One for the Ages: Sid Luckman's 1943 NFL Championship Game

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One for the Ages: Sid Luckman's 1943 NFL Championship Game

In 1943, future Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman turned in the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history.

He completed 110 of 202 passes for 2,194 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions— for an absolutely astounding passer rating of 107.5. 

He set several records that still stand today, including yards per attempt (10.9), yards per completion (19.9), and touchdown percentage (13.9). He threw seven touchdown passes on Sid Luckman Day in November. 

Luckman single-handedly brought the average passer rating in the league from 41.9 to 48.4.

The Bears finished 8-1-1 and captured the Western Division championship. 

They did so despite the absence of head coach George Halas—who left the Bears in midseason of 1942 to join the Navy. 

In fact, a whole slew of players from around the league were serving in World War II. According to ProFootballHOF.com, more than 1,000 players had left the league to serve in the war—including Hall of Famers Chuck Bednarik, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, and Bob Waterfield. 

Luke Johnsos and Hunk Anderson served as co-coaches for the Bears for three-and-a- half seasons, until 1946. 

For the third time in four seasons, the Bears faced Sammy Baugh and the Washington Redskins for the Eastern Division championship.

In 1940, the Bears defeated the Redskins 73-0 in what is still the biggest blowout in the history of the National Football League.

In 1942, the Bears coasted through the regular season with a perfect 13-0 record and a 292-point differential that would stand as an NFL record until 2007. But in the championship game, the Redskins earned revenge, stifling the high-powered Bears and winning 14-6.

Stakes were high heading into the 1943 championship game. 

The Bears were the early favorites, based on their extra two wins in the regular season. However, the Redskins had beaten the Bears 21-7 in the regular season, forcing six turnovers and rushing for 213 yards. 

 

The Game

The first quarter remained a 0-0 defensive struggle, reminiscent of the previous season's low-scoring championship game.

The Redskins took an early 7-0 lead on an Andy Farkas one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But the Bears answered right back, as Luckman tossed a 31-yard scoring strike to All-Pro running back Harry Clarke.

The Bears added a touchdown run by future Hall of Fame running back Bronko Nagurski and entered halftime with a 14-7 lead.

In the third and fourth quarters, Luckman caught fire. 

He tossed four touchdown passes—two in each quarter. Running back Dante Magnani, who had totaled just 88 receiving yards during the regular season, caught touchdown passes of 36 and 66 yards in the third quarter alone. 

End Jim Benton caught a 26-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and Clarke added his second touchdown reception to give the Bears a 41-14 lead.

A late Baugh touchdown pass closed out the scoring, giving the Bears a solid 41-21 victory and cementing themselves as one of the earliest dynasties in the National Football League. 

For the day, Luckman completed 15 of 26 passes for 286 yards and five touchdowns. His five touchdowns stood as a single-game postseason record for 26 years. 

He outrushed the entire Redskins team, carrying eight times for 64 yards.

He intercepted two of Baugh's passes and returned them for 33 yards.

He returned two punts for 32 yards. 

And he even handled the punting duties, booting three for 74 yards. 

He avenged the Bears' loss from the 1942 NFL championship—a game in which he did absolutely nothing right (5-of-12 for two yards and two interceptions). 

Luckman did everything right for the Bears on Dec. 26, 1943. In fact, he contributed more to his victory than any player in the history of the NFL.

 

Aftermath

Luckman volunteered as an ensign with the U.S. Merchant Marines after the 1943 season. He wasn't able to practice with the Bears during the 1944 and 1945 seasons, but he was able to return to the Bears on game days. 

Luckman returned to the Bears as a full-time starter in 1946 and led the Bears to a fourth NFL championship. 

He retired in 1950 after a fantastic 12-year career. Six years later, Luckman was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He is unarguably the greatest quarterback in Chicago Bears history and is probably one of the 10 best quarterbacks in NFL history. 

For one season—1943—he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. 

For one day—Dec. 26, 1943—he was the greatest football player who ever lived.

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