This episode we fire up the DeLorean and head back to explore the life and career of George Halas, also known as "Papa Bear". George was the founder of the Chicago Bears. He was also a player, coach, and owner throughout 63 of his 88 years on this planet. So strap on your seatbelt, and let’s get ready to take this baby up to 88mph.
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George Halas put 63 of his 88 years into the game of football. He quite possibly contributed more to the NFL than any other person to date. In this episode I’m going to tell you about the incredible impact that "Papa Bear" (affiliate link) had….on the NFL.
Welcome to the Football History Dude Podcast, where each episode is a journey back in time to learn about the rich history of the NFL. Your host is Arnie Chapman. Football is his passion and he wants you to come along with him to explore the yesteryear of the gridiron. So hop on board his DeLorean and lets get this baby up to 88 miles per hour (Great Scott).
George Halas Early Life
This time as we step off our DeLorean, the date is February 2nd, 1895 and we are in Chicago, Illinois. This is the day that our hero was born. This time our hero is none other than Mr. George Stanley Halas. They called him Mr. Football for everything because he was a player, a coach, an administrator, an owner, a founder, probably painted the lines on the field, everything. He did all of it. So basically what I want to say is before I go any further there is a disclaimer I am going to issue to you. There is no way that this episode, or even multiple episodes could cover everything that George Halas did for the game of football and the NFL. I could create an entire podcast revolving around the life and career of George Halas aka “Papa Bear”. I’m just going to hint and touch on some of the highlights and I’m going to continue to bring him up throughout the rest of The Football History Dude. But before I get into his career, we are going to take it back a little bit. His parents were immigrants from Pilsen, Bohemia back in the 1880’s. His father was Frank Sr. and he was a tailor. His mother’s name was Barbara and she was a grocer. His father would end up passing away in 1910, so George and his four siblings would end up helping their mother (Barbara) at the grocery store and also at the apartment building that the family owned. George had to grow up quick and toughen up. George lost his father at the age of 15, and it seems that this unfortunate event forced him to become a leader. He had to take charge and help his mom out. During this time, George went to Chicago’s Crane Technical High School where he played baseball, basketball and football. To sum up his love for sports George Halas is quoted as saying on the Pro Football Hall of Fame (affiliate link) website, “I've loved sports since I was old enough to cross a Chicago street by myself. I'm happy that I made pro football a career. It has been good to me in the material sense, but more important is that I have been associated with youth in all my years as a pro football coach and owner.” Throughout this episode, we are going to find out that a lot of people thought of him as a crusty old dude on the outside, but a teddy bear on the inside. He was known to help many youth in the area and paid for kids to go to school among other things.
College and Baseball Career
He was a kid himself, and then he graduated from Chicago’s Crane Technical High School back in 1913. Then he would proceed to enter the University of Illinois. His best sport, even though he ended up becoming known for football, was baseball. He would mostly play in the outfield and had a batting average of .350, which if you know baseball at all-that’s a pretty good average. In basketball, he would end up becoming the captain of the varsity as a senior. But, they said he was only ok at football because he was a little dude. He was 6 foot and 170 pounds, so he would get pushed around a lot. There were two injuries that were pointed out. In his sophomore year he had a broken jaw. In his junior year he had a broken leg. But he kept coming back for more. He played for the legendary Bob Zuppke and the coach liked his spunk, but played him at the end to keep him away from the chaos. In the summer while at college, he worked for Western Electric Company. This company was pretty big at the time and had extravagant events. At one event, they took cruise ships from Chicago over to Michigan City and would have this huge company picnic. There were all kinds of sports games and things to do for the family. George was supposed to be on the first of the two boats going to Michigan City. He was late and had to take the second boat. It may have not seems like a big deal at the time, but this decision to wait for the second boat could have led to the NFL. We will talk about that later though. We have a lot to talk about first; I mean he gave 63 of his 88 years to the NFL. Before his last semester at college, the U.S. entered the Great War. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy. While in the Navy he was awarded his college diploma in Civil Engineering even though he missed his last semester. While in the navy, he was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Base. He was ordered to organize the great U.S. service teams in football and basketball. From the beginning its like, thank you Navy for setting George Halas on the right path to being an administrator/owner or whatever you want to call it of setting up teams, because we have the NFL. During the time he was playing football at the Great Lakes Naval Base, there was a game in 1919 on New Year’s Day that was the Rose Bowl. He would end up having his ten minutes of fame. In this game, the Great Lakes would end up defeating the Mare Island Marines 17-9. But at the time the football was a little larger. We have discussed in the past passing wasn’t the thing to do, but he still caught two touchdown passes and returned an interception for 75 yards. He would be the MVP of the Rose Bowl back in 1919. I don’t know if he was actually given the title “MVP”, but I would say he was top in that game. George would end up being discharged from the Navy soon after that Rose Bowl game. So he decided to get back into sports. First in baseball, he signed with the New York Yankees in March of 1919 and only played 11 games. In one of the videos I saw he said that he could never hit the curveball. He ended with a batting average of .091, which isn’t good. He went to the Saint Paul Minor team and was coached but baseball just wasn’t his thing. He suffered a hip injury at training camp in Jacksonville, Florida. It ended up being a pinched nerve and the doctors worked it out, but it hindered his chance of having his baseball career take off. Even though it was a short-lived baseball career, there was a moment that George Halas remembered from playing with the Yankees. This account gave George a fresh perspective and helped motivate him to keep going. The account was with Ty Cobb (affiliate link), the legendary Tigers baseball player, at a game where he kept calling Cobb names. So Cobb told Halas to meet him in the parking lot. So Halas recalled coming out of the locker room that day, looking over his shoulder. He saw Ty Cobb and was ready to fight. But Cobb didn’t want to fight, he just told Halas to keep his enthusiasm but only for good. So he had a short-lived baseball career. He went back to Chicago and used his Civil Engineer degree working for a railroad designing some bridges. That didn’t last long and even though he promised his mom that he was done with football, he would sneak away on the weekends to play.
