Picture of the Day: Where It All Began



Here is the team photo of the 1920 Decatur Staley football team. At the end of the season, they would move to Chicago and become the Chicago Bears. Notice who is sitting in the center of the front row….George S. Halas.


Red Grange Joins the Bears: A Turning Point for the NFL

The National Football League is the most profitable and powerful sports league in North America. It makes and spends billions of dollars each year. It is as American as hot dogs and apple pie, and its championship, the Super Bowl, is the most watched television show in America. However, the NFL was almost over before it began in the early 1920s. Thanks to a November signing in 1925, Bears owner George Halas took a gamble in signing the “Galloping Ghost,” Red Grange. The resulting 19 game barnstorming tour changed the fortunes of the new league and marked a turning point in the NFL.

In the early 1900s, aside from baseball, college football was king. People felt more allegiance to their local colleges than they did any of the many semi-pro teams. There were a few leagues centered in Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the late teens, players had the upper hand. They could play one team off another in different leagues. Some leagues even raided the local colleges for players. No draft existed. As a result, the leagues began to coalesce in order to gain control over their rosters and expenses. In 1920, the American Professional Football Conference was born with teams from Akron, Canton, Cleveland, and Dayton from Ohio; the Hammond Pros and Muncie Flyers from Indiana; the Rochester Jeffersons from New York; and the Rock Island Independents, Decatur Staleys, and Racine Cardinals from Illinois. Four more teams would join later that season and by the end of the first season, several teams had disbanded.

For George Halas, the new owner of the Decatur Staleys, he wanted a new home in Chicago. In 1921, the Staleys moved but Halas had to keep the name for one year. In 1922, they became the Chicago Bears and the APFC changed its name to the National Football League. Still, there was no stability in the franchises. As many as 25 teams were in the league from year to year. In 1925, the Bears were not the only game in town anymore. The Cardinals had moved from Racine and were winning the league. Halas knew he needed something to improve attendance and finances.

The NFL had low attendance in the hundreds and low thousands while the college ranks routinely had crowds near 70,000. Halas, a University of Illinois graduate, saw the crowds at his alma mater and knew he could turn around the fortunes of the league if the NFL crowds could be similar. In the fall of 1925, Halas began to negotiate with Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost, to come play for the Bears when the collegiate season was over. Grange, nicknamed the Ice Man because he delivered ice back in Wheaton, Illinois, was the biggest collegiate football star in America. Against Michigan in 1924, Grange amassed 402 yards total yards by rushing, passing and returning kickoffs in addition to scoring 6 touchdowns. In 20 games over 3 seasons, he scored 31 TDs and ran for over 3,300 yards.

Famed sportswriter Damon Runyon said of Grange,

“This man Red Grange of Illinois is three or four men rolled into one for football purposes. He is Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Al Jolson, Paavo Nurmi and Man o’ War. Put together, they spell Grange.”

Before Grange signed, speculation was rampant about which team would sign Grange. Some owners were ready with checks written out for $5,000 and $10,000 dollars. George Halas topped them all. Grange originally received $100,000 to play 13 games Eight of the games would be played in 12 days starting on Thanksgiving. On thanksgiving Day 1925, Red Grange suited up to for the Chicago Bears. Grange carried the ball 16 times for 36 yards. A crowd of 36,000 saw the Bears and Cardinals play to a scoreless tie at Wrigley Field. It was the largest crowd to that time in pro football history.

Grange and the Bears would tour the country by playing in St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago. In New York, at the infamous Polo Grounds, 73,000 saw Grange play the Giants helping the NFL franchise remain in New York. The Bears did not stop playing. They traveled as far west as Los Angeles and played before 75,000 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 19 games in all. A brutal schedule, Grange played halfback, defensive back, caught some passes, threw touchdowns, returned kicks, and was the only person the fans came to see. When President Coolidge met the Bears, he referred to them as Red Grange, George Halas, and the Chicago Bears.

Grange and Halas
Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Grange became rock star-like. He did advertisements for many products and even made couple of movies. He even made the cover of Time Magazine. In addition, comic books detailing his life were popular throughout Chicago Catholic Schools. Written by famed Tribune Sports Columnist Arch Ward, the comics detail the struggles Grange overcame.

