Beattie Feathers: A Forgotten NFL Legend

Ryan FryeSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2010

I wrote this article in December of 2008 on TriCitiesSports.com. I do not usually post the same thing on both websites, but many people have liked this.

Although few remember him now because he played in the NFL in the mid-1930's, the player's name was Beattie Feathers. Since he was my grandfather's cousin, I am proud to say that I am related to him. My dad remembers meeting him and playing catch with him as a boy. I wish I had been there, too.

In 1934, Beattie "Big Chief" Feathers was the star rookie halfback for the Chicago Bears (known then as the "Monsters of the Midway"). Because of his American Indian heritage, he was sometimes compared to Jim Thorpe. And speaking of Hall of Famers, Beattie played on the same teams as George Halas, Red Grange (the famed "Galloping Ghost"), Sid Luckman, and Bronko Nagurski. Yet in 1934, he was considered the star of the team.

No one before Beattie Feathers had ever gained 1,000 yards rushing in a season, and no one repeated his feat for another thirteen seasons, until Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles gained 1,008 yards in 1947. But he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1934 and broke a barrier many thought impossible at that time. He was the star halfback on this historic team and was the main reason Coach George Halas moved the famed Red Grange primarily to wide receiver. Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski said of Beattie: "Watching him run reminded me of watching a jackrabbit in a cornfield with a hound chasing him. He would change his pace and his direction all the time. He also stayed close to his interference. Beattie would stay with you as long as you could do him some good then he'd make his cut and go off on his own. "

In 1934, the Bears had a perfect 13-0 record, the second year George Halas was their full time head coach (before that, he was their player-coach). The 1934 Bears team was the league's first unbeaten and untied in regular season play, and the Bears outscored their opponents 286-86 that year.

Since then, there have been only two other NFL teams that went undefeated in the regular season: the Miami Dolphins in 1972 and the New England Patriots last season. However, like the Patriots, the Bears were not perfect. In the NFL Championship game, they lost to the New York Giants in the famous "sneakers" game.

Unfortunately, Beattie received a very serious career-long injury two games before the end of the season in 1934. Against the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), he broke his shoulder bone. He missed the final two games of the season but played hurt throughout the playoffs. The shoulder injury that kept Feathers out of the final two games of 1934 forced him to play with an immobilizing brace the rest of his career.

Shoulder pads were very primitive in those days. For this reason, he never approached the greatness of his 1934 season when he rushed for 1,004 yards on just 119 carries. But he continued to play hurt for six more years with the Bears, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Green Bay Packers.

Before he was an NFL star, Beattie was considered one of the best to ever wear
Tennessee orange. In high school, he led the Virginia High Bearcats to the Virginia State Championship. In 1931, Beattie started a terrific career at Tennessee and was a consensus All-American during his time there. He led the "Big Orange" to a 25-3-2
record in his three seasons there. Teammate Freddy Mosses once said, "Beattie didn't think in terms of first downs, only in terms of touchdowns."

Beattie Feathers was also known as the "Bonding Antelope" at
Tennessee because of his unique running style. He was a running back, punter (averaging over 48 yards per punt in 1933 in college), and even returned kicks. The Vols won the SEC championship in 1932 and in 1933, with Beattie as their star halfback, and he was named the SEC's MVP in 1933. Beattie was inducted into the UT sports Hall of Fame for both his football exploits and his very successful baseball career at Tennessee
.

After Beattie's playing days were over, he was a head coach in both baseball and football. In 1942, Beattie was Appalachian State's head football coach. He took over the North Carolina State Football program from 1944 to 1951. He was head baseball Coach at Texas Tech from 1954 to 1960. Then, he went back to football coaching at Wake Forrest, coaching them as assistant then later head football coach from 1961 to 1977. As a head coach at Wake, he coached a halfback named Brian Piccolo, who later stared with Gale Sayers on the Chicago Bears until his untimely death, for which the movie "Brian's Song" was based upon.

Red Grange once said that if Beattie had not have been so badly injured he could have been a Hall Fame running back. I agree. In the entire history of the National Football League, Feathers still holds the NFL record for most yards per carry (8.44) by a running back in a season, 76 years after he set the record. Michael Vick set the overall record at 8.45 yards per carry in 2006 but as a quarterback.

Here is the original link to this article: http://www.tricitiessports.com/beattie-feathers-a-forgotten-local-legend-p30981.htm?twindow=Default&smenu=115&mad=No

 

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