If only three truly Hall of Fame-worthy seasons were enough to gain Terrell Davis entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, why not "Whizzer'' White too?
The election of Davis last year surprised many NFL historians and Hall of Fame purists because longevity had always been a hallmark of election to Canton. Gale Sayers was long seen as the baseline, having had five Hall worthy seasons during an injury-shortened seven-year career in which he led the NFL in rushing both before and after the devastating knee injury that ended his years with the Chicago Bears.
But in 2017 Hall voters made an even bigger exception for Davis, who was twice named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and was a one-time MVP as well as one of the most prolific post-season rushers in NFL history. That being said, where does that leave Whizzer White? It would seem to be with a strong case for Hall of Fame inclusion himself.
When White was drafted by the then Pittsburgh Pirates with the fourth overall pick in 1938 after an All-America career at Colorado, he had no intention of playing professional football. Only days after the draft, White was named a Rhodes Scholar and he intended to pursue academic life in England until officials at Oxford announced it would allow him to delay his arrival until 1939.
Now free to perform his athletic career, White entered the NFL and took the league by storm.
He was not only the highest-paid player in pro football in 1938 but as a 21-year-old rookie running back showed the football world why they’d begun to call him “Whizzer’’ back home in Colorado. White led the NFL in rushing his rookie season, gaining 567 yards in only 11 games, before leaving for Oxford when the season ended to begin what he thought would be three years of study abroad in England.
But World War II began in Europe during the late summer of 1939 so White returned to the United States and was admitted to Yale Law School in early October, a week after classes had begun. That decision derailed his immediate return to the NFL but in 1940 he was back in uniform, now playing for the Detroit Lions.
Once again, "Whizzer'' White led the NFL in rushing, piling up 514 yards, while also finishing seventh in touchdowns, ninth in pass completions and seventh in interceptions as a two-way player. Just as importantly he earned an estimated $15,000. That is the equivalent today of over $260,000. More importantly, it was a fortune by the post-Depression Era standards of the day.
In 1941, White finished ninth in the league in rushing, averaged 31.6 yards per catch, was third in all-purpose yards with 1,027, led the NFL in both punting and punt returns and finished second in kick returns. This was considered an “off’’ season for White.
He had been named first-team All-Pro in both 1938 and 1940 but was selected only to the second team in 1941. Perhaps more remarkably, despite playing only two years in the 1940s, White was selected on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1940s.
To recap the accomplishments of Byron “Whizzer’’ White in his first three NFL seasons, sandwiched between a year as a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School student he dominated pro football like few before him or since. And then he went away to fight a world war and never came back.
White entered the Navy in 1942, only months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Sent to the Pacific Theatre, White would win two Bronze Stars as a Naval Intelligence Officer. After the war ended in 1945, White returned to Yale to finish law school rather than split his time between pro football and academia.
That Byron “Whizzer’’ White was a Hall of Fame person and a Hall of Fame achiever is beyond debate. But with the enshrinement of Terrell Davis a year ago in Canton despite an injury-shortened career, one has to wonder if the door may now swing open to Whizzer White, who led the NFL in rushing two of his three professional seasons and in the third led in punt returns, punting, was second in kick returns and third in all-purpose yardage before leaving pro football to win two Bronze Stars during WW II and then returning to complete his law degree magna cum laude at Yale, become deputy Attorney General in 1960 and finally performing his last public service as a Supreme Court Justice from 1962 until his retirement in 1993.
"Whizzer'' White had three NFL seasons just as brilliant in their day as the three that put Terrell Davis in the Hall of Fame. If that is now the criteria, doesn’t the Wiz deserves reconsideration?