First Call to Action
And we’re going to get into the saga that was the NFL career of George Halas, but first I wanted to remind you to head to thefootballhisorydude.com/episode9 for more information and links from this episode. Also, if you would like to share your personal favorite football story, please go to myfootballmoment.com for details how to do so.
In early 1920, George Halas received a call from Staley Starch Works to relocate and work for that company because he had a reputation for organizing the military sports teams. This would help start leading him on the road to be able to get into the NFL. He would end up organizing playing, and coaching for the company’s football and baseball teams. During this time, George Halas found the Decatur Staleys, which would end up becoming the Chicago Bears down the road. Halas and his partner, Dutch Sternaman, thought that it was a good idea to join some ragtag dudes at an auto showroom in September of 1920. This led to what you and I know, as the NFL. So yes, George Halas was a founding father of the National Football League. There was a recession going on and Mr. A.E. Staley told Halas that he couldn’t afford to keep the team going. So Staley gave Halas $5,000 seed money and told him to take the team to Chicago and keep the name “Chicago Staleys” for one year. George Halas, because they played at Wrigley Field, decided to honor the MChicago Cubs (affiliate link) by changing the name to Chicago Bears. Now we are going to get into some of the professional career of George Halas. He was responsible for signing Red Grange and going on a barnstorming tour across the nation that would end up putting the NFL on the map by selling out stadiums. In the middle of this tour they went to Washington D.C. and introduced to the President as Red Grange and the Chicago Bears and one of the owners, George Halas. The President said that he always liked animal acts. At that time, that’s what people thought of when they heard the word football-an animal act. As if it would come and go, like the circus. George Halas had the forethought and the vision to be able to see into the future. Maybe he hopped on my DeLorean, I don’t know. Maybe I should rewind the tape and see if he was there. I’m cool if he did, because his forethought with Red Grange going on this barnstorming tour definitely put the NFL on the map. He ended up having another game that was the biggest disappointment of his career. We talked about this on the last episode, the “Sneaker Game”. The Bears 13-0 against the Giants on the icy field. They should have stomped all over the New York Giants, but the coach of the Giants outwitted Halas. When they saw those sneakers on the field, they asked George what they were going to do. George Halas said, “Step on their toes then”. In a video I saw he also said, “I told them to step on their toes, but I guess it didn’t work.” In 1932 he assumed chairman of league’s rules committee and was responsible for many policy changes to make the game more excited. He revolutionized the game by reviving the T-Motion. How he did this, was he put a man in motion before the snap. At the time this was just mind blowing. This would lead up to the most lopsided game in NFL history where they would beat the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 Championship game. The crazy thing was, Washington beat them 7-3 three weeks before. George Halas was known to scout out the other team. He realized that they were playing the same defense as that last game and he had a fix for what they did wrong last time, the T-Motion. All of the other teams saw the score and decided that they needed to do that as well. George Halas was the type of guy that was always a few steps ahead. There are many recollections of Halas being a tough guy. They said that no team in the NFL resembled the persona of their coach like the Bears. There is a quote from another guy that said, “Win or lose, you were gonna hurt after the game”. I saw a video of a dude running down the field and he did a jump kick and put his foot into this other guy’s chest. There was another play where a guy was running, before he even got touched, he was already out of bounds and this guy from the Bears came over and tried to do this clothesline move. It had to have been 10 yards outside of bounds. It looked like the guy tried to turn around and throw the football at him. It looked like he slipped. The Bears were the true Monsters of the Midway because of George Halas. He had this toughness to him. He even did things like psychological warfare. There was an account that at halftime he would have the band go on the field to distract the people. He would use a dog on the sideline and tell it to go on the field so they had to stop the game. To solidify his toughness, Bill Wade said that if they lost a game they would play on this field with horse manure. George Halas would say that if they want to play like this stuff then you might as well practice in it. He was not one to tolerate disobedience and insubordination. When you watch the different videos and games you see George Halas and everyone was scared of him. You would see this old dude run out on the field and just grip into the refs. He was responsible for hiring the refs too since he was the top dog, so they were scared too because of that. In one game, George didn’t like what happened in the game so he ran out on the field and kicked a dude in the butt. George didn’t care what happened.
