"Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it." --George Halas
George Halas was a lifelong Illinois resident who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Fame with the first class in 1963. He was a founder of the National Football League in 1920 and the only founder still active with the league on its 60th anniversary in 1980. He owned the Chicago Bears for sixty-three years from 1920 to 1983 and was head coach of the Bears for forty years in four different periods.
George was born in Chicago on Feb. 2, 1895 to a family of Czech immigrants. He graduated from Crane Tech High School in 1913. George was 20 years old during the summer of 1915 when he had a temporary job with Western Electric. On Saturday morning, July 24, he set out from home on his way to join 7,000 thousand company employees on five boats leaving the Chicago River to sail for Michigan City, Indiana for the fifth annual company picnic. If he had been on time, George was supposed to ride along with 2,500 other passengers on the tour boat SS Eastland. A light rain was falling and Bradfield's Orehcestra was playing on the promenade. George was running late and by the time he arrived at the wharf between Clark and LaSalle after 7:30 AM, The Eastland had already rolled over on its port side when a large number of people had suddenly surged to one side of the top-heavy boat. Almost 841 passengers, all Western Electric employees, were killed or drowned when the boat rolled over. Almost all were in the language of that time, "Bohemian" or Czech residents of Cicero. There were also more than 1,500 survivors. George Halas was not among either group because he was late.
George attended the University of Illinois where he played football for Coach Bob Zuppke. He was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) and graduated in 1918 with a degree in civil engineering. George was an ensign in the Navy during World War I but he was still playing football states-side for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He scored two touchdowns and was MVP in the 1919 Rose Bowl played about six weeks after Armistice Day. Great Lakes defeated the Mare Island Marines 17 to 0 in that game when military teams were invited to play. As a baseball player, George Halas played 12 games for the New York Yankees in the summer of 1919 but injured his hip and his professional baseball playing career was over.
In 1920, A.E. Staley, the owner of a starch company in Decatur, hired George as a coach of the company-sponsored football team. The Decatur Staleys had a winning record under Coach Halas of ten wins, one loss, and two ties. George was a founder of the NFL at a meeting in Canton, Ohio in 1920. In search of more gate revenue from a larger base of fans, George moved the franchise to Chicago in 1921 and the team was re-named the Chicago Bears in 1922 in part to honor the Chicago Cubs which allowed the Halas team to play football games in Cubs Park (later called Wrigley Field). The playing venue was the only actual connection between the two teams even though some Chicago newspapers called the Cubs the "Bear Cubs" even before the football team.
In the first few years, despite his serious hip injury from baseball, Halas played offensive end for the Bears even while he was handling ticket sales and other business. He was also coach of the team. According to one contributor to Wikipedia and other sources, in 1923 Halas as a player took the ball away from the legendry American-Inidan Olympian Jim Thorpe during a Bears game against the Oorang Indians. Halas recovered the ball from Thorpe's fumble and ran 98 yards for a touchdown. The record return stood for the next 49 years until 1972.
George, often known by his nick name "Papa Bear" in his later years, was the coach the Bears in four different periods from 1920-1929, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, and 1958-1967. In the late 1930s, George Halas and University of Chicago Coach Clark Shaunessy worked on developing the T formation offense. The formation was used often in 1940 including in a 73-0 Bears victory over The Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship game. This was the start of an era when the Bears were first known as "Monsters of the Midway."
George Halas at age 47 returned to the Navy from 1942 to 1945 for a second tour of service during World War II. In the forty years that George Halas was coach of the team he owned, he had thirty-four winning seasons and only six losing seasons. In 1967 at the age of 72, George Halas retired for the last time as coach of the Bears. As coach and owner, his teams won 8 NFL Championships with 324 wins. George's son, George Halas, Jr., was president of the Bears from 1963 until 1979 when he died at age 54.
George remained active as owner of the Bears until his own death on Oct. 31, 1983 at the age of 88. He was buried at St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery in Niles. George's daughter Virginia Halas McCaskey became majority owner and her sons ran the franchise. Even in recent years, the jerseys of players on the Bears included the initials of "GSH" as a tribute to Bears founder George S. Halas.