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    Who is George Halas? Looking back at the former Chicago Bears owner

    Who was former Chicago Bears owner George Halas, and why was he a crucial part of the creation of the NFL as we know it today?

    A name that we hear a lot during the NFL season, and during the NFC Championship Game especially, is that of former Chicago Bears owner George Halas. Let’s take a look at Halas’ life, his impact on the NFL, and how he made his money.

    Looking back at George Halas’ life

    Halas’ life began and ended in Chicago, Illinois. He was born in 1895 and attended Crane High School in Illinois. He would go on to play football, basketball, and baseball for the University of Illinois.

    In 1915, Halas narrowly avoided tragedy while at school. He had been working for Western Electric and was due to be on the SS Eastland the day it capsized. However, due to running late on that day as he attempted to gain weight to play football, he was not on board when the boat capsized, killing 844 passengers and crew.

    After earning a degree in civil engineering from Illinois, Halas enlisted in the Navy during World War I. While in the Navy, he played for the team at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and would go on to be named MVP of the 1919 Rose Bowl. During the game, he scored a receiving touchdown and returned an interception for 77 yards. His team won 17-0 and was rewarded with military discharges.

    In 1919, Halas would also play 12 games as an outfielder for the New York Yankees before his baseball career was effectively ended by a hip injury.

    Halas was instrumental in the birth of the NFL

    When you think of an NFL owner, the likely first thought is of a man who has made his money through business and then bought a team or was awarded an expansion franchise. However, that is not the case for how Halas came to be the owner of the Chicago Bears franchise for 63 years. His story is much more about being in the right place at the right time.

    Halas had spent 1919 playing for the Hammond Pros (or All-Stars), who were based in Indiana. The following year, he moved to Decatur, Illinois, in a job as a sales representative for a starch manufacturer, A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company — now Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas LLC. He would also play for the company-sponsored baseball and football teams — he would also coach the football team.

    Halas would later reveal in his book that he was phoned by the general superintendent of the company, George Chamberlain, because Mr. Staley wanted to build his football team into one that could compete with the best semi-professional and industrial teams in the country. Halas would represent the Staleys at a meeting that would form the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in Canton, Ohio. The APFA would become the NFL in 1922.

    In 1921, Halas continued to build the team, despite the team’s financial concerns. In that season, Staley turned over control of the team to Halas and Dutch Sternaman. The team then moved to Chicago in 1921 and changed the name to the Bears in 1922. The NFL struggled for attendance in the early years, averaging less than 5,000 people per game. Halas signed Illinois phenom Red Grange, and 40,000 packed into Wrigley Field. The arrival of Grange was a significant step in the NFL’s respectability and popularity.

    Owner, coach, and player

    Becoming the co-owner of the Bears franchise in 1921 gave Halas a rarely seen opportunity. Between 1921 and 1929, he was a player, the coach, and a co-owner of the franchise. Halas played end for the Bears between 1920 and 1928. He would finish his first stint as the coach of the team after the 1929 season.

    With financial pressure brought on by the Great Depression, Halas returned to coaching in 1933. Despite Ralph Jones leading the team to the NFL title in 1932, Halas was able to remove the cost of paying a head coach’s salary. He remained the coach until midway through the 1942 season when he departed that November to head to WWII after re-enlisting with the Navy. In the prior two seasons, the Bears had won back-to-back NFL championships thanks to the Wing T formation. They would go 11-0 in 1942 before losing the NFL Championship Game.

    Halas served in the Navy until 1946, earning the Bronze Star, before returning to Chicago and winning another NFL championship in his first season back. In essence, he won three straight titles in years that he was the head coach for a full season. Halas would then coach the team until 1955, and again from 1958-1967 when he retired at 72 years old.

    Over the course of 40 years as a coach, Halas won six NFL championships. That number is tied for the most ever with Curly Lambeau and Bill Belichick. He endured just six losing seasons in those 40 years, with three of those coming in his final stint. Halas was also the first coach in NFL history to reach both 200 and 300 career wins.

    Long-term impact on the NFL and the sport of football

    A number of things that we now take for granted in the NFL were instigated by Halas. His team was the first to hold daily practices and study game film. Other things such as having assistant coaches in the press box and covering the field with tarp came from Halas.

    Two other significant elements of the NFL today are also credited to him. The Bears were the first team to broadcast their games on the radio. Additionally, Halas also offered to share revenue with smaller market teams, which is a hallmark of the way the NFL now operates.

    Halas owned two other football teams besides the Bears

    Another interesting thing that Halas attempted was to provide the Bears with something of a farm system. In 1939, he obtained the right to the Newark Tornadoes, a former NFL club. The team played in the American Association league, and Halas changed their name to the Bears.

    He then used the club as a farm team for the Bears. Newark was a place where talented players could develop. Meanwhile, injured players were allowed to return to the field at Newark before coming back to the Bears.

    The team folded in 1941 before being revived as the Newark Bombers in 1946 for just a single season. Even though the revived team was not utilized as a farm team, they folded after just a single season.

    In 1946, the Akron Bears of the then American Football League came into existence under the ownership of Halas. The object of this team was to try and eat into the market of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns were in the All-America Football Conference, a rival league to the NFL. The Akron Bears lost money in their first season and did not return in 1947.

    Family and legacy

    Halas had two children with his wife Minnie. His son George Jr. was president of the Bears between 1963 and 1979 until his sudden death from a heart attack. Therefore, Halas’ daughter, Virginia Halas McCaskey, took over the ownership of the team at the time of his death in 1983. His grandson, Michael McCaskey, was the team president from 1983 to 1999 before his mother was forced to fire him from the role.

    When Halas died, he was the final member of the original NFL meeting to pass away. The Bears then dedicated their Super Bowl victory in 1985 to him, before the NFL dedicated Super Bowl XVIII to Halas. Halas was a crucial part of NFL history and was named among Pro Football Network’s NFL Mount Rushmore for his role at the beginning of the NFL.

    How did George Halas make his money?

    As discussed earlier, Halas’ path to being an owner of an NFL team is not similar to that of today’s owners. He did not make millions elsewhere before buying a team. Instead, Halas was a professional athlete, an engineer, and a sales rep prior to becoming an NFL owner. The majority of his money was made through the ownership of the Chicago Bears.

    Halas’ other sporting endeavors

    Football may be the only sport that Halas is known for leaving a lasting mark. Nevertheless, he did help found the first professional basketball — the American Basketball League. His team was the Chicago Bruins, who started playing in 1925. Unfortunately, they folded after the 1930 season due to the Great Depression.

    The team was briefly revived for four years between 1939 and 1942. During that stretch, they played in the National Basketball League and in the World Professional Basketball Tournament.

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