Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

George Connor

At the time George Connor joined the Chicago Bears in 1948, he stood 6-3, weighed 240, had a chest measurement of 53 inches expanded and 48 inches normal and yet his waist measurement was only 37 inches. He was a hard core of solid muscle and, as the noted sports writer Grantland Rice one observed, "the closest thing to a Greek God since Apollo." He could also play football, better, in fact, than almost anyone else against whom he played. He starred on both offense and defense. He dominated the all-American ranks in college and the all-pro selections as a Bear.

Even today, 20 years after his retirement, his contributions on the football field have not been forgotten. Proof of this comes from his 1975 election to membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His sport's highest honor was officially bestowed on August 2, 1975 when George joined Roosevelt Brown, Dante Lavelli and Lenny Moore in impressive induction ceremonies on the front steps of the Canton grid shrine.

During his eight years in Chicago, Connor gained the rare distinction of earning all-NFL honors at three different positions-offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and linebacker. Although George is remembered as one of the finest of the post-World War II tackles, it was as a linebacker that he enjoyed his greatest stardom in pro football. He was one of the first to become a regular linebacker and he still ranks as one of the very best!

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes, and it was sheer necessity that caused George to become a linebacker in the first place.

Back in 1949, the Philadelphia Eagles were tearing up the NFL. The week before the Bears were to play the high-flying Eagles, Head Coach George Halas and his assistant, Hunk Anderson, were devising some desperate measures to slow the Philadelphia offense.

Of particular concern was an end sweep that saw fullback Joe Muha and the two guards lead bulldozing Steve Van Buren around the end. Van Buren was a terror even without interference but with such an effective convoy out in front, he was virtually unstoppable.

Finally Anderson had a thought: "Why don't we put in a big man like Connor back as linebacker? They won't be able to run over him like they do the lighter guys. Besides he's one of our most aggressive guys and that's the best kind to play linebacker."

The experiment worked. Connor played a major role in blunting the Philadelphia attack. The Bears defeated the Eagles, 38-21, for the only loss Philadelphia suffered in an otherwise perfect season.

From that moment on, George Connor was a linebacker. From that moment on, the prototype for the ideal NFL linebacker had been established-he should be big, fast, and mobile, like George Connor!

But all of this did not make George Connor a one-way specialist. He continued to play offensive tackle and, in both 1951 and 1952, he earned all-NFL honors on both the offensive and defensive units, a distinction which Connor today recalls as his biggest thrill in pro football.

George was always one of the smartest men on the field whenever and wherever he played. He seemingly knew instinctively about keys-the tips that the movement of certain offensive players will provide to the alert defender to tell a split-second ahead of time the way a play is going-long before keys became the vogue.

"If you try to follow the ball," Connor explained," any slick quarterback can fool you. But if you concentrate on watching a few key offensive players, they'll lead you right to the play."

As with any Hall of Famer, there are many stories of Connor's gridiron heroics. Perhaps the most dramatic one stems from his exceptional performance at the 1952 Pro Bowl game.

On a series early in the fourth quarter, Connor, playing left linebacker, threw Dub Jones for a loss on first down. George moved to the right side on second down and stopped Eddie Price on an end run. On third down, he charged the passer, Otto Graham, and threw him for a ten-yard loss. On fourth down, Graham passed to Lavelli but Connor moved back into the secondary to bat the ball down. For the day, Connor had been a major factor in limiting the American stars to 15 yards while the National team was winning, 30-13.

Had it not been for the determination and devotion of his mother and father, George Connor might not have survived infancy. George was born in Chicago on January 21, 1925, a premature baby weighing only three pounds. While doctors had no hope for his survival, his parents would not give up. After a year of constant vigil during which boiled cabbage juice was the major item in George's diet, his survival was finally assured.

As a youngster, George tended to be on the small side. When he first joined the De Lasalle High School team as a freshman, he weighed only 135 pounds and stood only 5-4. Three years later, however, he had blossomed into a strapping 6-1 _, 215-pounder.

Family tradition dictated that George should attend Holy Cross so, in the fall of 1943, George reported to the Crusaders as a freshman tackle. He won a starting job despite his coach's determination not to use first-year men on varsity. By year's end, George had earned all-America acclaim on several selections.

After a successful, but not as spectacular sophomore year at Holly Cross, the Navy intervened and sent George off to study in its college training program at Notre Dame. Navy rules prohibited Connor from playing varsity football with the Irish but, when he completed his 35 months of duty in 1946, George was determined that he wanted to play out his college days in South Bend.

With the Irish, Connor's career mushroomed. He won all-America honors in both 1946 and 1947 and he was also named the first winner of the Outland Award which goes annually to the Nation's finest college lineman.

The Boston Yanks selected George No. 1 in the 1948 draft but Connor steadfastly insisted that he would play only in Chicago. So the Yanks traded his negotiation rights to the Bears for a well-regarded tackle from Temple, Mike Jarmoluk.

Connor eventually chose signing with the Bears over the Cleveland Browns of the rival All-America Football Conference and the size of the contract the Bears offered him probably made his choice an easy one.

Halas offered Connor a three-year, no-cut, no-trade contract at $13,000 annually, a sum unheard of for lineman in the late 1940's. George signed the same day that his Notre Dame teammate, quarterback Johnny Lujack, also cast his lot with the Bears.

Chicago was loaded with some of the great names of all time-Sid Luckman, George McAfee and Bulldog Turner among the 1948 Bears all are now Hall of Famers-and only four rookies made the squad. Lujack, Connor, Bobby Layne and J.R. Boone were successful new candidates.

Connor played the game hard, clean and with exceptional effectiveness and he might have continued to star for years had not a knee injury cut him down in the 1954 pre-season. George played only half-time in 1954 and returned for possibly his finest season in 1955.

But before the 1956 season got underway, he decided to call it quits.

"After a few days in camp, I realized I couldn't do the job anymore," Connor explained. "I was determined that I would never be content to just hang on. I wanted to leave while the cheers were still ringing."

In reluctantly accepting George's decision, Halas, the Bears' head man, may have summed it up best: "We set high standards for Connor as a player and he exceeded them. He parlayed leadership and intelligence and fine ability into one of the great careers of our time!"