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Senior Candidates, 2011: Al Wistert

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 14, 2010

Back in February, we discussed profiling Senior nominees for the 2011 Veteran's selections, and solicited input from all of our great readers. I had hoped to start on the profiles after the draft but that did not happen right away. The two finalists are generally announced in late August, so we will be profiling players over the next month or so for consideration. Today, we start with Al Wistert.

Al Wistert is 89 years old and living in Grants Pass, Oregon. For most of the last forty years, he has had very little buzz around his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but that has changed over the last few years. Last year, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame along with Randall Cunningham, and there have been online petitions to get him considered as a senior selection for Canton. So, is this a case of a sentimental selection for a living representative of a bygone era, when football was played both ways by players who rarely left the field? Or is Al Wistert an oversight by the Pro Football Hall of Fame that needs to be corrected by the Senior Selection Committee?

Before I get to that answer, a quick aside. When I was researching Al Wistert, I kept running into confusing references of Al Wistert playing for the Philadelphia Eagles the same year as he was playing for the University of Michigan. As it turns out, there were two Al Wisterts, who were brothers, and who played football at the same time. Actually, three Wistert brothers starred at tackle for the University of Michigan. Francis "Whitey" Wistert (born in 1912) played at Michigan from 1931-1933, and also played baseball and was signed by the Cincinnati Reds. Alvin "Moose" Wistert (born in 1915) did not go to college right away, served in World War II, and played at Michigan after the war, when he was already in his thirties. Albert "Ox" Wistert, the Al Wistert at issue here, was the youngest of the three, but played and starred at Michigan from 1940-1942, before the older Alvin Wistert.

Al Wistert was a natural athlete. He never actually played organized football in high school, and his first game of organized football came when he started for the University of Michigan as a sophomore in 1940 against California.

As an NFL rookie, Wistert was a member of the famous "Steagles" team in 1943, which combined the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia franchises for one season due to the war. The following year, his first officially with the Eagles, Wistert was selected first team all-pro for the first time, and he would go on to be selected by an awarding organization at least once in every remaining year in the decade. Judging by the number of awards each season, he was widely considered the best tackle in the game from 1944 to 1948. Before Wistert arrived in Philadelphia, the franchise had never had a winning record. He was a favorite of coach Greasy Neale and was captain of the team, and played in three consecutive NFL championship games from 1947-1949 as captain.

It's difficult to compare Al Wistert to other candidates for senior selection who played after 1950 because he played a very different game as a two way player, where versatility was far more important. From the accounts I can find, he was considered adept on both sides of the ball in both college and the pros, praised for his technique and variety in offensive blocking, and in his ability to make sure tackles and control his area defensively. Offensively, he blocked in front of Steve Van Buren for one of the best rushing attacks of the era, and defensively, he was part of teams that consistently ranked in the top 3 in both passing and rushing rate stats and recorded shutouts in the 1948 and 1949 championship games. The only way I know to assess Wistert's qualifications for the Hall is to compare him to contemporaries at the same position from the two-way era. During Wistert's time, and in the decade before, numerous awarding organizations named all pro teams, usually between 4 and 7 in a given year. They may have had different criteria, so it gives us a broad view of how players were viewed. From 1930 to 1949 (the unlimited substitution rule went into effect in 1950), 37 different tackles were named to at least one first team all pro team by an awarding organization. Here is a summary of all tackles for this two decade period who were named on at least five distinct first team all pros during this period, with the first column representing the total number of first team selections by different organizations, and the second column representing the total number of discrete seasons in which the player had at least one first team selection.

First Last All Pros Years as All Pro
Al Wistert 24 6
Joe Stydahar 21 5
Turk Edwards 18 8
Bruiser Kinard 16 6
Cal Hubbard 10 3
Dick Huffman 10 3
Bill Morgan 8 2
George Christensen 7 4
Baby Ray 7 4
Ed Widseth 7 2
Willie Wilkin 7 2
Al Blozis 5 1
Fred Davis 5 2

Joe Stydahar, Turk Edwards, Bruiser Kinard and Cal Hubbard, the four men who rank immediately below Wistert on this list, are all enshrined in Canton, and are the only four tackles from this era in the Hall of Fame. Wistert compares more than favorably against the other two way tackles from this two decade period, and clearly separates himself from any other tackle not in Canton. Arguably, by this rough measure of looking at awards, he was the most dominant tackle of this twenty year period, and is in any event, the equal of the other Hall of Famers who were honored long ago.

So why is Wistert still not in the Hall? I suspect it is just that he slipped through the cracks, and if the Hall had been in existence when he retired and he was eligible five years later, he would have been in shortly thereafter. The Pro Football Hall of Fame had its inaugural class in 1963, and was still in its infancy when Wistert was honored by the college football hall of fame in 1968 at about the same time the pro football hall of fame added Stydahar, Kinard, and Edwards. Then, the clear choices among the stars of the late 1950's and early 1960's, who played at a time when the game was hitting greater heights in popularity with television playing a greater role, were reaching eligibility, and those older stars who had not made it in were pushed aside by generations that remembered them less and less with each passing year. You would have to be near eighty years old now to have seen Wistert play, so there are few first hand accounts, and certainly no advanced statistics to rely on. Still, using the awards and how he was perceived at the time, it is pretty clear that Wistert is a glaring omission. He seems like the exact kind of player the Senior Committee should be considering as a strong candidate for inclusion.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 14th, 2010 at 6:32 am and is filed under Great Historical Players, HOF. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.