When 1926 rolled around, the Bears and Grange knew they had a good thing going. Unfortunately, it did not last. Grange wanted a piece of ownership of the Bears. Halas refused to give Grange what he wanted. Grange went and started his own team, the New York Yankees, in the American Football League. The league lasted one year. Grange returned to the NFL in 1927, and after a knee injury, to the Bears in 1929. He would continue to play until 1934 for the Bears, primarily as a defensive back and was part of 2 championships.

Even in his later years, Halas always gave Grange credit for the NFL’s success. For Grange, it was much ado about nothing. He thought he was given too much credit.

“They built my accomplishments way out of proportion. I never got the idea that I was a tremendous big shot. I could carry a football well, but there are a lot of doctors and teachers and engineers who could do their thing better than I.”

But for Halas and the other owners, Grange brought notoriety to the newly formed league. He was the first star in professional football. By the 1930s, the now 12 team league stabilized and established a fan base in the northeast US which became the foundation for the league up until the 1950s and television. Shortly after Grange retired, the NFL instituted a draft. No longer would an owner be able to directly recruit and sign players. Grange would be one of the first members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For further reading: The First Star by Lars Anderson

Here is part of the comic book series in a Catholic School Magazine

Other sources

Chicago Tribune Historical Newspapers


Television and the Game That Made the NFL: The 1958 NFL Championship

Television changed how Americans lived. No other invention has reshaped the life of the American family more than the TV. in 1950, there 5,343,000 TV sets in the USA tuning into 103 TV Stations in 60 cities. By the end of the decade those numbers skyrocketed to over 42,000,000 homes with TV, some having more than one. The explosive growth of the TV changed how the family ate, what it did for entertainment, and where it did its entertaining. TV dinners and TV trays became staples of the new TV life. The TV almost became a part of the family.

A 1959 RCA TV

TV also changed sport. Boxing initially succeeded well on the small screen. And baseball transferred well from the radio to the tube. However, professional football struggled for several reasons. First, no national network broadcast the games. Everything was local. Second, college football reigned supreme. Since the late 1800s, American’s allegiance to the college game far outweighed any loyalty to the NFL which did not start until the 1920s. Even when the Bears signed Red Grange, the NFL was more of a barnstorming league and was mostly located in the upper Great Lakes and East Coast. In the 1950s, the NFL moved west of St. Louis adding the 49ers in 1950 and the Rams had been entrenched since 1946.

The 1958 season was nondescript. It was like most other seasons. The two tiered league saw the New York Giants tie the Cleveland Browns for the East Division crown with a 9-3 record while the Colts won the West Division outright over the Bears. The Browns and Giants played a playoff game with the Giants winning 10-0. The stage was set for what seemed to be just another hum-drum NFL Championship. Except this time, things would be different, quite different.

1. The 1958 game would be the first nationally televised NFL game in history. Strangely, the game was blacked out in NYC where the game was played at Yankee Stadium.
2. It would be the only (to date) NFL Championship to go into overtime
3. The resulting popularity of the sport changed dramatically the next season.

The Giants were coached by Jim Lee Howell. His offensive coordinator was Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator was Tom Landry. The Colts were coached by Weeb Ewbank and quarterbacked by the legendary Johnny Unitas. Leading up to the game, the Giants were considered the favorite. Only 2 years before the Giants had won the 1956 NFL Championship while this was only the second winning season in the history of the Colts. The teams had met in the regular season with the Giants winning 24-21. However, the Colts did not have Johnny Unitas that day. George Shaw, the backup did not have a good day going 12-30. He was no Johnny Unitas. Ewbank had his own scouting done in the weeks leading up to the Championship game as the Colts had clinched early.

The game started poorly. The first quarter saw the ball fumbled by each team. In addition, Unitas threw an interception and New York blocked a field goal. As the first quarter ended, the only score was a Pat Summerall field goal to give the Giants the lead. The second quarter saw the Colts dominate. Frank Gifford’s fumble led to an 86 yard drive by the Colts which ended in a Raymond Berry touchdown catch for a 14-3 lead. 

