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George Halas

Fate Intervened, The 1920s: New League, New Team, Chronology, Related Biography: Coach Bob Zuppke


American football coach

George Halas

Among the winningest coaches in the history of the National Football League (NFL), George "Papa Bear" Halas amassed 324 career victories. As owner of the Chicago Bears for over sixty years, he coached for more than forty of those years and played with the team for a decade. Prominent at the organization of the American Professional Football Association (APFA, later the National Football League—NFL) in 1920, Halas throughout his lifetime played a visible role in the history of professional football in the United States. During the 1930s he lobbied successfully for league rules that enhanced scoring capabilities and thereby contributed to the growth in the popularity of the game. By his avocation to the game he helped to bring respectability to the young sport and contributed to its evolution into a major sporting industry.

George Halas was born on February 2, 1895, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, Frank Sr., a tailor, and Barbara, a grocer, immigrated from Pilsen, Bohemia, in the 1880s. Halas, one of four siblings, was the youngest of the three boys in a family that encouraged sports. He developed a plucky, competitive spirit as a result. After his father died in 1910, Halas and his brothers and sister helped with the grocery store and with the upkeep of their apartment building, which was owned by the family. Professional football was a young sport during Halas's formative years. History records the first professional football game in history in 1895, the same year that Halas was born.

As a youth Halas played indoor baseball, a popular league sport, now known as softball. Later, at Chicago's Crane Technical High School he played baseball, basketball, and—although he was slight of build—football. After graduation in 1913, he entered the University of Illinois, having developed into a modest athlete.

As an outfielder at Illinois, Halas batted .350. During the summer of his sophomore year he played baseball with the Western Electric company team in Chicago. Additionally he captained the varsity basketball team during his senior year, but his football skills remained marginal. At six feet tall, he was slim at 170 pounds. Despite his enthusiasm Halas was often overpowered by larger players; he broke his jaw during sophomore year and broke one of his legs as a junior. Illinois head coach Bob Zuppke, keenly aware of Halas's physical shortcomings, admired the young man's spirit nonetheless and played him regularly, positioning Halas at the end and away from the center of the fray.

Halas graduated from Illinois in 1918 with a degree in civil engineering, only to be caught up in World War I. While serving as an ensign at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station he played football with the Great Lakes team. The football in those days was much larger and more awkward, and the game as a result focused on rushing more than passing. He nonetheless caught two touchdown passes during the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day in 1919. He also returned an interception for seventy-seven yards that day, earning a taste of minor celebrity as a football star, as Great Lakes defeated the Mare Island Marines by a score of 17-9.

Sketch by Gloria Cooksey

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsFootball