George Stanley Halas, Sr. (February 2 1895–October 31 1983), nicknamed "Papa Bear" and "Mr. Everything", was an American player, coach, owner and pioneer in professional football and the iconic longtime leader of the NFL's Chicago Bears.
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 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 league and semi-pro 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 Ruth replaced Sammy Vick.
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 partner. 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. 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.
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 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 Lions to three NFL championship games between 1952-54, winning two.
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.
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.
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. 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."
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 NFC 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 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 left sleeves in tribute to Halas.