George Stanley Halas Sr. (/ˈhæləs/; February 2, 1895 – October 31, 1983), nicknamed "Papa Bear" and "Mr. Everything", was a player, coach, and owner involved with professional American football. He was the founder and owner of the National Football League's Chicago Bears. He was also lesser known as a Major League Baseball player.

He was one of the co-founders of the National Football League (NFL) in 1920, and in 1963 became one of the first 17 inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Early life and sports career

Halas was born in Chicago, Illinois, into a family of Czech-Bohemian immigrants. His parents were migrants from Pilsen, Austria-Hungary.[2] George had a varied career in sports. In 1915, Halas worked temporarily for Western Electric, and was planning on being on the SS Eastland. He was running late, however, as he was attempting to gain weight to play Big Ten football and missed the capsizing, which killed 844 passengers.[3] 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 Conference football title.

Serving as 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 a receiving touchdown and returned an intercepted pass 77 yards in a 17–0 win over the Mare Island Marines of California; the team was also rewarded with their military discharges.

Afterward, Halas played minor league baseball, eventually earning a promotion to the New York Yankees, where he played 12 games as an outfielder in 1919. However, a hip injury effectively ended his baseball career. The popular myth was that Halas was succeeded as the Yankees' right fielder by Babe Ruth, but in reality, it was Sammy Vick. Later that year, Halas played for the Hammond Pros and received about $75 per game.

Professional football career

After one year with the Pros (also known as the All-Stars), Halas moved to Decatur, Illinois to take a position with the A. E. Staley Company, a starch manufacturer. He served as a company sales representative, an outfielder on the company-sponsored baseball team, and the player-coach of the company-sponsored football team the Decatur Staleys. Halas selected his alma mater's colors—orange and navy blue—for the team's uniforms.[4] In 1920, Halas represented the Staleys at the meeting which formed the American Professional Football Association (which became the NFL in 1922) in Canton, Ohio.

After suffering financial losses despite a 10–1–2 record, company founder and namesake Augustus E. Staley turned over control of the team to Halas in 1921. Halas moved the team to Chicago and took on teammate Dutch Sternaman as a partner. Halas was given a $5,000 bonus for the move to Chicago provided that he keep the Staleys franchise name for the 1921 season. The newly minted "Chicago Staleys" maneuvered their schedule to win the NFL championship that year. (See the 1921 Staley Swindle.) 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 was not only the team's coach, but also played end (wide receiver on offense, defensive end on defense) and handled ticket sales and the business of running the club. 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 handing coaching duties to Lake Forest Academy coach Ralph Jones; but he remained the team's owner, becoming sole owner in 1932. However, severe financial difficulties brought on by the Great Depression put the Bears in dire financial straits even though Jones led them to the NFL title in 1932. Halas returned as coach in 1933 to eliminate the additional cost of paying a head coach's salary. He coached the Bears for another ten seasons. His 1934 team was undefeated until a loss in the championship game to the New York Giants.

In the 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—still the most lopsided margin of victory in NFL history. Every other 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 believed he'd found the perfect quarterback for his new offense in Sid Luckman, a passing star at Columbia University. Luckman was a single wing tailback; the tailback is the primary runner and passer in that scheme. Luckman launched his Hall of Fame career playing quarterback for the Bears from 1939 to 1950. Halas was not satisfied with other players who succeeded Luckman under center. 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 Lions to three NFL championship games between 1952–54, winning two.

Halas entered the Navy again after the advent of World War II in 1942, with the rank of lieutenant commander. He served overseas for 20 months under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz. His duties were supporting the welfare and recreational activities of the Seventh Fleet.[5] He was awarded the Bronze Star during his recall and released from duty in 1946 with the rank of captain. While in the Navy, the Bears won another title in 1943 under Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos. 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.[6] That same year, Halas met with the Army Chief of Staff, General Dwight Eisenhower, the Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Carl Spaatz, and offered to set up an annual charity football game, with the Bears as hosts, whose proceeds would go to the relief agencies of the armed forces. By mid-1957, proceeds from this game were $438,350.76 and proceeds from all games the Bears participated in between 1946 and 1957 were over two million dollars.

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, and officially retired on May 27, 1968.[7] He did win his 200th game in 1950 and his 300th game in 1965, becoming the first coach to reach both milestones. His six NFL Championships as a head coach is tied for the most all time with Green Bay's Curly Lambeau.[8] In 40 years as a coach he endured only six losing seasons.

