Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

Bronko Nagurski

Bronko Nagurski was the symbol of terrifying, crushing power on the gridiron. All who saw him play speak of him only in the most awesome of terms.

"Defense him?" Steve Owen, the long-time New York Giants coach, once said. "There's only one way to defense him - shoot him before he leaves the dressing room!"

"That boy could have been an all-American at all eleven positions," his University of Minnesota coach, Dr. Clarence Spears, insisted.

"There was something strange about tackling Nagurski," his long-time teammate, Red Grange, remembers. "When you hit him at the ankles, it is almost like getting an electric shock. If you hit him above the ankles, you are likely to get killed."

"Here's a check for $10,000, Nagurski," G.A. Richards, owner of the Detroit Lions, once said. "Not for playing the Lions, because you belong to the Bears, but just to quit the game and get the hell out of the league. You are ruining my team."

Thus grew the legend, a legend that was perpetuated in 1963 when Bronko Nagurski was unanimously elected to charter membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To all that had a vote, it was unthinkable to honor Nagurski in any but this very first group of enshrinees!

Bronko may be best remembered for his bull-like thrusts at the enemy line. Yet he had no peer as a blocker and his tackling was as bone-harrowing and effective as any the game has seen. He was like a reinforced cement block on defense. His offensive versatility is not well known, but he was quite a threat as a passer and it was this ability which actually prompted the NFL to alter its rules in 1933!

The Chicago Bears were playing the Portsmouth Spartans in the famous indoor championship game at Chicago Stadium when, late in the game and the score still 0-0, the Bears had a fourth down on the Portsmouth one.

Nagurski got the ball for the fourth straight time, but this time he took a stepped back a pace and lobbed the ball to Grange in the end zone for a winning touchdown. Portsmouth protested bitterly that Nagurski was not the FIVE YARDS BEHIND THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE as required by the 1932 rules.

George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Boston Redskins, saw the potential crowd appeal of the play, regardless of whether it was legal or illegal by 1932 standards. So before the 1933 season, the NFL rules were changed so that a pass was legal if thrown ANYWHERE behind the line of scrimmage.

As if to show his appreciation for the new rule, Nagurski threw two touchdown passes in the 1933 title game, the first such game under the new NFL divisional setup, and these touchdowns were just enough as the Bears beat the Giants, 23-21.

Nagurski, who was an all-American at both tackle and fullback at Minnesota, was a devastating 60-minute player for eight seasons before he was getting too old for the constant pounding of pro football or it may have been that his wrestling activities were becoming too time consuming-and profitable.

But he was back in harness six years later when manpower shortages of World War II caused the Bears to issue an SOS. No other great performer had ever come back successfully after so long of a time, but the Bronk did!

He came back as a tackle, but on key plays, he carried the ball and he scored his final touchdown in the NFL title game against Washington.

Appropriately, this final TD helped to make him and his teammates champions. For to those who knew him or knew of him, Bronko Nagurski was always thought of as the greatest of all things in football!