Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

George Halas

With the overwhelming national popularity that professional football enjoys today, you wouldn't suppose that a small business concern such as the Staley Starch Works of Decatur, IL., could have played much of a part in the proud history of the game. Yet, had it not been for that company and its president, A. E. Staley, it is quite probable that professional football would not be as we know it today. For it was Staley who ushered George S. Halas onto the pro football scene and in turn it was Halas who introduced many of the things that are good into the professional football world.

At the time of his enshrinement, Halas was one of 54 persons in the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Yet, if the number honored greats were only 10, or even five, it is certain that George Halas would still be honored, for his contributions to the game as a player, as a coach, as a club owner and executive dwarf those of almost any other individual.

It all started back in 1920 when the Staley Starch Works assigned to its new recreational director the task or organizing a football team. Halas did the job so well that the Decatur Staleys of, 1920 won 13 games and lost just once.

That same year, on September 17, meeting in an automobile agency in Canton, Halas participated in an even more significant venture, the organization of the American Football Association. A year later, the league was recognized under the name of the National Football League and one of history's most successful sports associations was on its way.

Back with the Staleys, the financial picture was as dim as the playing situation was bright. Convinced that his company could no longer afford to sponsor such a venture as a professional football team, Staley gave Halas $5,000 and advised him to move the team to Chicago. The only stipulation that was made was that the name Staleys be retained for at least one year.

Faced with the problem of finding a suitable spot to play in Chicago, Halas arranged to lease Wrigley Field from Bill Veeck, Sr., then owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. In as much as Halas himself was already a staunch Cubs fan, the name Bears was a natural for the football team that was to play at the Cubs' home park. So Bears it was, starting in 1922.

Like almost all other pioneer ventures, professional football was taking its financial knocks in the early 1920s. But it was a move by Halas late in 1925 that not only achieved for pro football a "major breakthrough" in fan appeal, but perhaps saved the game itself from extinction at the time.

The hottest football name in the nation that year was Harold (Red) Grange, the Galloping Ghost from the University of Illinois. Signing Grange just as soon as his Illinois eligibility was completed, Halas had his new star in a Bears uniform in time for the Thanksgiving Day game with the cross-town rivals, the Cardinals. Then followed a tortuous barnstorming tour around the country, but crowds that ranged from good to great saw the Bears and Red Grange and there never again was a doubt that pro football was on the American sports scene to stay.

A complete recounting of the Halas sage would take several volumes for almost every one of George's 49 years in professional football have been exciting, eventful, and productive ones. In 40 years as a coach, the first 10 of which were as a player-coach, Halas' teams won 321 games, lost 142 games and tied 31. To grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment, consider that No. 2 coach in a way of number of victories is another Pro football hall of Famer, Curly Lambeau with 212 career victories!

At age 73, Halas was still active as chairman of the board of the Bears, having just retired for the fourth time as head coach of the Chicago eleven. Earlier, Halas had retired in 1929, in 1942 (because of World War II), and in 1955. But each previous time, he came back to coach again.

Obviously, there have been the peaks and the valleys in almost half a century of pro football activity, but Halas calls the day in 1940 when the Bears, in perhaps the greatest single team performance of all time, annihilated the Washington Redskins, 73-0 in the NFL title game, his greatest thrill.

But the thrills that millions have experienced at least indirectly because of George Halas can never be counted. During that long tenure as Mr. Everything of one of pro football's most famous franchises, Halas can point out eight NFL titles and to numerous seasons when the Bears were in title contention right tot he final wire.

And Halas can be proud, too, that there are more "Alumni" of the Chicago Bears in the Professional Football Hall of Fame than any other team.

Doug Atkins...George Blanda...Dick Butkus...George Connor...Mike Ditka...Paddy Driscoll...Jim Finks...Danny Fortmann...Bill George...Harold "Red" Grange...Ed Healey...Bill Hewitt...Stan Jones...Sid Luckman...Link Lyman...George McAfee...George Musso...Bronko Nagurski...Walter Payton...Gale Sayers...Mike Singletary...Joe Stydahar...George Trafton...Clyde "Bulldog" Turner... all great players who will be remembered... all members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame and all former Chicago Bears!

All possessed great talents and enjoyed unusually successful careers. And everyone can trace his success in pro football and opportunity for success to the greatest Chicago Bear of them all - George S. Halas.