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Until free substitutions were permanently instituted in the NFL after World War II, players performed on both the offensive and defensive units. Some of the most famous offensive stars like Don Hutson, the great Green Bay Packers receiver, or Dutch Clark, the do-everything quarterback of the Detroit Lions, were also outstanding defensive stars.
And most of the offensive players did a little bit of everything - running, passing, catching passes, returning kicks, placekicking, punting. As a result, it was possible for some of the top players to win individual statistical championships in more than one category.
Only three, however, have won the so-called "Triple Crown," three individual statistical championships in one year. All three Triple Crowns were achieved in a four-season period from 1943 to 1946. Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins was first in 1943, followed by Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1945 and Bill Dudley of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1946.
Almost everyone remembers Baugh as the first great forward passer in the NFL. Few, however, recall that he was one of history's greatest punters and almost no one knows that he was an excellent safety on defense. In 1943, the versatile Baugh led the league in passing, punting and interceptions.
Van Buren, who provided the power in Philadelphia's punch in the 1940s and early 1950s earned his triple crown on offense and special teams. He led the league in rushing, scoring, and kickoff returns.
In 1946, Dudley became the first and only player to lead the NFL in four different statistical categories. "Bullet Bill" finished first in rushing, punt returns, interceptions, and lateral passing. Dudley's unique accomplishment is often overlooked since lateral passing is no longer carried as a separate statistical category.