Happy Thanksgiving: An ode to Ace Gutowsky
As I write this, the Detroit Lions are about to play the Green Bay Packers, the 72nd Thanksgiving game in Lions history. And that’s as good a time as any to remind Oklahomans about one of forgotten heroes, Ace Gutowsky.
Gutowsky was a Kingfisher schoolboy star who went on to Oklahoma City University when the Goldbugs played a mean game of football. Ace went to the NFL, played eight years and retired in 1940 as the league’s all-time leading rusher (admittedly, the NFL was young then). Gutowsky played for the Portsmouth Spartans in 1932-33, then moved with the franchise to Detroit when it became the Lions. Gutowsky played in 1939 with the Brooklyn Dodgers (yep, Dodgers), a franchise that folded after the 1944 season.
I don’t know a lot about Gutowsky. He was born in Russia in 1909, emigrated to the U.S. at an early age, played for legendary coach Pappy Waldorf at OCU and stood at 5-foot-11, 201 pounds by profootball-reference.com and finished his career with 3,279 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. Gutowsky in 1936 rushed for 827 yards, missing the NFL rushing title by three yards and setting a Detroit single-season record that stood until 1960.
Two of those TDs came in Detroit’s first Thanksgiving Day game ever. According to the Lions’ website:
“The game was the brainchild of G.A. Richards, the first owner of the Detroit Lions. Richards had purchased the team in 1934 and moved the club from Portsmouth, Ohio, to the Motor City. The Lions were the new kids in town and had taken a backseat to the baseball Tigers. Despite the fact the Lions had lost only one game prior to Thanksgiving in 1934, the season’s largest crowd had been just 15,000.
“The opponent that day in 1934 was the undefeated, defending World Champion Chicago Bears of George Halas. The game would determine the champion of the Western Division. Richards had convinced the NBC Radio Network to carry the game coast-to-coast (94 stations) and, additionally, an estimated 26,000 fans jammed into the University of Detroit Stadium while thousands more disappointed fans were turned away.
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