The second half saw run the ball, and run the ball a lot. Frank Gifford caught a 15 yard touchdown pass and Mel Triplett had a one yard run to see the Giants take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. The Colts came back to score a field goal with seven seconds left after a thrilling drive lead by Unitas. The game was tied 17-17. Overtime would be needed to see who would take the title home.

The game had held to form so far. The Giants ran the ball. The Colts threw early and often.  In fact, Unitas threw 40 times in the “3 yards and a cloud of dust” era.” The overtime saw the Giants fumble the kickoff but recovered. After three plays, the Giants punted the ball. The Colts never gave it back. Starting at their own 20, Unitas drove the Colts 80 yards. Alan Amece scored from the one to give the Colts a victory.

Rosie Greer of the New York Giants

There were several keys to the game. An injury to Giants defensive tackle Rosie Greer opened things up for the Colts passing game. Tom Landry had revolutionized football with his 4-3 defense in the 1950s. However, that defense was designed for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to stop Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns. The Colts did not have Jim Brown and they were not going to run on the Giants initially. By passing so much in the game, the Colts wore out the Giants. As a result, the Colts were able to run on the last two drives: the first at the end of regulation, and the second in overtime.

Alan Ameche scores the winning TD in overtime to give the Colts a 23-17 win

Ewbank’s plays were simple slants and misdirection compared to today’s multiple formations and misdirection seen in the West Coast and spread offenses of today.

As the game went on, the field got colder. No hand warmers or heated benches existed then. The resulting conditions and tiredness took its toll on the Giants. The Colts, having clinched early, were well rested and in better condition. Frank Gifford, the Giants running back, felt the Giants were not as good as in past years but had seen several breaks go their way during the year. He thought they would get a break in the championship. The Giants did not.

Technically, the game was not good at all between the fumbles, botched plays, interceptions, and blocked kicks. It was quite sloppy and players on both teams recognize this. What the players also recognize was the influence that specific game had, and that television had on football. After 1958, the popularity of the game took off. The Colts beat the Giants again in 1959. Football players became the darlings of the advertising world as football players displaced baseball players in the American consciousness. Here is a rare one with Frank Gifford.

Over the next ten years, the AFL would rival the NFL, the Super Bowl would arrive, a merger between the two leagues made them both stronger on television. But at the heart of it all was TV broadcast the game to a national audience. And they loved it, and haven’t stopped loving it. By the early 1970s, baseball was supplanted as America’s game by the NFL. And the NFL has TV to thank for its success.


Al Davis in the 1960s and 1970s – Just Win, Baby!

For the past eight years, the Oakland Raiders have not been very good. This year, however, there is some hope for the team. Running back Darren McFadden, along with quarterback Jason Campbell, and the team have returned the Raiders to respectability. On Saturday, October 9, 2011, legendary owner Al Davis passed away. Not many of today’s young fans can remember back to a time when Al Davis and the Raiders were not only a dominant team, but a team to be feared. In the 1960s and 1970s, Al Davis put together a series of teams that challenged for the AFL and NFL title year in and year out.

Al Davis and Hall of Fame center Jim Otto

Al Davis began his career in professional football with the Los Angeles Chargers as an assistant to Sid Gillman in the old American Football League. Gillman, maybe the biggest offensive innovator in NFL, had a huge impact on how Davis looked at the game. Gillman used the deep pass along with sending men in motion to destroy defenses. The motion revealed whether a team was playing zone or man-to-man coverage. Using the deep pass stretched the field and created more room for offense. After the 1962 season, Davis was hired away from the AFL Champion Chargers (who had then moved to San Diego) to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Davis brought what he learned from Gillman and used it with the Raiders. Two of the first three years saw the Raiders win the AFL West Championship. In 1966, Davis stepped out of coaching to be the AFL Commissioner. The AFL was in a bidding war with the NFL over players. With its wide open offenses and flashier play, the AFL was becoming more attractive to prospective players. AFL Owners revered Davis who originally signed Lance Alworth (my early hero) for the Chargers during his tenure there. Davis was an in your face kind of person. He took prisoners and many NFL Owners feared him. In fact, when merger talks began in 1966, the NFL went directly to the AFL owners and bypassed Davis. Davis was against the merger because of fees the NFL would impose on the franchises to join the league. After only two months on the job as commissioner, the other owners reached a deal in June of 1966 with the NFL. It would take four years to merge. In 1970 the Steelers, Colts, and Browns from the NFL joined the ten team AFL to become the AFC.

