By Michael Burke
I have such a genuine respect for “Papa Bear” George Halas, Walter Payton, and other Chicago Bears greats. Next to my love for the Dallas Cowboys this is the team I most admire for their history and impact upon the game of football. The Bears got started as an independent professional football team in 1919.
They were founded in Decatur, Illinois as the Decatur Staleys. The name comes from a starch company. Then a year later they moved to Chicago and became a cross town rival of the Chicago Cardinals. In 1920 and 1921 the team was called the Chicago Staleys. In 1922 they officially became the Chicago Football Bears.
Two Teams, One City
A little known fact in today’s NFL is that when the NFL began in 1920 they were originally called the American Professional Football Association. There were 14 teams and they did not play equal schedules. They took games whenever they could. In 1922 the Chicago Bears were not the only organization to change names. The APFA became the NFL. From the original APFA of 1920 there are only two remaining professional football franchises. They are the Cardinals and the Bears. The Bears, under the direction of George Halas became winners. The Cardinals, under the direction of William Bidwell, did not. As such, the Bears became a legendary NFL team, and can proudly boast of several NFL records.
For example, the Chicago Bears have 26 of their legends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is the most by any team. They have 13 jersey numbers retired forever. They are the first team in the NFL to collect more than 700 regular season wins. The Packers became the second team to do so just this year with their third win of the season. They missed the chance to do that over the Bears by one game. The Bears now stand at 735 wins. Their current all time record stands at 735-541-42. They also have a postseason record of 16-17 with 1 Super Bowl win, and 8 NFL Championships. The Bears success eventually pushed the Cardinals out of Chicago and into St. Louis, Missouri where they played for 28 seasons until moving on to Arizona where they play now.
George Halas was a football player at the University of Illinois. During World War I he served in the Navy. After the war ended he was the MVP of the 1919 Rose Bowl. He also played baseball and even briefly played for the Yankees. If you know your history this is the Babe Ruth era and they were both outfielders. Halas was then offered the job as a player coach of the Staleys, and the day to day operations of the team were turned over to him and Edward “Dutch” Sternaman.
The Staleys were financially troubled and in 1921 the team was turned over completely to Halas. They won their first Championship that year. It is called the NFL Championship, but it is really the last APFA Championship. In 1922 the name was changed by Halas to the Bears, allegedly to honor the baseball Chicago Cubs.
Halas played End. That is a WR on offense and a DE on defense. He also kept charge of ticket sales and concessions. He was also the coach of the team. In a 1923 game he stripped legendary player Jim Thorpe of the ball and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. That was an NFL record that stood until 1972. Thus Halas was the owner, coach, GM, and a player as well as in charge of tickets and concessions. He was known as “Mr. Everything.”
George Halas is the only individual to have been actively involved in the NFL for it’s first 50 years. In fact he was involved for the NFL’s first 60 years. If ever there was an icon in the NFL “Papa Bear” is it. He assigned his son George Jr. as Bears President in 1963 and he served in that capacity until 1979 when he passed away.
“Iron Mike” Ditka
One of Papa Bear’s final actions as Bears leader was to hire Mike Ditka who led the Bears to their one and only Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XX. Ditka was hired in 1982. One year later Papa Bear died at the age of 88. He never saw his Bears win the Super Bowl. Upon his death, his daughter Virginia McCaskey assumed the leadership role as Bears owner. Had her brother George Jr. not died it undoubtedly would have been him.
Virginia McCaskey hired her son, Michael, as the team President. In 1999 Virginia McCaskey was forced to fire her own son from his role leading the Chicago Bears. She is still the principle owner of the Bears, she controls 80% of the team. Michael McCaskey still works for the Bears as the Chairman of the Board, but Ted Phillips is the hands on control of the Bears. Thus the Chicago Bears have really only had three owners. The Staley Starch Company, Papa Bear, and his daughter Virginia. Only the Halas family has ever been in charge while the team has operated as the Bears.
Head to Head
The series between the two teams stands tied at 11-11. The Cowboys are 5-6 all time in Chicago. The first time the teams met was the Cowboys inaugural season in 1960. Of course the Bears won that meeting. George Halas and Tom Landry faced each other as rival head coaches three times. The last time was in 1964 when Landry got the upper hand. Halas’ last year as a head coach was 1967.
Today’s Chicago Bears have the letters GSH on the sleeves of their uniforms. GSH is their continuing tribute to “Papa Bear,” George Stanley Halas. If you asked Bears fans to name the greatest Bear of them all, Halas would probably get the most votes, but the roll call of greats is impressive no matter what team you are a fan of. Red Grange, Sid Luckman, Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, and Walter Payton are just a few of the greatest players ever to don a Bears uniform.
Why do you think Emmitt Smith gets so emotional when he discusses Walter Payton? Quite simply it’s because “Sweetness” was remarkable. One of the greatest not just to wear a Bears jersey, but one of the greatest to wear any jersey.
The Cowboys and Bears have met twice in the post season. The first time was the Cowboys 1977 Super Bowl season. The last time was 1991, the year before the Cowboys became a juggernaut. The Cowboys won both games.
A Deep and Storied History
I consider the Dallas Cowboys to be the greatest franchise in NFL History. Their success in the post season, all time winning %, and appeal can simply not be denied. I don’t mind at all that the Bears are in the conversation as well. I think they are a grand franchise, with one of the greatest histories of them all.
The Chicago Bears are the all time leader in NFL winning % of regular season games. They currently stand at .574%. The Cowboys are second at .572%. That is another reason why I want a Cowboys win this week, to close that gap a little. That win by the Cowboys would put the Bears at .57316, and the Cowboys at .57280. In the remaining 4 games if the Cowboys finish 1 game better than the Bears they will take over the position as the NFL’s all time, even though they would not take that position away simply by beating the Bears. By virtue of having played fewer games each win by the Cowboys boosts their win % higher than a win by the Bears does. So if the Cowboys finish 4-0 and the Bears finish 3-1 with the only loss being to the Cowboys, the Bears will hold a very slight advantage that would disappear with successive wins by both teams. Of course, if you throw in the post season games Dallas already is best.
“Tell me how you really feel?”
What that means most of all is that I want a win in the worst way this week, for obviously selfish reasons. I want to cut into that Bears edge. I do not want to be behind them in the head to head series. I don’t like trailing any team in any positive category. Besides that, the Chicago Bears have won 3 in a row in the series including the last 2 seasons. We need to get the foul taste out of our mouths from our spoiled Thanksgiving.