Bears owners relish their role in NFL history

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When George Halas and other representatives of pro football teams gathered at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 17, 1920 to form what would become the NFL, there weren’t enough chairs for all those in attendance.

As a result, Halas and some of his counterparts sat on the running boards of Hupmobiles in the showroom, each ponying up $100 to create what has become the most popular and prolific sports league in North American history.

With the Bears and the NFL set to celebrate their 100th seasons, Halas’ daughter, Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, and grandson, team chairman George H. McCaskey, both sat on the running board of a pristine 1920 Hupmobile displayed last week at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

As you’d expect, George McCaskey is extremely proud of his family’s heritage and marvels at his mother, who was born three years after the NFL was founded and has had an up close-and-personal view of the league’s tremendous growth over nine-plus decades. 

“She amazes me on a daily basis,” George said. “Her recall is phenomenal. She sat for a total of 12 hours of interviews with Don Pierson and Dan Pompei for our centennial book, which is another thing we’re excited about. 

“They conducted the interview in the living room of her home and I sat in the kitchen so I could eavesdrop a little bit. I was just blown away by how much she remembers about places, events, players, their wives, their families. It was extraordinary.”

In the early days of the NFL, Halas would write up summaries of Bears games and go to Chicago newspapers to beg them to print a few paragraphs. Fast forward to 2019 and the league is a multi-billion dollar sports juggernaut that’s adored by millions of people throughout the world.

George McCaskey is frequently asked what his grandfather, who passed away in 1983, would think of the present-day NFL.

“I was thinking of that when we were walking around the expanded Halas Hall,” George said. “I think the Bears used to practice in Lincoln Park. I know they practiced at Tam O’Shanter Country Club in Niles. They practiced at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Soldier Field. Wrigley Field, wherever they could find a patch of green.

“To walk around this [multimillion state-of-the-art] facility and look at what he hath wrought, it’s kind of mindboggling. Mom was pointing out that when George Halas started the Bears, television hadn’t even been invented. It was years away. So I don’t know that he could have envisioned the explosive growth of our game. But I’m convinced that he knew that professional football was something that America would come to love.

“There’s a little plaque in the lobby of Halas Hall, underneath this life-size piece of art of George Halas. And the plaque is written by Bill McGrane, a pretty good writer. There’s a line in there something to the effect of: ‘By sheer force of his immense will, George Halas demanded that America pay attention to professional football.’ I think that’s what has happened.”

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