Packers Hall of Famer Bob Monnett: The Forgotten Man
Cecil Isbell wasn’t the first member of the Green Bay Packers to retire at the top of his game. Bob Monnett ended his stay in Green Bay just months after dazzling with the best passing display of his career.
Unlike Isbell, Monnett’s decision to depart was arrived at, in part, because of injury. A vicious hit by a bitter rival may have nudged Monnett to exit sooner than he might otherwise have done.
Monnett was the Packers’ highest-rated passer in the 1930s among those who threw at least 15 passes. He was a rarity from that era, one of the few to throw more touchdown passes than interceptions during the course of a career.
For all he did, Monnett is often overlooked. Given he had to share playing time with Arnie Herber and Isbell, that’s understandable.
Herber was an established commodity when Monnett arrived as a rookie in 1933. Isbell, in turn, was just getting started during Monnett’s final go-round in 1938.
During that season, all three vied for playing time. Monnett not only outplayed his better known teammates, he could have been the top-rated passer in the NFL had the current rating system been in effect.
In coming to the Packers, Monnett joined an outfit that boasted the league’s No. 1 passer in Herber, who earned that honor in 1932, the first year passing statistics were kept. Monnett more than held his own, compiling a rookie passer rating of 67.8 which was far better than the 28.9 Herber managed in 1933.
The veteran, of course, threw more often, but the newcomer could not be ignored. With Herber on the sidelines in late October, Monnett completed six of 10 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay’s 35-9 rout of the Eagles. Six weeks later, he returned a Keith Molesworth punt 88 yards for a touchdown in a narrow, 7-6 loss to the Bears.
Monnett utilized his feet as well. His 413 yards rushing in 1933 tied Clark Hinkle for the team lead and his average per carry (3.8) was better than Hinkle’s (3.0).
Over the next four years, Monnett continued to be a key component in Green Bay’s offense. From 1934 through 1937, he gained more rushing yards than any Packer save Hinkle, and during that time he threw for more yards and touchdowns than all but Herber.
In 1938, Green Bay’s backfield grew more crowded. The Packers used their first-round draft choice to select Isbell out of Purdue University.
Herber, Isbell and Monnett all played left halfback, a position from which the majority of Green Bay’s passes originated. Finding himself in the mix with a future Hall of Famer in Herber and a hot prospect in Isbell (he was named the most valuable player in the College All-Star Game 12 days before the season opened), it would have been easy for Monnett to take a back seat.
Credit Monnett for not letting that happen. The six-year veteran led the NFL with nine touchdown passes. His 91.7 passer rating was by far the highest of anyone in the league who attempted at least 25 passes that season.
Green Bay opened against the Rams and Monnett was in the starting lineup. He directed the offense in the first and third quarters, but his performance (3-of-9 for 23 yards and one interception) was his worst of the season. The Packers won 26-17 because Herber launched three touchdown passes.
By mid-October, Monnett was on a roll. He fired at least one touchdown pass in four consecutive games as Green Bay defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rams and Bears to move into first place in the Western Division. During that run, Monnett completed 17 of 30 passes for 304 yards and tossed seven touchdown passes against two interceptions, for a rating of 103.3.
Monnett accomplished this despite playing primarily with the second unit. Unlike Isbell who had 19 of his 37 completions wind up in Don Hutson’s hands, just six of Monnett’s 31 successes that season were snared by the legendary receiver.
Unfortunately, the 24-17 victory against Chicago at Wrigley Field on November 6 was Monnett’s last game. His first-quarter strikes to Hinkle and Hutson proved key scores that gave the Packers a lead they never relinquished.
“He had thrown for a couple of touchdowns, but later in the game Bronko Nagurski blind-sided him with a hit that not only knocked him out of the game, but also put him in the hospital and ended his season,” said Monnett’s son, Robert Curtis “Buck” Monnett II. “I don’t know if his back ever did fully recover.”
The elder Monnett retired on the heels of the best passing performance of his career. He left having thrown for 2,227 yards and 29 TDs in just 336 attempts. He, and not Isbell, would own the Packers’ career mark for touchdown percentage (8.63) should ever the minimum number of attempts be lowered.
According to Buck, more than Nagurski’s hit factored into his father’s decision to retire.
“He married my mother Dorothy, his high school sweetheart, in 1936 and my sister, Mary Ann Nicholls, was born in 1937,” said Buck, who was born in 1942. “I’m sure, knowing my father as a pretty conservative family man, that the traveling and setting up of a more stable home for them was an issue.”
One can only speculate as to the fortunes of the Packers had Monnett continued to play. With him out, Green Bay dropped a 23-17 decision to the Giants in the 1938 title game. A year later, the Green and Gold trounced those same Giants 27-0.
Said Buck: “In 1939 Curly (Lambeau) called him on the phone and asked him if he would come back and ‘suit up’ for the championship game against New York, as they were short-handed in the backfield because of injuries. My dad ‘politely’ declined.”
Bob Monnett, who had a civil engineering degree from Michigan State University, worked for Ford Motor Company during the offseason. After football, he worked for the Ohio State Highway Division before beginning a career with Galion Iron Works that spanned 30 years.
“He died in 1978 at the age of 68 after battling cancer for the last 10 years of his life,” said Buck. “But you never heard him complain.”
Playing the percentages
Packers passers with the highest percentage of TD passes in a season (minimum 25 attempts)
|9.76||Hal Van Every||1940||41||4|
Packers passers with the highest percentage of TD passes in a career (minimum 100 attempts).
|5.97||Tony Canadeo||1941-44, 1946-52||268||16|
Eric Goska is a freelance writer and statistics fanatic, who has written a “By the Numbers” column for the Green Bay Press-Gazette about the Packers every season since 1994. Three editions of his book, Packer Legends in Facts, were published in the 1990s. In 2002 and 2003 the statistical encyclopedia was reworked and released under the title A Measure of Greatness.