100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #78 “Bullet” Bill Dudley

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In this Monday morning water cooler edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we go back to the days before Bobby Layne and Joe Schmidt, to a time when the Detroit Lions Football Club often had trouble making a profit, let alone winning games. During this period, there were few bright spots. One of them was this future Hall of Fame quadruple threat.

78. “Bullet” Bill Dudley

Halfback / Tailback / Defensive Back. 1947-49 Detroit; 1942, 1945-46 Pittsburgh Steelers; 1950-51, 1953 Washington Redskins

The Detroit Lions finished the 1946 season with a miserable 1-10 record. They had given up a league-leading 310 points, and had scored only 142 of their own. Lion owner Fred Mandel Jr. knew that he needed to bring in a big name to revive his sagging franchise. In the meantime, 1946 NFL MVP Bill Dudley was on the outs in Pittsburgh with the Steelers’ gruff head coach Jock Sutherland. This came despite the fact that Dudley led the league in rushing, punt returns, and interceptions that season. It had gotten so bad in the Steel City for Dudley that at the end of the year, he announced his retirement from the pro game. Nevertheless, Mandell saw this as an opportunity to grab one of the league’s brightest stars. Mandel first offered Bill Dudley a guaranteed $1,000 dollars a game, including exhibitions, to coax Dudley into donning his cleats again. Dudley agreed. Then, after a trade with the Steelers for Dudley’s rights, Mandel signed his new ticket-seller to a whopping $25,000 offer sheet. It was the biggest contract in the NFL at that time, but it got the Lion owner the man he wanted.

Dudley responded by leading the 1947 Lions in scoring (66 points), punt returns (11-182 yards, 1 TD), kickoff returns (15-359 yards), and interceptions (5) in his first year with the club. He would lead them in scoring in 1948 as well with 42 points. Then in 1949 Dudley would have another all-purpose year, leading the Lions in scoring (81 points), rushing (125-402 yards, 4 TD’s), punt returns (11-199 yards, 1 TD), and punting (39.9 average).

However, even with the do-it-all work of “Bullet” Bill, the Lions would only manage a 9-27 record in Dudley’s three-years in Detroit. Mandell wound up selling the team after Dudley’s first season to stop his financial bleeding, and even a new ownership and coaching regime were unable to turn the tide of defeats. Dudley would be a disappointment to many as he was unable to put an end to the Lions’ losing ways. However, considering his all-around numbers, it would be unfair to lay the blame solely on him.

Bill Dudley’s tenure in Motown would come to an unceremonious end when he was traded, by Lion Coach and General Manager Bo McMillin, to the Washington Redskins for halfback Dan Sandifer in 1950. He would go on to earn two more Pro Bowl appearances with the Redskins in 1951 and ‘52, and would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.

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