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100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Kent McDill
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Kent McDill
All rights reserved.
George Halas and the Chicago Bears are synonymous. There could not be one without the other.
Halas created the Chicago Bears, coached them for 40 seasons in four different stints, and led them to eight NFL championships (six as coach). He pioneered the NFL's progress from its early stages. He engineered a profit-sharing plan as the extremely successful Bears propped up the other teams in the NFL when they struggled to make money.
Halas found Mike Ditka as a player and hired him as a coach. He helped create the rivalry between the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. He installed the T-formation that was used by football teams for decades. He found Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. He named the team himself.
There would be no Chicago Bears without George Halas. He is the only person about whom that can be said.
Halas was born in Chicago before the turn of the 20 century. He died in Chicago in 1983. Thirty years later, the Bears uniform still included the football-shaped emblem bearing the initials GSH to represent the memory of George Stanley Halas.
Halas' football career started at the University of Illinois, where he was a member of the 1918 Big Ten champion Illini team. He scored a touchdown in the 1919 Rose Bowl, playing for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team.
In 1920, he joined the A.E. Staley Company of Decatur, Illinois, as a sales representative. He also served as the player-coach for the company's football team, and was the team's representative at a meeting held in Canton, Ohio, which created the American Professional Football Association, the precursor to the NFL.
In 1921, the Staley Company turned the team over to Halas, who moved the club to Chicago, and he created a team good enough to win the 1921 APFA championship. At the time, the team was known as the Chicago Staleys.
The team became known as the Chicago Bears in 1922 (Halas eventually came to be known as "Papa Bear"). Halas played wide receiver and defensive end for the team for the remainder of the '20s, and coached it as well. He played and coached until 1929, when he kicked himself upstairs to serve as the team's owner. He became sole owner of the team in 1932. He returned to coach the team again in 1933, and coached the club for another 10 years while also serving as owner. Under Halas' leadership, the Bears won NFL titles in 1940 and 1941.
In 1936, in order to preserve some order in signing players, Halas spearheaded a new rule that would state the NFL (the league changed its name in 1922) would not sign players who had not graduated from college.
Halas signed up for a stint in the Navy in 1942 to serve during World War II. He handed control of the Bears over to former Bears player and Detroit Lions coach Heartley "Hunk" Anderson and former Bears player Luke Johnsos, who ran the club until 1946. Halas returned to the Bears after World War II in 1946 and coached the club for another decade, winning a title in his first year back. He did not coach the team in 1956 or 1957, but came back yet again to coach from 1958 to 1967, winning a championship in 1963. He retired from coaching in 1968 with a career record of 324 wins, 151 losses, and 31 ties.
After retiring from coaching, Halas remained the active owner of the Bears until his death in 1983.
With the help of University of Chicago coach Clark Shaughnessy, Halas created football's T-formation, a structured offensive plan that called for a great deal of movement and strong running out of the backfield. He lured University of Illinois star Red Grange to the Bears in 1925 at a time when the league was in need of prestige.
Halas built the 1963 NFL champion Bears, whose roster included the legendary likes of tight end Mike Ditka, defensive end Doug Atkins, fullback Rick Casares, linebacker Joe Fortunato, linebacker Bill George, flanker Johnny Morris, defensive end Ed O'Bradovich, safety Richie Petitbon, and quarterback Billy Wade. That team remained favored sons in Chicago for the next 20-plus years, until the Bears won Super Bowl XX after the 1985 season.
In 1982, just a year from his death, Halas made a significant move for the Bears, hiring former Bears tight end Mike Ditka to coach the team. Ditka had no head coaching experience but led the team to its only Super Bowl win in 1985, and that created a long-standing tradition of the Bears hiring first-time head coaches for the franchise.
The George S. Halas Trophy is still awarded to the winner of the NFL's National Football Conference, of which the Bears are a member. He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.CHAPTER 2
The 1970s did not start out well for the Chicago Bears. In fact, since the fabled 1963 championship season, the Bears had only two winning seasons until 1977.
In 1972, star running back Gale Sayers was forced to retire after just seven seasons in the NFL due to injury. The next year, famed linebacker Dick Butkus, the pride of the University of Illinois, also had to leave the game due to injuries. Two legends were gone, each without a championship, and the team was floundering in mediocrity.
George Halas was fed up with the fortunes of his team, and in 1974 he made a momentous decision, hiring Jim Finks away from the Minnesota Vikings to be the team's first general manager to handle most of the daily football operations. Prior to that, Halas had run the show almost by himself, especially in the area of player acquisitions.
