If you've watched the Chicago Bears of the National Football League play, you've probably noticed the letters "GSH" on the left sleeve of the players' jerseys. These initials embroidered on the jerseys honor George Stanley Halas, who founded and owned the Bears from 1920 until his death in 1983. Halas led a fascinating life and enjoyed a colorful period as owner of the team.
Halas' Early Life
Halas was born on February 2, 1895, in Chicago to Greek and Slavic immigrant parents. He played three sports at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a degree in civil engineering before enlisting in the United States Navy to fight in World War I.
After leaving the Navy, Halas played briefly for Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, but he sustained a hip injury and couldn't hit curveballs, which put a quick end to his baseball career.
An Original NFL Owner
In 1920, Halas received an offer from the Staley Starch Works, a company in Decatur, a city in central Illinois, to work for the company and coach the company football and baseball teams. During this era, many companies fielded their own sports teams, with employees playing various positions.
Shortly after becoming coach, Halas attended a meeting in Chicago of a new football league whose initial name was the American Professional Football Association. Halas joined the team, then known as the Decatur Staleys, to the association. In 1924, the American Professional Football Association changed its name to the National Football League, which made Halas one of the NFL's original owners.
A Renaissance Man
In addition to coaching and owning the Decatur Staleys, which later became the Chicago Bears, Halas played various positions on the team until 1929. He handled the business decisions for the team and acted as what's known as a general manager these days, scouting and signing talent to play for the team. He had an eye for players with potential and signed many stars to the Bears, including Harold "Red" Grange, one of the NFL's earliest superstars.
Halas later served in World War II. Even though he was well into his 40s, he reenlisted into the Navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and organized leisure and relaxation activities for the men stationed in the South Pacific. He was also a man of contradictions. A devout man who was devoted to his faith and family, Halas refrained from smoking or indulging in alcohol, yet those associated with him knew him as one of the most foul-mouthed men they ever met.
Success in Chicago
At the end of the 1920 season, the owner of Staley Starch Works realized that Decatur wasn't a profitable market for even a successful pro football team, so he encouraged Halas to relocate the team to Chicago. He gave Halas $5,000 to move the team on the promise that Halas would call the team the Chicago Staleys for one season.
Halas' Bears won six NFL titles, all of them before the Super Bowl era. They also won three divisional titles and came in second place in the division 15 times. His teams finished with a winning record in all but six seasons.
An Innovative Coach
Halas coached the Bears for 40 nonconsecutive seasons, and he established several firsts for professional football. He was the first coach to institute daily practices for his team, and he pioneered the study of game film for his staff and players.
Under Halas, the Bears were the first team to undergo a tour of public appearances for fans to meet the team and get excited about the season. His coaching staff was the first to use the T-formation, which led to dominance until other coaches copied the system. The Bears were also the first team to have games broadcast on radio.
A Football Legacy
Halas remained involved in every detail of the Chicago Bears' operation until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1983. The man his teams affectionately called "Papa Bear" was directly involved with the team he owned for 64 seasons, and he is the only person who was affiliated with the NFL for every one of the league's first 50 years. He truly earned the nickname "Mr. Everything" for his time with the Bears.
Keeping a Promise
After Halas died, the Bears wanted to memorialize their original owner and the man who shaped the team. They promised to wear Halas' initials on the players' jerseys forever. Today, his daughter, Virginia McCaskey, is the Bears' majority owner.
Halas didn't see the Bears' only Super Bowl win so far, but the team has kept his name alive and in the memories of Bears fans since his passing.