George Stanley Halas was born on February 2, 1895 in Chicago, Illinois. Halas was born into a family of Hungarian immigrants, and had played a variety of sports as a youngster. After he graduated at Crane Tech High School in Chicago, Halas would attend the Univeristy of Illinois.
He played football for Illinois' legendary coach Bob Zuppke as well as playing baseball and basketball for the university. He earned a civil engineering degree while he attended Illinois, and helped the football team win the Big Ten title in 1918. After leaving Illinois, Halas served in World War I, and played football for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. The team won the Rose Bowl over Mare Island by the score of 17-0 in 1919. Halas won MVP honors for the game after he scored both of the team's touchdowns, and returned an interception 77 yards in the victory. The team was rewarded with military discharges.
In 1919, Halas took up minor league and semi-pro baseball. His skills eventually earned him a promotion to the New York Yankees team that year. Halas played in 12 games in the outfield in 1919, but his career was cut short because of a hip injury he suffered while playing. The Yankees purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox before the 1920 season. Contrary to popular legend, Halas wasn't replaced by Ruth. Ruth replaced Sammy Vick in the outfield. But the lives of both Halas and Ruth would change forever in 1920.
After his career was done with the Yankees, Halas was offered a position at a starch manufacturer in Decatur, IL to be their company representative. He was also a player for the company baseball team as well as player-coach for the Staley company football team that was run by A.E. Staley. Halas then selected the orange and blue colors that he wore at the University of Illinois to be the team's colors.
In 1920, Halas represented the team in a meeting for the American Professional Football Association that was starting up that year in Canton, Ohio. The team was approved to play in the new league as the Decatur Staleys which Halas adopted in honor of the owner. Halas was in control of team operations with Dutch Sternaman. The team went 5-1-2 in their first season while finishing second in the league. The team had a bad year financially, and Halas decided to move the team to Chicago. The franchise won their first pro football title in 1921 while finishing 9-1-1 on the campaign. Before the 1922 season, Halas decided to rename the team the Bears in large part because of the Chicago Cubs franchise, and them playing at their home ballpark of Wrigley Field.
Not only was Halas the coach of the Bears, he played on the offense and defense for the team. His biggest highlight as a player was in 1923 when he stripped Jim Thorpe of the ball, and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. That was a league record that stood until 1972. Also, he handled ticket sales and the business end of the club in those days, too. The league struggled financially in general, but that would all change for Halas and the NFL in 1925.
It was on November 22, 1925 that forever changed the game of pro football. This was when Halas convinced Illinois star Harold "Red" Grange to sign with the Bears just one day after playing his last collegiate game. Halas signed him to a $100,000 deal that included his salary and ticket sales. Typically, players only made about $100 a game in those days. This was for a 19 game barn-storming tour for the Bears in 1925 that saw fans come out in record numbers to see Grange play. The nation preferred watching college football in those days because they did not like watching paid players play. Grange changed all that as well as Halas to come up with the idea to promote the league at different venues around the country.
In December 1925, the Bears played at the Polo Grounds which was home to the Giants. The crowd was announced to be over 65,000 fans which helped saved the Giants franchise from bankruptcy. That one single move by Halas to go after Grange was so critical in saving the financially struggling league from going under. Both guys deserve credit for this.
After coaching and playing for the team for ten seasons, Halas stepped down from both positions following the 1929 season to run the club. Halas became sole owner for the Bears in 1932 while the team won it's second league title by beating the Portsmouth Lions in the NFL's first unofficial championship game that year. Halas came back to coaching in 1933 to lead the Bears for the next ten seasons mainly due to the fact that he had to cut costs because of a bad season financially and the Great Depression. They won the league's original NFL Championship Game in 1933 after it was brought back due to the success the year before.
In the late 30s, Halas and University of Chicago head coach, Clark Shaughnessy, perfected the T-formation. The team just needed to find someone who could run it, and Halas found the right person by drafting Columbia University quarterback Sid Luckman in 1939. After losing on the final game of the regular season to the Redskins in 1940, Halas unleashed the new formation on those same Redskins a week later in the NFL title game.
The Bears won that game 73-0 which is the largest margin of victory in NFL history. The T-formation was alive and well, and teams around the league began to copy it. The Bears won their fourth title in 1941. It was around this time that the Bears were known as the Monsters of the Midway in football. After the 1942 season, Halas served for the Armed Forces in World War II until he returned to coach the Bears in 1946. The team did manage to win their fifth league title in 1943 on the strength of Bronko Nagurski, who came out of retirement to help the team.