In 1975, Finks selected Walter Payton, a running back out of Jackson State University in Mississippi, with the fourth pick in the NFL draft. Things began to turn around from that point.
Payton played 13 seasons for the Bears. By the time he was done playing, he owned the NFL's record for most career rushing yards and touchdowns. He was also the all-time leader in rushing carries, a record he was most proud of.
But Payton's accomplishments on the field were only part of his legacy with the Bears. His unflagging enthusiasm for the game, and the power and strength with which he played, made him a favorite of the Chicago crowd. Add to that a lively personality that led him to be called "Sweetness" and you had one of the most popular football players in Chicago history.
Payton was one of the few players who ever smiled consistently on the field. You could just tell he was having a good time.
Payton was an accomplished college player, and upon completing his career at Jackson State he owned the NCAA's record for scoring with 65 rushing touchdowns. But his first NFL season was not much of a success, scoring just seven touchdowns and gaining less than 700 yards in 14 games.
But by his second year in the pros, Payton had it figured out. He scored 13 touchdowns in 1976, made his first Pro Bowl, and he used that as a springboard for the next season, when he rushed for 1,852 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Starting in 1976, Payton had more than 1,000 yards rushing for each of the next 10 seasons, not counting the strike-shortened 1982 season.
By 1977, the league knew what Payton was all about. His running style was powerful, and his moves were slick. But his best "talent" as a football player was his willingness to make contact with defenders. Payton became famous for his stiff arm, held out in front of him to force away would-be tacklers. He was also well-known for his desire to gain extra yards with effort after being hit, or almost brought down.
Payton even showed his desire to advance the ball once he was on the ground. He developed a signature move of reaching his hand out with the ball, extending his arm as far as possible to place the ball down a yard beyond where he had touched down, hoping the referees would make a mistake in placing the ball and give the Bears yet another few inches.
Payton also made himself known for what he did when he wasn't carrying the football. He was a tremendous blocking back for those times when the fullback was assigned to carry the ball, or the quarterback was trying a bootleg.
The Bears did not need to hand the ball off to Payton to get him to have an effect on the game. He excelled as a receiver, with 492 career receptions and 15 touchdown catches in his career. The play-action worked well when the fake handoff was to Payton, who then ended up with the ball in his hands anyway.
Payton also served as the Bears' emergency punter, and its third-string quarterback. Payton still holds the record for most touchdown passes thrown by a non-quarterback, with eight.
From 1975 to 1983, Payton got to play in two playoff games, losing them both. But Payton's opportunity to win an NFL title grew with the hiring of former Bears tight end Mike Ditka as coach in 1982. Ditka, the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, argumentative player from an earlier era of football, saw a kindred spirit in Payton. They both would go to the greatest lengths to succeed on the football field.
And under Ditka, Payton did succeed. He gained 1,421 yards and had six touchdowns in 1983, his first full season under Ditka (the 1982 season was a strike-shortened campaign), then gained 1,684 yards the next season as the Bears improved to 10–6. In the 1985 season, the Bears went 15–1, cruised through the NFC playoffs to make the Super Bowl for the first time, then crushed the New England Patriots 46–10, one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history. That season Payton averaged 4.8 yards per carry, the most since his best statistical season of 1977 when he averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Although Payton scored 11 touchdowns and gained 1,551 yards rushing on the way to the Super Bowl, and although the Bears scored four offensive touchdowns in the title game, Payton did not score in the championship game. That fact is considered the saddest, most regrettable aspect of his playing career.
Payton played through the 1987 season. At the end of his career, he owned the NFL records for most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns, most rushing attempts, most yards from scrimmage, and most all-purpose yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 1999, Payton was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease, and died in November of 1999 at the young age of 45 from cholangiocarcinoma.
In 1999, the NFL changed the name of its Man of the Year Award to the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, given to a player noted for excellence on the field combined with his volunteer and charity work.CHAPTER 3
The 1985 Super Bowl
The city of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. The Chicago Cubs and White Sox began playing baseball at the end of the 19 century, and through 2013 appeared in 17 World Series or baseball championships combined. The Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships in the 1990s, and provided the stage for Michael Jordan to become the city's favorite athlete of all time, and perhaps the most famous athlete in any sport ever.
But no sporting event captured the city, or remained close to the hearts of the populous, the way the 1985 Chicago Bears did following their majestic victory in Super Bowl XX.
The first Super Bowl ever was not called the Super Bowl. It was called the First World Championship Game, marking the first time the AFL and NFL champions played against each other after the old AFL merged with the NFL. It was a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, played in January of 1967 following the 1966 season. Today it is referred to as Super Bowl I.
