George Stanley Halas, Sr.
(February 2, 1895 –
October 31, 1983), nicknamed "Papa Bear"
, was a player, coach
, inventor, jurist
producer, philanthropist, philatelist
owner and pioneer in professional American football
and the iconic longtime
leader of the NFL
Early life and sports career
born in Chicago, Illinois into a
family of Hungarian immigrants, had a varied career in sports.
Halas playing baseball in 1919
In 1915, Halas worked temporarily for
Western Electric and was planning on being on the Eastland
. He was running late, however, and
missed the capsizing. After graduating from Crane High School in Chicago,
he attended the University of Illinois, playing football for coach Bob Zuppke as well as baseball and basketball,
and earning a degree in civil engineering.
He also became a
member of Tau Kappa Epsilon
fraternity. He helped Illinois win the 1918 Big Ten
an ensign in the Navy during
World War I, he played for a team at the
Great Lakes Naval Training
Station, and was named the MVP of the 1919 Rose Bowl.
On a team which included Paddy Driscoll
and Jimmy Conzelman
, Halas scored two touchdowns
and returned an intercepted pass 77 yards in a 17-0 win; the team
was also rewarded with their military discharges.
Afterward, Halas played minor
and semi-pro baseball, eventually earning a promotion to
the New York Yankees
, where he
played 12 games as an outfielder
. However, a hip injury
effectively ended his baseball career. The popular myth was that
Halas was succeeded as the Yankees' right
by Babe Ruth
, but in reality
it was Sammy Vick who was replaced by Ruth.
Professional football career
Offered a position with the A. E. Staley Company, a
manufacturer, as a company representative, player on the
company-sponsored baseball team, and player-coach of the
company-sponsored football team, Halas selected his alma mater's
colors — orange and navy blue — for the team's uniforms.
Halas represented the Staleys at the meeting which formed the
American Professional Football Association (which became the NFL in
1922) in Canton,
After suffering financial losses despite a 10-1-2 record, company
founder and namesake Augustus E. Staley turned control of the team
to Halas in 1921. Halas moved the team to Chicago and took on
teammate Dutch Sternaman as a
The newly minted "Chicago Staleys" won the NFL
championship that year. They took the name Bears in 1922 as a tribute
to baseball's Chicago Cubs, which
permitted the Bears to play their games at Wrigley Field.
Halas not only played end (wide receiver on offense, defensive end
on defense) but also handled ticket sales and the business of
running the club; lore says he even sold tickets before the game.
All of that perhaps not being enough to do, Halas also coached the
team. Named to the NFL's all-pro team in the 1920s, his playing
highlight occurred in a 1923 game when he stripped Jim Thorpe
of the ball, recovered the fumble, and
returned it 98 yards — a league record which would stand until
1972. In 1925, Halas persuaded Illinois star player Red Grange
to join the Bears; it was a
significant step in establishing both the respectability and
popularity of the league, which had previously been viewed as a
refuge for less admirable players.
After ten seasons, Halas stepped back from the game in 1930,
retiring as a player and leaving the sidelines as coach; but he
remained the owner of the club, becoming sole owner in 1932. The
lure of the field was too much, however, as Halas returned in 1933
to coach the Bears for another ten seasons. During his absence from
coaching, the team had also won the 1932 championship. His 1934
team was undefeated until a loss in the championship game to the
New York Giants
late 1930s, Halas — with University of Chicago coach Clark
Shaughnessy — perfected the T-formation system to create a revolutionary and
overwhelming style of play which drove the Bears to an astonishing
73-0 victory over the Washington
Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship Game.
team in the league immediately began trying to imitate the format.
The Bears repeated as NFL champions in 1941, and the 1940s would be
remembered as the era of the "Monsters of the Midway."