In his first year back as head coach, the Bears won their sixth title in 1946. He would coach the team until the mid-50's while having future NFL legends Bobby Layne and George Blanda on the team at one time. They both moved onto other teams and eventually earned Hall of Fame honors elsewhere. Halas took a break from coaching in 1956-57 before returning to the team for a final decade in 1958. The Bears would win another league title in 1963 which ended up being the last one for Halas. It was also in 1963 that Halas became a charter member into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Bears fell on hard times on the field when he retired as coach after the 1967 season. He did draft Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in first round of the 1965 NFL Draft in which both guys made their marks on the game. Halas would continue to run the team until his death on October 31, 1983 of pancreatic cancer. His body was entombed at St. Adalbert Catholic Cementary in Niles, Illinois. Bears icon Walter Payton started the George Halas/Walter Payton foundation in tribute to the man who did so much for the franchise. The foundation assists in helping neglected and abused children as well as assisting numerous charities to raise funds.
Halas did refuse to help integrate the league in his early days before signing the league's first African-American player by the name of George Taliaferro in 1933. Taliaferro never played for the Bears, but the team did have the first African-American quarterback to play in a game when Willie Thrower did so in 1953.
Halas was the first coach to have daily practice sessions, anaylze film on opponents, place assistant coaches in press boxes, and to have games broadcasted on radio. Besides helping to create the T-formation, Halas was the first NFL coach to motion guys before a play started. He also shared the team's substantial TV income with other teams in smaller cities because he believed that it was good for the league, and in turn would benefit his own franchise.
Halas was a strict disciplinarian who maintained complete control of team operations, and he absolutely did not tolerate disobedience or any form of misconduct from his players. He was also a firm believer in shaking hands with someone when finalizing a deal believing strictly in integrity as well.
My Take on Halas:
Halas was not a perfect man, but he impacted the game of pro football like no one else. I have to say that it took alot of guts to sign Red Grange to a hefty contract like that, but the impact of the move was most beneficial. The idea he had for the barn-storming tour was exactly what the NFL needed at the time. Halas was a pioneer in pro football that used alot of the tools that NFL players, coaches, and owners still use to this day. He is considered the founding Father of Football for a reason. The NFL is not what it is today without Halas' contributions to the game of pro football. Not only do I have the upmost respect for Halas for enduring the struggle of helping to get the league off the ground, but what he did for the Bears franchise as well. Besides being known as "Papa Bear", he was referred to as "Mr. Everything". All NFL fans should be thankful for what Halas did for the game of football. I know I am. The Chicago Bears historical franchise begins and ends with the name George Stanley Halas.
Facts and numbers about Halas:
-He spent 40 seasons as head coach with only six losing seasons in his tenure for the Bears. Here are the official years that Halas coached the Bears: 1920-29, 1933-42, 1946-55, 1958-67
-He spent 63 seasons as owner for the Bears which makes him the only man in NFL history to be associated with the league for at least the first 50 years of existence. He was honored with being associated with the league for 50 and 60 years in 1970 and 1980, respectively.
-Regular season coaching record: 318-148-31
-Playoff record as coach: 6-3
-Total overall record: 324-151-31
-Six league titles as coach, and eight titles as owner of the Bears. Five of those titles were from the NFL, while one of them was during the APFA days in 1921 which gives him a total of six as head coach. He was owner of the Bears during their NFL Title years of 1932 and 1943.
-He was voted NFL Coach of the Year on two occasions in 1963 and 1965.
-Charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. The Hall of Fame in Canton, OH is located on 2121 George Halas Drive.
-The NFC Championship trophy bears his name.
-ESPN recognized him as one of the ten most influential figures in sports in the 20th Century. ESPN also recognized him as one of the ten best coaches in the 20th Century. He was the only one on both of those Top 10 lists.
-In 1997, a commemorative stamp of Halas was made as one of the legends of pro football.
-Babe Ruth was born just four days after Halas in 1895. Halas was born on Febuary 2 while Ruth was born on February 6. As noted earlier, both paths and lives of each would forever change when one left the Yankees and the other joined them the following season.
-The left sleeves of the Bears jerseys have the initials GHS which is a tribute to Halas.
-His eldest daughter, Virginia McCaskey, remains involved in the front office for the Bears. Her son, Michael McCaskey, was in charge of running the team until 1998 when Virginia named Ted Phillips in charge of the Bears.
-Jack Warden portrayed Halas in the made for TV movie, Brian's Song, which was about the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Warden won an emmy for his portrayal of Halas.
-The Bears training facility in Lake Forest, Illinois is called Halas Hall.
Quotes from and about Halas:
"Don't do anything in practice that you wouldn't do on the field." ~George Halas
"Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it." ~George Halas
"Nothing is work unless you would rather be doing something else." ~George Halas
"San Francisco has always been my favorite booing city. I don't mean the people boo louder or longer, but there is a very special intimacy. When they boo you, you know they mean you. Music, that's what it is to me. One time in Kezar Stadium they gave me a standing boo." ~George Halas
"There is only one man I embrace when we meet. And only one I call coach -- George Halas." ~Vince Lombardi
Photos courtesy of media.insiders.com and New York Times
This is post a tribute to the founder of the Chicago Bears franchise and the man who helped make the NFL what it is today. Thank you, George Stanley Halas.