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Whatever “Papa Bear” George Halas talked with the FBI about is a mystery.
Whatever “Papa Bear” George Halas talked with the FBI about is a mystery.
Sun-Times files

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George Halas’ FBI connection: File reveals late Bears owner helped the feds ‘on occasions’

The records on ‘Papa Bear’ that are now part of the Sun-Times’ new and growing ‘The FBI Files’ database are spotty but show he was chummy for years with the agency’s directors.

George S. Halas’ resume is well known: Chicago Bears player, coach, owner. Co-founder of the National Football League. Hired Mike Ditka.

“Papa Bear” also helped out the FBI “on occasions,” records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

That’s according to a brief mention in a document that was part of Halas’ FBI file, which is now part of the Sun-Times’ new database of federal records on notable people, groups and events with Chicago ties or otherwise of particular interest in the Chicago area.

“Mr. Halas has been of assistance to the Chicago Office on occasions pertaining to investigations of interest conducted by the Chicago Office,” according to a memo from a top Chicago FBI official to Clarence M. Kelley, then the agency’s director, in 1974. “Mr. Halas continues to be cordial to this office and holds the Bureau in high regard.”

Just what Halas might have helped the FBI with isn’t mentioned in the document or in others released by the agency as part of his file.

One person familiar with the Bears organization said gamblers occasionally tried to make inroads with players in Chicago and elsewhere in the NFL and surmised that might be something Halas provided assistance to the FBI about.

Another person said each NFL team historically had an FBI agent assigned to it as a point of contact in case of trouble.

An FBI memo from 1974 that mentions Bears owner George S. Halas helping the agency.
An FBI memo from 1974 that mentions Bears owner George S. Halas helping the agency.
FBI

Halas died in 1983, and a Bears spokesman said whatever assistance he might have provided the FBI is “not anything anyone here is familiar with or able to share.”

Most of Halas’ FBI records involve friendly correspondence he had with two men who ran the agency after the 1972 death of longtime director J. Edgar Hoover and carried on his practice of maintaining relationships with influential people in politics, business, entertainment and beyond.

George Halas (right) talks with his former running back Red Grange during a 1978 taping of Irv Kupcinet’s TV show.
George Halas (right) talks with his former running back Red Grange during a 1978 taping of Irv Kupcinet’s TV show. They talked about old times. But what “Papa Bear” talked with the FBI about is a mystery.
Sun-Times files

“It is a pleasure to join your many friends honoring you on being selected the Chicagoan of the Year,” Kelley wrote Halas in a 1976 letter sent to his North Sheridan Road apartment.

“You are richly deserving of this recognition for outstanding civic and humanitarian activities over the years, and my associates in the FBI join me in extending heartiest congratulations to you.”

Kelley addressed that letter to “Mr. Halas.”

Clarence M. Kelley, FBI director from 1973 to 1978.
Clarence M. Kelley, FBI director from 1973 to 1978.
AP

In another letter sent to Halas at the Bears’ South Loop office the following year, Kelley was less formal, calling Halas by his first name and playfully wishing him a happy 82nd birthday.

“As you come to the young age of 28 reversed, I want to extend heartiest congratulations,” Kelley wrote. “This is a celebration that few of us will achieve in this lifetime.”

In 1980, then-FBI chief William H. Webster wrote to wish Halas a happy birthday when he turned 85.

“This is certainly an impressive milestone and I hope it will be an enjoyable occasion for you and the beginning of another healthy and happy year.”

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