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Owner-coach George Halas of the Chicago Bears as his club battled Pittsburgh to a 17-17 deadlock at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Nov. 24, 1963.

Dozier Mobley/AP

Halas played a part in everything

There are many stories about Bears’ founder and longtime coach. Here are a few of them.

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Saluting Papa Bear

Capping our celebration of the Bears’ 100th season, the final installment of the Sun-Times’ “Bears Scrapbook” is dedicated to the extraordinary life and everlasting memory of the great Chicagoan who made it all happen — not just for the Bears and Chicago, but for the National Football League: George Stanley Halas.


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Bears coach George Halas talks with quarterback Sid Luckman at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1946.

AP

Pioneer, innovator, businessman

George Halas had a great intuition about football, the business of pro football and, of course, the Bears. There was no greater example of that than quarterback Sid Luckman.

Halas identified Luckman as the key to igniting the T-formation through scouting reports when Luckman was a passing halfback at Columbia University. But Luckman was no secret and likely would be gone before the Bears could get him. So Halas ‘‘got around this obstacle by taking advantage of a loophole in the draft law,’’ as he wrote in a first-person story in the Tribune in 1967.

Sensing the Steelers would have a high pick in the 1939 draft, Halas made a deft trade with fellow owner Art Rooney, sending end Edgar ‘‘Eggs’’ Manske to Pittsburgh in exchange for Rooney agreeing to take Halas’ man in the first round and trade him to the Bears.

The Steelers (1-9-1) indeed finished last that season and, per the deal, drafted Luckman and traded him to the Bears.

It wasn’t over, though. In those days, the NFL wasn’t the slam dunk it is today. Luckman didn’t plan on playing professional football; he was prepared to join his family’s trucking business. It took some work, but Halas persuaded Luckman to sign with the Bears for $5,500 — a hefty contract for those days. And the rest is history.

Halas pulled off a similar deal the next year, making a trade with the Eagles that netted the Bears halfback George McAfee. A year after that, the NFL passed a rule that prohibited teams from trading for first-round picks without the consent of the other clubs.

It was similar to Halas’ signing of Red Grange, after which Halas himself initiated a rule that prohibited teams from signing players before their college class graduated. Like Bill Belichick today, Halas was a step ahead of everybody.


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Bears coach George Halas (from left), Giants coach Steve Owen and Packers coach Curly Lambeau share a conversation during the NFL Draft in 1947.

Walter Stein/AP

Reaching out to a friend — and rival — in need

George Halas helped keep the Packers in Green Bay.

Halas had a spirited rivalry with Curly Lambeau and the Packers since the early days of the NFL. His appreciation for the rivalry ran so deep that he did everything he could to keep the Packers in Green Bay when the financial realities of a maturing league nearly sent them packing in 1956.

The Packers were in a rut at the time, with eight consecutive non-winning seasons, and their future in Green Bay depended on a referendum to build a new stadium. And it was Halas who went to Green Bay to use his influence as a founding father of the NFL to promote the passage of the referendum.

‘‘I confess I have a deeper feeling of attachment for the Packers than any other club,’’ Halas said at the meeting in March 1956. ‘‘Sometimes I wonder if there would be a Chicago Bears today if there had not been such a terrific rivalry between the Packers and Bears since the early ’20s.

‘‘I can say to you sincerely — just as sincerely as we hope to edge out the Packers in both games next fall — that the best way for you to guarantee the current and future success of the Packers is to build a new stadium, a place where your team can growand flourish in the future, just as it has grown and flourished here in Green Bay from the earliest days of professional football.’’

The referendum passed, new City Stadium (the eventual Lombardi Stadium) was built and the Packers indeed flourished — often at the expense of Halas’ Bears.

Even more so, Halas helped ensure the future of the Packers in Green Bay by supporting revenue sharing when the NFL started negotiating ever-increasing television contracts. That provided the Packers with the same share of the national TV revenue as the Giants of New York and the Bears of Chicago. As much as Packers fans reviled Halas in the glory days of the rivalry, they owe him a huge debt of gratitude.


A proposed $15,000 bet on the Bears

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Pete Rozelle

AP

George Halas believed in his Bears in good times and bad. And was willing to back it up.

In September 1970, with the Bears coming off the worst season in their 50-year history (1-13), Halas wanted to bet $15,000 at 200-1 odds — a line set by oddsmaker Jimmy ’’The Greek’’ Snyder — on the team winning the Central Division title. And he was serious.

‘‘I have never bet in my 50 years of pro football, but this is a very great financial opportunity,’’ Halas said. ‘‘I don’t know a thing about betting, but I have confidence in the Bears this season. And the thing to remember is that there are only four teams in the Central Division.’’