Soon after the merger was announced, Davis stepped down and returned to the Raiders. He would not coach anymore. He would be the General Manager and an owner of the franchise. The Raiders would go on an unprecedented winning streak the next ten years. That run included AFL West Championships, and AFL Championship, and a trip to Super Bowl II only to lose to the Green Bay Packers.

In 1969, Davis brought in a young coach, John Madden, to take over the team. Davis would assemble a team built on speed and stretching the field. Madden would do the coaching. Ken Stabler would the southpaw quarterback. Speedster Cliff Branch would be the deep threat. Fred Biletnikoff would be the other threat. Throw in Dave Casper at TE and this team with a bevy of interchangeable running backs dominated the league with six straight division titles. In 1977, the Raiders would win the Super Bowl. Madden would soon resign after not making the playoffs in 1978.

Receiver Fred Biletnikoff, left, and quarterback Ken Stabler

The Silver and Black were to be feared. The Raiders of the 1970s played hard. They were vicious defenders and ball hawks. From Ted Hendricks to Lyle Alzado, and John Matusak, the Raiders defense did not just tackle you, they punished you. Nine players from those early 70s teams are in the Hall of Fame. They include Dave Casper, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Ted Hendricks, and Bob Brown. Surprisingly, Ken Stabler should be, in my opinion, along with WR Cliff Branch and DB Jack Tatum. That is an impressive feat as the Steelers from that era.

Davis valued speed above all else. In the 1980s, the team would win its second and third Super Bowls under coach Tom Flores, the first Hispanic coach in NFL history. Those teams were far different beasts than the 1970s teams. The San Jose Mercury News stated Davis’ genius as General manager was that

“He routinely signed players that other teams wouldn’t touch, and he wasn’t afraid to buck convention, as evidenced by his selection of punter Ray Guy and kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round of the draft.”

One of those players was quarterback Jim Plunkett.  Plunkett lead the team to the 1980 and 1984 Super Bowl. That team was built on speed, all over the field. In 1983, the Raiders would win the Super Bowl again. Led by RB Marcus Allen, the team dominated going 12-4 and cruising to 38-9 victory in the Super Bowl.

After the third Super Bowl Championship, the 80s were not kind to Raider Nation. Davis would sue the NFL, move the Raiders to LA, and then back to Oakland. Public feuds with star player Marcus Allen did not help. But there is no denying the influence Davis held on the game in the 1970s. In an era, and a league, predicated on running the ball down the throat of the defense, Davis stretched the field with the long ball. First with Daryl Lamonica, then Ken Stabler, and finally Jim Plunkett. However, other apprentices to Gillman further changed the game in the 1980s. Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense across the bay in San Francisco changed the offensive game plans of many throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Davis’ greatest days were behind him.

The Raiders would have a brief resurgence under Jon Gruden as head coach only to see Davis trade Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season. The next year, the Raiders and the Buccaneers would meet in the Super Bowl with Gruden and the Buccaneers winning.

Some famous Al Davis Sayings
– Just win, baby!
– The quarterback must go down, and the quarterback must go down hard|
– Don’t adjust. Just Dominate.
– We don’t take what the defense gives us; we take whatever the hell we want.
– We want to win. The Raider fans deserve it. The Raider players deserve it, even my organization deserves it. You have to win and you have to win with a vision for the Super Bowl. That’s our passion here.

Rivalry – Bears vs. Packers

This Sunday will either be heaven or hell for me. Either the Bears will win or the Bears will lose. I don’t think I can stand the latter. Monday will be a hard day to show up for work for Bear fans in northern Illinois. It will be the 182nd game between these two storied NFL Franchises – the most in the NFL. The Bears currently lead the series 92–83–6.