Head coaching record

TeamYearRegular seasonPostseason
WonLostTiesWin %FinishWonLostWin %Result
DEC19201012.9092nd in APFALost challenge to Akron Pros
CHS1921911.9001st in APFANFL Champions on tiebreaker over Buffalo All-Americans.
CHI1922930.7502nd in NFL
CHI1923921.8182nd in NFL
CHI1924614.8572nd in NFLPurported championship win over Cleveland Bulldogs overruled
CHI1925953.6437th in NFL
CHI19261213.9232nd in NFL
CHI1927932.7503rd in NFL
CHI1928751.5835th in NFL
CHI1929492.3089th in NFL
CHI19331021.8331st in NFL West101.000Defeated the New York Giants in 1933 NFL Championship.
CHI193413001.0001st in NFL West01.000Lost to the New York Giants in 1934 NFL Championship.
CHI1935642.6003rd in NFL West
CHI1936930.7502nd in NFL West
CHI1937911.9001st in NFL West01.000Lost to the Washington Redskins in 1937 NFL Championship.
CHI1938650.5453rd in NFL West
CHI1939830.7272nd in NFL West
CHI1940830.7271st in NFL West101.000Defeated the Washington Redskins in 1940 NFL Championship.
CHI19411010.9091st in NFL West201.000Defeated the New York Giants in 1941 NFL Championship.
CHI194211001.0001st in NFL West01.000Lost to the Washington Redskins in 1942 NFL Championship.
CHI1946821.8001st in NFL West101.000Defeated the New York Giants in 1946 NFL Championship.
CHI1947840.6672nd in NFL West
CHI19481020.8332nd in NFL West
CHI1949930.7502nd in NFL West
CHI1950930.7501st in NFL National01.000Lost to the Los Angeles Rams in conference playoff game.
CHI1951750.5834th in NFL National
CHI1952570.4175th in NFL National
CHI1953381.2734th in NFL West
CHI1954840.6672nd in NFL West
CHI1955840.6672nd in NFL West
CHI1958840.6672nd in NFL West
CHI1959840.6672nd in NFL West
CHI1960561.4555th in NFL West
CHI1961860.5713rd in NFL West
CHI1962950.6433rd in NFL West
CHI19631112.9171st in NFL West101.000Defeated the New York Giants in 1963 NFL Championship.
CHI1964590.3576th in NFL West
CHI1965950.6433rd in NFL West
CHI1966572.4175th in NFL West
CHI1967761.5382nd in NFL Central
Total[6]31814831.68263.667

Later life

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 50 and 60 years of existence. His son George, Jr. served as 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 had been a 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 Jack Warden, who won an Emmy Award for his performance.

Death

Halas died of pancreatic cancer in Chicago on October 31, 1983, at age 88, and is entombed in St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving participant of the meeting that formed the NFL in 1920.

His eldest daughter, Virginia Halas McCaskey, succeeded him as majority owner, and her son Michael McCaskey served as team president from 1983–1999 at which time the elder McCaskey was forced to fire her own son. In the 1985 season when the Bears won their only Super Bowl, they recorded a song called "Super Bowl Shuffle." In the song, backup quarterback Steve Fuller rhymes "Bring on Atlanta, Bring on Dallas / This is for Mike [then-current coach Mike Ditka] 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. The missing-man formation over Tampa Stadium at the conclusion of Barry Manilow's performance of the National Anthem, as performed by airplanes from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, was also presented in tribute to Halas.

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, place tarp on the field, publish a club newspaper, and to broadcast games by radio.[9] 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 necessary.

Halas's 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. His 324 victories stood as an NFL record for nearly three decades, and are still far and away the most in Bears history; they are three times that of runner-up Ditka.[9] He was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.

Honors

In both 1963 and 1965, Halas 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. postage stamp 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 Dolphins coach Don Shula finally 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. In 1956, Halas was awarded the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, which is the Navy's highest civilian award.

There are two extant awards named for Halas: the George Halas Trophy (awarded by the NFL to the National Football Conference champion) and the George S. Halas Courage Award (Pro Football Writers Association). From 1966 to 1996, the George S. Halas Trophy was awarded to the NFL defensive player of the year by the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

The Chicago Bears retired number 7 in his honor, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located on George Halas Drive.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign inducted Halas into the Engineering Hall of Fame in 2016.[19]

See also