Although the Chicago Bears won eight professional football championships prior to the invention of the Super Bowl, they did not reach the ultimate game of the modern NFL until the 1985 season, when they marched through the regular season 15–1, shut out the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams to make it to the game, and then embarrassed the AFC champion New England Patriots on the way to a 46 –10 victory.
The city of Chicago changed that day (January 26, 1986, to be exact). A season-long love affair with the 1985 Chicago Bears became a never-ending fairy tale romance. The 1985 Bears, who had the most dominant defense in the history of the NFL, the most popular player in Chicago Bears history (Walter Payton), the most unusual player in NFL history (William "the Refrigerator" Perry), and the coach who would eventually turn into a pop culture caricature (Mike Ditka), became the greatest team in Chicago history.
Following a 15–1 regular season (the only loss coming on a Monday night in Miami against the Dolphins), the Bears shut out the New York Giants 21–0 in the division playoff game. In the NFC Championship Game, the Bears again pulled off a shutout, blanking the Los Angeles Rams 24–0 on a cold day at Soldier Field.
The Bears got to the Super Bowl as the most colorful and polarizing team in recent NFL history. They released a video titled "The Super Bowl Shuffle," which built upon their reputation as a team that played hard and celebrated well. That the Bears filmed the video prior to heading to New Orleans to play in the Super Bowl showed just how supremely confident they were. The fact they backed up the video with a resounding victory only nailed down their stature among Bears and NFL fans.
Super Bowl XX was played in New Orleans, a perfect place for a team of characters like the Bears to strut their stuff. Led by the charismatic and bombastic coach Mike Ditka, the Bears made the buildup to the game unlike any other. Their pregame press conferences filled reporters' notebooks all week, and reports of the players out partying at night were rampant. If any team ever entered the Super Bowl with the appearance of an overconfident bunch ready for an upset, it was the Bears.
But the Bears were as good as advertised, and as dominant defensively as any team in league history. The New England Patriots, the AFC champions, had an 11–5 regular season record and had to win three road playoff games to get into the Super Bowl. The Patriots had no chance in the championship game, which the Bears won 46–10, the largest margin of victory for a Super Bowl up to that point. It was also the most points scored by the winning team in a Super Bowl.
Amazingly, the Patriots actually held a lead in the game, scoring 79 seconds into the contest on a field goal set up by a fumble by Walter Payton. The Bears tied the game at the 5:40 mark of the first quarter on a field goal by Kevin Butler, who gave the Bears the lead for good on a field goal at the 13:34 mark of the first quarter to make it 6–3. The Bears scored again just before the end of the quarter on an 11-yard run by fullback Matt Suhey and had a 13–3 lead going into the second quarter.
The Bears scored 10 more points in the second quarter on a touchdown run by quarterback Jim McMahon and a third field goal by Butler as time expired. The halftime score was 23–3. But the Bears were just getting warmed up.
They scored 21 points in just four minutes in the third quarter: on a touchdown run by McMahon (who became the first quarterback to rush for two touchdowns in the Super Bowl); an interception return for a score by Reggie Phillips; and one of the most famous touchdowns in Super Bowl history, the one-yard plunge by William "the Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound defensive lineman turned into a fullback by Ditka.
The Bears allowed a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — the only TD scored against them in the playoffs — and got a late safety to finish the scoring.
Having won the Super Bowl by 36 points, the Bears still had reason to bemoan the results because star running back Walter Payton, who at that point had toiled 11 seasons for the Bears without a championship, failed to score in the game. The touchdown run by Perry was often criticized as the best chance Payton had to score, and it was taken by a player used as both an unusual offensive weapon and as a publicity stunt. Over the years, several players said the Patriots had targeted Payton defensively the entire game, making sure he did not score on them.
The stout Bears defense held the Patriots to 123 yards in total offense, while the Bears offense was credited with 408 yards. The time of possession in the game displayed the Bears' dominance, as the Bears held the ball for 39:15 of the game while the Patriots had the ball for just 20:45.
The thinking was that a member of the Bears' defense had to win the Most Valuable Player Award, so it was given to defensive end Richard Dent, who had 1.5 sacks in the game. He became only the fourth defensive player in 20 years to win the MVP Award.
Mike Ditka became the second man in the Super Bowl era to win the Super Bowl first as a player (in 1972 with the Dallas Cowboys) and then as head coach.
Excerpted from 100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Kent McDill. Copyright © 2013 Kent McDill. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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