Halas and Shaughnessy had created a revolutionary concept with the
T-formation offense. The complex spins, turns, fakes, and all
around athletic versatility required to execute the scheme, limited
the possible players available. Halas recruited Columbia University
quarterback Sid Luckman
in 1939. Luckman
launched his Hall of Fame career, playing the position from 1939 to
1950. Halas was not satisfied with other players who succeeded
Luckman. During this coaching stint, he had on the Bears roster two
future Hall of Fame players, Bobby Layne
in 1948 and George Blanda
from 1949 to
1958. Other notable players included Heisman Trophy
winner Johnny Lujack
from 1948 to 1951 and Zeke Bratkowski
from 1954 to 1960. Blanda
played in the NFL until 1975; Bratkowski moved on to Vince Lombardi
's Green Bay Packers
from 1960 to 1971; and
Bobby Layne quarterbacked the Detroit
to three NFL championship games between 1952-54, winning
Halas went on a second three-year hiatus during World War II
, serving in the Armed Forces from
1943-45, while the Bears won another title in 1943. Returning to
the field in 1946, he coached the club for a third decade, again
winning a title in his first year back as coach. After a brief
break in 1956-57, he resumed the controls of the club for a final
decade from 1958 to 1967, winning his last championship in 1963. He
did not, however, enjoy the same success as he had before the war.
He did win his 200th game in 1950 and his 300th game in 1965,
becoming the first coach to reach both milestones. In 40 years as a
coach, he endured only six losing seasons.
Head coaching record
After the 1967 season, Halas — then the oldest coach in league
history — retired as coach. He continued as the team's principal
owner, and took an active role in team operations until his death.
He was honored in 1970 and 1980 as the only person involved in the
league throughout its first fifty and sixty years of existence. His
son George, Jr.
president of the Bears from 1963 until his sudden death at age 54
in 1979. One of Halas's final significant ownership acts was to
hire Mike Ditka
as head coach in 1982
(Ditka was a former Halas player in the 1960s).
In the 1971 made-for-television film Brian's Song
, about the friendship between
Chicago Bears players Brian Piccolo
and Gale Sayers
, Halas was portrayed by
, who won an Emmy Award
for his performance.
of pancreatic cancer in Chicago on
October 31 1983 at
age 88, and is entombed in St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery in
eldest daughter, Virginia Halas
, succeeded him as majority owner, and her son Michael
McCaskey served as team President from 1983-1999 at which time Mrs.
McCaskey was forced to fire her own son on grounds of incompetence.
In the 1985 season when the Bears won their first ever Super Bowl,
they recorded a song called "Super
." In the song, backup quarterback Steve Fuller
is for Mike [then current coach Mike
] and Papa Bear Halas."
Super Bowl XVIII
was dedicated to
Halas. The pregame ceremonies featured a moment of silence and the
ceremonial coin toss by former Chicago Bear Bronko Nagurski
Impact on football
A pioneer both on and off the field, Halas made the Bears the first
team to hold daily practice sessions, to analyze film
of opponents to find weaknesses and means of
attack, place assistant coaches in the press box during games, and
to broadcast games by radio
. He also offered
to share the team's substantial television
income with teams in smaller cities,
firmly believing that what was good for the league would ultimately
benefit his own team. A firm disciplinarian, Halas maintained
complete control of his team and did not tolerate disobedience and
insubordination by players. He also insisted on absolute integrity
and honesty in management, believing that a handshake was
sufficient to finalize a deal; few, if any, intermediaries were
George Halas' career ledger reads as follows: 63 years as an owner,
40 as a coach, 324 wins, and 8 NFL titles as a coach or owner.
He was a
charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963; the Hall of Fame is appropriately located
on George Halas Drive.
championship trophy also
bears his name. In both 1963 and 1965 he was selected by
The Sporting News
, the AP
and the UPI as the NFL Coach of the Year. In 1997 he was featured
on a U.S.
as one of the legendary coaches of football. He
has been recognized by ESPN
as one of the ten
most influential people in sports in the 20th century, and as one
of the greatest coaches. In 1993, Miami
coach Don Shula
surpassed Halas' victory total. To this day, the jerseys of the
Chicago Bears bear the initials "GSH" on their upper left sleeves
in commemoration of Halas.
- George Halas Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks -