out. Three players were listed at the time as having caught their own pass. A pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Johnny Unitas and Y.A. Tittle, had completed passes to themselves. Johnny U. had a 1-yard completion in a game in 1956 while YAT’s 4-yarder came three seasons later.
The third player listed was Milt Plum, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.
Plum completed a 20-yarder to himself in a game against the Chicago Cardinals exactly 17 years to the day that Hutson’s miniscule touchdown reception occurred. My curiosity took over and so I put aside my search on Butler and went looking to find out exactly how Plum accomplished such a long pass to himself on October 18, 1959.
So, here it is. The freak play came during the Browns’ 17-7 win at home. One of Plum’s 22 pass attempts was batted away by the Cardinals’ rookie defensive tackle Frank Fuller in the second quarter. The ball fluttered in the air when Plum alertly snatched and ran around right end for a 20-yard gain. Equally alert was a wire photographer who caught Plum’s catch and ran with his camera. The image and caption in newspapers across the country became the side note on a game dominated by Cleveland much due to Jim Brown’s 123 yards rushing.
* Shame on me! In my initial post I inadvertently listed Cleveland Browns not the Rams. An alert reader by the name Jack corrected my mistake by posting a comment. I appreciate the feedback. And, I (and my proofreaders) should have caught that before it was published. We're going to send a Hall of Fame pin to Jack in reward for him paying attention.
In case other readers aren't aware, the Cleveland franchise in '42 was the Rams. They relocated to Los Angeles in 1946. The Browns were formed in 1944, began play in '46 in the rival All-America Football Conference. In 1950, the Browns jumped to the NFL. More on the history of the Browns, Rams, and other NFL franchises can be found under our team history section.