I do not think the rivalry translates nationwide. Even though a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line, the game itself will be the first time the teams have met in the post season since December of 1941. Compared to other sports, the Bears/Packers rivalry is a great one, but the rivalry is just one of many across the nation.

Here are some national rivalries which garner not just the attention of local fans, but the nation.
College Basketball
Duke vs North Carolina – At its height in the 80s and 90s when Coach K and Dean Smith headed the storied programs. It has lost some of its luster with Roy Williams at the helm. Given the fact that Duke is currently the defending champion could amp it back up this year.
College Football
Michigan vs Ohio State, Army vs. Navy, and Florida vs Florida State could all be selected at one point. But I think Texas vs. Oklahoma is the biggest one in terms of national attention. Going all the way back to Bud Wilkinson and the 1950s, the Sooners and the Longhorns have been having at it.
NBA Basketball
There is only 1 great rivalry in the NBA and that is Lakers vs Celtics. All other pale to this. Click on the link.
The press would lead you to believe it is the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. But outside of the northeast US and ESPN, no one cares. In this part of the country, it has always been Cubs vs. Cardinals. On the west coast, Dodgers vs Giants.
Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. It’s the French vs the English. One of the oldest rivalries in sports never gets old.

For my money the best rivalry in sport the last ten years has been Tom Brady and the Patriots vs Peyton Manning and the Colts. I don’t care what Rex Ryan has to say but Brady and Peyton have provided football with some of the best football games and drama seen on TV.

Some web sites also list Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal as a great rivalry. Most Americans have no clue who those two guys are, let alone what they do. Back in the 70s, Tennis had McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Bjorn Borg going at it. Throw in Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova and one can easily explain why tennis thrived until aluminum rackets took the fun out of the game. Golf had Jack vs Arnie, Boxing had Ali vs Frazier, and history is littered with dozens of rivalries on its march.

For me, growing up in the Cold War, there was no better rivalry than the United States vs the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It did not matter if it was archery, track, basketball, ice skating, or under water basket weaving, you sat on your couch pulling for the Americans to beat the Communists!!! The greatest event in sport happened when I was sophomore playing basketball against Bushnell-Prairie City. They interrupted the game to announce the results of the hockey game between the US and the USSR. And it was not even the gold medal game. That would come two days later. Needless to say, I was pumped and poured in 16 points that night in limited duty.

Growing up, my brother rooted for the Packers, Me the Bears, It was rough during the 60s and early 70s. Despite Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, the Bears did not have much else. Jack Cancannon, then a barrage of other malcontents tried the quarterback position. Turnabout happened after Bart Starr left the Packers and throughout the 70s and 80s the Packers became as bad as the Bears were. In the 80s, Jim McMahon led a revival for the Bears. The story of the rivalry is filled with not just the greats of the game, but the legends of the game. Halas, Lombardi, Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Ditka, Favre, Urlacher, McGee, Nagurski, Baugh, Grange, Blanda, Nitschke, Adderly, Kramer, and Payton. This weekend will add more to the legends of the game.

But when it comes back to the Bears and Packers, it is almost out of avoidance that I find it hard to think of the game. The Bears won the first matchup this season 20-17 at Soldier Field. The Packers won 10-3 in week 17 at Lambeau. Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers systematically destroyed the Falcons. As a fan of football, that scares me. But what makes me happier is knowing that the Bears can play with them. I just hope Jay Cutler shows up. Unfortunately for Cutler, I am sure Clay Matthews (My defensive player of the year), AJ Hawk, Charles Woodson, and the rest of the defense for the Packers will be there. It is good knowing Devin Hester can level the playing field with one punt or kick return. Julius Peppers and the Bears defense can get in Rodgers space and disrupt the passing game. It is set up to be a classic.

In the end, I can probably handle a close loss. I don’t think I can take a blowout. I could really use a win. For me, this is the Super Bowl and a nightmare all rolled into one. The fact that it will take place outside with the temperature in the teens will only add to its luster. The chicken wings will be ready to go. I will be ready, sometimes with one hand over one eye. It would be really sweet to see the Bears win the Halas Trophy to get to play for the Lombardi Trophy.

