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George Halas

Glory Days

Beginning in 1940, after intensive coaching from Halas, Luckman led the Bears through a decade of glory days. Most memorable among these victories was the championship game in December of 1940, between the Bears and the Washington Redskins. The Bears, after posting eight wins and three losses that year, played the Redskins for the NFL Championship on December 8, 1940. Included among the Bears' three losses during the regular season was a bitterly disputed loss to the Redskins. At the subsequent meeting between the two teams for the championship, the Bears held the Redskins to a paltry three yards rushing, to win the NFL title by a score of 73-0. Remarkably, the Bears had scored eleven touchdowns in one of the classic revenge games of all time.

The Bears won the title in 1941 and again in 1943. In 1942, despite an 11-0 season, the team lost the championship in a 14-6 upset to their nemesis, the Redskins. It was their only loss between mid season 1941 and mid season 1943. During that time Halas brought the Bears to twenty-four consecutive regular season wins.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many of the dominant NFL players joined the military, and the sport of professional football took a back seat to United States involvement in World War II. In mid 1942 Halas re-enlisted in the Navy as a lieutenant commander. He served in the South Pacific and was promoted to full commander; he returned on Thanksgiving Day 1945. The team failed to make the playoffs during his absence.

From 1946-49 professional football took a new turn, which marred the joys of homecoming for Halas. A new professional league in direct competition with the NFL cropped up, called the All-American Football Conference (AAFC). In addition to the league, a third professional team, called the Rockets, sprang up in Chicago. With Halas's encouragement, the NFL franchises refused to recognize the new league in the hope of bringing about its demise. The strategy proved successful, and by the end of that decade the AAFC was a thing of the past.

Increased competition for good players during the AAFC years caused player salaries to nearly double. Despite the hardship, Halas continued to rely on Luckman at quarterback and held on to other players good enough to take the NFL Championship in 1946. In 1947, after taking a 30-21 trouncing from the Cardinals in the final game of the regular season, the Bears emerged second in the Western Division with a record of 8-4. Four successive second place finishes followed from 1948-51. Luckman retired in 1950, and his replacement, John Lujack, retired in 1951 after an injury to his arm.

Halas suffered two more demoralizing losing seasons: in 1952 and again in 1953. He regrouped and recorded back-to-back seasons of 8-4, from 1954-55. At the end of the 1955 season, Halas retired for a second time, naming his long-time aide, Paddy Driscoll, as a successor. The Bears won the Western Division title in 1956, followed by a dismally deficient season in 1957. The downturn prompted Halas—at age 63—to remove Driscoll and resume the reins as coach in 1958.

Halas tried for five years to resurrect the glory that was the Chicago Bears of earlier decades, but the team was 8-4 for the next two years, in 1958-59. According to some critics, Halas's failing was his refusal to update from the T formation of the early years to the finesse of the modern slot offense that ruled the postwar NFL. A mediocre showing early in the 1960 season was fueled by a mid season upset loss to the Baltimore Colts; the Bears ended that year at 5-6-1. Despite the acquisition of veteran Rams quarterback Bill Wade after the 1960 season, the Bears were 8-6 the next year and slightly better at 9-5 in 1962.

Awards and Accomplishments

1919 Named Most Valuable Player, Rose Bowl
1921 Wins American Professional Football Association Championship
1933 Wins the first National Football League title game
1940-41, 1943, 1946 National Football League Championship
1963 Named National Football League Coach of the Year; inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame, charter member; National Football League Championship
1965 Named National Football League Coach of the Year
1997 Stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service to honor Halas Halas retired in 1963 with a career coaching record of 324 wins.

By 1963 Halas had manned an updated offense, with Mike Ditka at tight end and John Farrington at wide receiver.

George Halas, in foreground

Halas further assumed responsibility for coaching the defense and successfully brought the Bears to reign as the NFL Western Division champions. The 1963 NFL championship game, held at Wrigley field on December 29, pitted the Bears and Wade against the New York Giants with quarterback Y. A. Tittle. When the shouting stopped, Halas and the Bears had taken their first NFL Championship since 1946. Halas bowed out of his coaching responsibilities officially in 1968, although, as owner of the team, he never left the sidelines nor ceased to keep a tight grip on the workings of the team.

Halas, who married Minnie Bushing on February 18, 1922, during the infancy of the NFL, was left widowed after forty-four years of marriage with the death of Bushing on February 14, 1966. The couple had two children, George S. Halas Jr., and Virginia Marion McCaskey, both of whom became involved with the league in adulthood.

Halas died in Chicago on October 31, 1983. His remains lie at St. Adalbert's Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. In tribute to Halas, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is situated on George Halas Drive W. in Canton, Ohio. The National Football Conference championship trophy is named for Halas. In 1999 the Sporting News listed Halas among the "The Most Powerful People In Sports For The 20th Century." To the team that he nurtured for sixty-three years, Halas is remembered affectionately as "Papa Bear."

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsFootballGeorge Halas - Fate Intervened, The 1920s: New League, New Team, Chronology, Related Biography: Coach Bob Zuppke