George Halas

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George Halas
Date of birth February 2 1895
Place of birth Flag of United States Chicago, Illinois
Date of death October 31 1983 (age 88)
Place of death Chicago, Illinois
Position(s) Head Coach
Wide receiver
Defensive end
College University of Illinois
Career Highlights
Awards 1919 Rose Bowl MVP
1965 Sporting News NFL COY
1963 Sporting News NFL COY
Honors NFL 1920s All-Decade Team
Retired #s Chicago Bears #7
Records Chicago Bears
Career Wins (324)
Career Record 318-148-32 (Regular Season)
6-4 (Postseason)
324-152-32 (Overall)
1963 NFL Championship
1946 NFL Championship
1941 NFL Championship
1940 NFL Championship
1933 NFL Championship
1921 NFL Championship
Playing Stats DatabaseFootball
Coaching Stats Pro Football Reference
Coaching Stats DatabaseFootball
Team(s) as a player
1920-1928 Decatur Staleys
Chicago Staleys
Chicago Bears
Team(s) as a coach/administrator
Decatur Staleys
Chicago Staleys
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1963

George Stanley Halas, Sr. (February 2, 1895 - October 31, 1983), nicknamed "Papa Bear" and "Mr. Everything", was a professional player, coach, owner and pioneer in American football and the iconic longtime leader of the NFL's Chicago Bears. He was born to resourceful Bohemian immigrants, and was one of those whose initials will forever be emblazoned on the left sleeve of the Chicago Bears uniform. Ultimately, Halas played a colossal role in defining Sunday afternoons in America throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.[1]

Halas was the central figure in the growth and development of the National Football League, which has surpassed baseball as the mythical "national pasttime," in no small part due to Halas' contributions.

Early life and sports career

Halas was born in Chicago in 1895, to a family of Czech immigrants. He learned self-discipline, business smarts and frugality through his family. Halas graduated from Crane Tech High School in Chicago. After saving his money carefully, he attended the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, playing football, for coach Bob Zuppke as well as baseball and basketball, and earning a degree in civil engineering. As a player, he helped Illinois win the Big Ten football title in 1918. He joined Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity with his older brother.

During his service in the Navy as an ensign in 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 for 77 yards in a 17-0 win; the team was then rewarded for their exceptional play with their military discharges.

"Afterward, Halas played minor league and semi-pro baseball. He was so good at baseball, he eventually earned a promotion to the New York Yankees, where he played 12 games as an outfielder in the major leagues in 1919. However, a hip injury effectively ended his baseball career. He was succeeded as the Yankees' right fielder by Babe Ruth."[1]

With baseball out of the picture for Halas, he turned to the academic degree he had received in college for financial support. He returned to the Chicago area and undertook several civil engineering projects. For example, he worked on railroads and designed bridges. He promised his mother that he was finished playing sports and would settle down into a real career, but at the same time snuck off to play football for club teams on weekends.[1]

A legend that has made Halas popular dates back to to this era when Halas was working for Western Electric in Chicago's west suburbs. Halas planned on embarking on the S.S. Eastland for a weekend company outing. In his biography, Halas claimed that he just missed the ship, which capsized in the Chicago River, killing 845 people. Others have claimed Halas overslept.[1]

Professional football career

Halas was offered a position with the A. E. Staley Company a Decatur, an Illinois starch manufacturer, as a company representative. He was also a 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. 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 handed ownership of the team to Halas in 1921. Halas moved the team to Chicago and formed a partnership with teammate, Dutch Sternaman. 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, who 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. If that were not enough, 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, the "Galloping Ghost," 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; however, he remained the owner of the club, assuming full ownership 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.

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. Every other team in the league immediately began trying to imitate the format. The Bears repeated as NFL champions in 1941, and in the 1940s the Bears became 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 play limited the possible players available to make it work. 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 two future Hall of Famers, Bobby Layne (1948) and George Blanda (1949-1958) on the bench for the majority of play. 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 1952-1954, winning two.

Halas went on a second three-year hiatus during World War II, serving in the Armed Forces from 1943-1945, 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 1956-1957, 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 won his two–hundreth game in 1950 and his three–hundreth game in 1965, becoming the first coach to reach both milestones. In 40 years as a coach, he endured only six losing seasons.

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 Halas, 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 was a former Halas player in the 1960s).

Halas died of cancer in Chicago on October 31, 1983 at age 88, and is entombed in St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. His eldest daughter, Virginia Halas McCaskey, succeeded him as majority owner (even though her sons run the team's day-to-day operations). In the 1985 season when the Bears won their first ever Super Bowl, they recorded a song called "Super Bowl Shuffle." In the song, backup quarterback Steve Fuller states "This is for Mike (then current coach Mike Ditka) and Papa Bear Halas."

Legacy: Impact on football

Halas played an integral part in the segregation of the league in the 1930s by refusing to sign black players for the Bears. Fritz Pollard, who in the 1920s was the league's first African-American coach, blamed Halas for keeping him out of the league in the 1930s and 1940s. Halas eventually changed course and helped to integrate the league, drafting the NFL's first black player since 1933, George Taliaferro, although Taliaferro did not play for the Bears; Halas later signed Willie Thrower, who with the Bears became the league's first black quarterback.

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 necessary.

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. The National Football Conference 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. 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 twentieth 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 left sleeves in tribute to Halas.

The NFC championship trophy is named after George Halas. 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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ron Taylor, George Halas, Legend, 1920-1983, Ron Taylor, 2008. Retrieved February 7, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Davis, Jeff. Papa Bear: the life and legacy of George Halas. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. ISBN 9780071422062
  • Halas, George, Gwen Morgan, and Arthur Veysey. Halas by Halas: The Autobiography of George Halas. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979. ISBN 0070255490
  • Vass, George. George Halas and the Chicago Bears. Chicago, Regnery, 1971. OCLC 210551

External Links

All links retrieved May 20, 2024.

Preceded by:
First coach
Chicago Bears Head Coaches
Succeeded by:
Ralph Jones
Preceded by:
Ralph Jones
Chicago Bears Head Coaches
Succeeded by:
Hunk Anderson
Preceded by:
Hunk Anderson
Chicago Bears Head Coaches
Succeeded by:
Paddy Driscoll
Preceded by:
Paddy Driscoll
Chicago Bears Head Coaches
Succeeded by:
Jim Dooley


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