Fantasy Football – A Long History

I love fantasy sports, particularly fantasy baseball and football. On Wednesday morning this week, I claimed three fantasy football championships on Yahoo! sports. I was a bit disappointed as most of my teams had gotten destroyed in the semifinals the week before. I limped into the finals with only 6 of my original 16 teams left alive. As a historian, I have always known how fantasy baseball started, but I never knew how fantasy football did. So, I did some digging this morning and it turns out fantasy football has been around a lot longer than the “Rotisserie” of Fantasy Baseball.

Where Fantasy Football Began - The then Manhattan Hotel

I started playing fantasy football at Maggie’s Tavern in Litchfield, Illinois in 1990. It was a simple league. If your player scored, you got six points. The draft was conducted in a backroom of cigarettes, cigars, and beer. The origins of fantasy football are not that different.

It begins in the Manhattan Hotel (now the Milford Plaza Hotel) in New York City. Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach, a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders and businessman, along with Raiders Public Relations man Bill Tunnel and Oakland Tribune reporter Scotty Starling developed the rules and groundwork of what would become the first fantasy football league. The league would consist of eight teams. In addition to Winkenbach, Tunnel, and Starling, the other teams were owned by Bob Blum (Raiders play-by-play announcer), Phil Carmona (Raiders season ticket seller), Ralph Casebolt (Raiders season ticket seller), George Glace (Raiders ticket manager) and George Ross (Oakland Tribune sports editor).

The original rules state:

“Inasmuch as this test of skill and knowledge of the players in the AFL and NFL leagues will be backed by coin of the realm, it behooves each club owner to study carefully prior to draft, all available statistics, schedules, weather conditions, player habits and other factors, so as to preserve one’s prestige and finances.”

Wiknebach called the league the “Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League” or GOPPPL . The league made its debut in 1963. The purpose of the league was…

“To bring together some of Oakland’s finest Saturday morning gridiron forecasters to pit their respective brains (and cash) against each other. Inasmuch as this league is formed only with owners having a deep interest and affection for the Oakland Raiders Professional Football Team, it is felt that this tournament will automatically increase closer coverage of daily happenings in professional football.”

This league was quite different as it combined both the AFL and the NFL. Back in the 1960s, the AFL was much more offense oriented than its NFL brethren. In addition to a winner, there was also a loser. Whoever came in last place had to keep a “dunce trophy” on their mantle until the next year. The original league drafted 20 players from either league. They consisted of
4 WRs
4 HBs
2 FBs
2 QB
2 Return men
2 Ks
2 DBs/LBs
2 DE
The original scoring system had 25 points for a touchdown pass, run, or catch, 25 points for a field goal, 10 points for a PAT, and 200 points for a defense or special teams score. George Blanda was the first player ever selected. Winkenbach served dutifully as the commissioner. Having mimeograph machine made him the obvious choice to print up the reports each week. For almost fifty years now, the league has continued. Some of the original players have moved on, some have died, and some continue to play.

In the years since the founding of fantasy football, the trend and the sport have exploded. This past year, the NFL saw its highest TV ratings ever. I, for one, sit on the couch or in my lounge chair, with a laptop checking scores and stats, while I watch the Bears games and other games involving my players. Founder Scotty Starling said:

“We had no idea it would explode into the kind of mania that exists today. Pro football isn’t a game. It’s a cult. And [Fantasy Football] is close to a cult.”

And it is huge! The NFL even talks about fantasy football openly and encourages the fun by sponsoring its own leagues and joining with corporations to play it on phones (This year it is Sprint). Men play. Women play. My junior high students play. You can play for money, or not play for the fun of it. It is irritating, it is joyful, it is revenge on the those who run the actual teams. The joy of fantasy football is anyone could put together a team of players and win.  Since the arrival of the Internet, fantasy football has exploded into Americana. There are dozens of ways to play and different types of leagues. It all adds to the fun of the community of football and Sunday afternoons.

Source Information
How Stuff Works PDF File