Halas tried to sell commissioner Pete Rozelle on the bet by promising to donate all the proceeds from potential winnings to the Vince Lombardi Research Cancer Fund, the John V. Mara Cancer Fund and the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund. Mara, the former co-owner of the Giants, died of cancer at 57 in 1965. Piccolo died of cancer at 26 in June 1970. Lombard died of cancer at 57 on Sept. 3, 1970 — a week before Halas’ grand idea.

Predictably, Rozelle wouldn’t permit it.

‘‘As much as I would like to see the cancer fund get the money, I have to deny permission,’’ Rozelle said.

Alas, it wouldn’t have worked out for Halas. The Bears won their first two games in 1970 but finished 6-8 and in last place, six games behind the eventual NFC champion Vikings (12-2).


Top 10: fun facts about George Halas

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Secretary of the Navy Charles Thomas (right) presents George Halas with the Distinguished Service Cross in 1956.

AP

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A smiling Halas, 85, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cubs’ home opener in 1980 at Wrigley Field.

Provided

1.Halas, a great American, served in two World Wars. As an ensign in the Navy in World War I, he was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where he joined the football team and starred in the 1919 Rose Bowl victory against the Mare Island (Calif.) Marines.

2.In World War II, Halas left the Bears in the middle of the 1942 season, when they were 6-0 and two-time reigning NFL champions. He was determined to see action and eventually reached the rank of lieutenant commander. He served 20 months in the Pacific under famed Navy Adm. Chester Nimitz and received the Navy’s Distinguished Service Cross in 1956.

3.Halas, a left-handed hitter, went 1-for-4 in each of his first two games in the big leagues with the Yankees in 1919. He went 0-for-5 against the great Walter Johnson in his next start — claiming he hit two balls over the wall but foul — and never got another hit in the majors. He finishing his career 2-for-22 (.091) in 12 games.

4.In 1922, Halas recommended the American Professional Football Association be renamed the National Football League. It was, in part, a nod to his roots as a Cubs fan. ‘‘If I had been a White Sox fan, I guess it would have been the American Football League,’’ Halas once said.

5.Desperate for newspaper coverage and publicity in the early days of the NFL in the 1920s, Halas used to write articles and provide complimentary tickets to newspapers in hopes of getting them published. It paid off with the first banner headline in the Tribune in 1925, but the signing of Red Grange later that year proved a better source of the newspaper coverage Halas desperately needed for the fledgling league.

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Halas watches Red Grange sign a deal to act as the Bears’ backfield coach in 1935.

AP

6.Halas gave up coaching duties three times in his career and made an impact each time he returned. In 1933, the Bears (10-2-1) won the first official NFL championship game. In 1946, the Bears (8-2-1) won their fourth title in seven years. And in 1958, the Bears improved from 5-7 under Paddy Driscoll to 8-4, one game behind the Colts for a berth in the NFL championship game.

7.Facing impending competition from the fledgling American Football League in 1960, Halas — at a time when he was losing strength as an NFL power broker — pushed through expansion to Dallas and Minneapolis to strengthen the NFL. He even drafted SMU quarterback Don Meredith in the third round of the 1960 draft for the new Dallas franchise, which had yet to be voted into the league when the draft was held on Nov. 30, 1959.

8.In 1999, Halas was ranked 14th on The Sporting News’ list of 100 Most Powerful People in Sports — one spot ahead of Babe Ruth and six ahead of Michael Jordan.

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George Halas’ bio in the Bears’ 1964 press guide.

Provided

9.Though the Associated Press didn’t issue the NFL Coach of the Year Award until 1957, when Halas was 62 and retired, he won the award twice. He captured it in 1963 and again in 1965, when the Bears bounced back from a 5-9 season in 1964 to finish 9-5 after an 0-3 start in road games made necessary by the Cubs’ occupancy of Wrigley Field.

10.Halas often was accused of strong-arming referees into favorable calls. When one went the Bears’ way in 1958 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, a 33-year-old fan rushed onto the field as the first half ended and took a swing at the 63-year-old Halas. Son Mugs Halas and assistants Phil Handler, George Allen and Sid Luckman pulled the fan way from him and got their own licks in. The Bears won 27-14.

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Three biographies of Halas: From left, ‘‘George Halas and the Chicago Bears’’ by Chicago sportswriter George Vass in 1971; “Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas” by Chicago writer Jeff Davis in 2005; and ‘‘Halas by Halas,’’ his autobiography, in 1979.

Provided


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The Bears Scrapbook in the Dec. 28, 2019 print edition of Sports Saturday.

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