Giving to the Game and Honors
He was an innovator in coaching and administrations. There were many firsts because of this guy. He was the first to hold daily practice sessions. One of the first, if not the first, to film the opponents game for study. For the first time ever, he had his teams broadcast on the radio. He even wrote his own press releases where he would beg for it to be put in the newspaper. He would even bribe them with tickets to the game. Going back to using film of the opponent’s games, a guy on a video I saw said that they would be at practice and look up see a plane flying over and would say that’s George up there looking down at us trying to steal our plays. All of this is just some of the things different coaches and player remembered about George. They have a documentary where Gale Sayers recalled his coach and he said that George would give him anything. He also said that George was tough, but he loved him. Gale didn’t care what everyone else said, because George would do anything for you. There’s an interview with Dick Butkus where he said that George would drive a hard bargain when it came to contracts but he would come to Dick and say that nobody came to see Dick, they came to see Gale. Gale would also have the same conversation with George Halas. Even though he was frugal in how his contracts go, he really did care about the team. He would take care of his players no matter what, even if they lost. He would even take time out during his extremely busy lifestyle and dedication to the team, to reach out to members of the community. There was an instance where he wrote a letter on September 28th, 1978 to a High School team after they had a huge victory against a rival that they should not have beaten. George said he saw it in the newspaper and he just had to send it to them. He told them to keep going and he appreciates what they do. It was the middle of the football season but he still took the time out to encourage these kids. He gave everything he had for the NFL so you and I can watch the game. And that’s one of the reasons why he was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame back in 1963. He possibly gave more to football than any other person in the history of the game. Over the long career of his coaching, he ended up having 324 career winds and 6 championship titles, but that doesn’t even come close to everything that he did. He is Mr. everything and we are definitely going to have to end up putting more dedicated episodes or part of episodes to the career that this guy had. So to kind of tie this in as far as him giving everything to football and a lot of people wanting to give him back the credit, kind of reminds me of this movie about George Gipp. Ronald Reagan would be the star in this movie and there is a line from this movie that is very popular now. Ronald Reagan play George Gipp, who is a former Notre Dame player, and this famous line comes when George Gipp was on his deathbed. He told his coach Knute Rockne this, “Rock, someday when things look real tough for Notre Dame, ask the boys to go out there and win for me.” So this leads me to figure out where the term comes from. Rockne would end up using these words of wisdom during a half time pep talk in a 1928 game between Army and Notre Dame. During this pep talk he would end up saying, “Lets win this one for the Gipper”. Ronald Reagan would forever be tied to this whole “win one for the Gipper” thing. It gets me thinking, I’m not a bears fan, but the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl and I’m pretty sure they were all like, “Lets win this one for the Gipper!” The Bears organization would continue to honor George Halas to this day, where they put the letters “GSH” on their sleeve to honor George Stanley Halas and everything that he gave to the NFL, most notably the Bears. When he died at the age of 88, he was the last remaining founder of the NFL.
Drop The Hammer
BUT THIS WHOLE STORY ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN. GEORGE HALAS WAS SCHEDULED TO RIDE THE S.S. EASTLAND SHIP, ALSO KNOWN AS THE “SPEED QUEEN OF THE GREAT LAKES” ON THE MORNING OF JULY 24, 1915. GEORGE HALAS WAS LATE TO THIS SHIP, SO HE PLANNED ON TAKING THE 2ND ONE TO THE WESTERN ELECTRIC COMPANY PICNIC. WHEN HE ARRIVED, HE SAW THE SHIP CAPSIZED ON ITS SIDE IN THE CHICAGO RIVER. 844 PEOPLE LOST THEIR LIVES THAT MORNING, AND ONE OF THEM EASILY COULD HAVE BEEN GEORGE HALAS. IF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED, IT’S VERY POSSIBLE WE MAY NOT HAVE ……. THE NFL
I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Football History Dude, and were able to gain some knowledge nuggets about one of the most influential people in the history of the NFL. If you want to connect with the show and leave your comments about this episode, head to thefootballhistorydude.com/contact or hit me up on Twitter. My handle is @FHDude. In the next episode we’re going to discuss the life and career of the man that helped start the transformation of the NFL into a passing league, Don Hutson.
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Football History Dude. To make sure you’re the first to get the next episode, please subscribe with your podcast player of choice and head on over to TheFootballHistoryDude.com for the show notes and more information on the history of the NFL. And remember dudes, where we’re going we don’t need roads.
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