I also learned that if the Redskins' receivers had held on to the ball, the team would have stayed in the game. Quarterback Sammy Baugh had an early touchdown pass dropped. It would have made the score 7-7. He had another one dropped that could have made it 21-14, and another time, facing a big rush. Baugh overthrew a receiver who was open in the end zone. The Skins blew three TDs in the first half; the score could have been 28-21, a shootout, which, with their open style, was their kind of game.
The big problem was that the pass-blocking schemes of that era were cockamamy. Guards would routinely turn out and try to block the ends, which didn't work because they couldn't reach a charging end in time. Tackles would try to fill inside, using body-block and cross-block techniques that were effective for the run but hardly useful in slowing down pass rushers. The center didn't know what to do. Defensive ends charging from a wide position would be picked up by the backs—similar to the way backs pick up blitzing linebackers today—only the techniques were poor in those days. The backs would turn their bodies and try for a shoulder bump, or leave their feet and try to cut-block. The style of today, square up and meet the man head-on, was seldom practiced.
"Pass blocking wasn't organized then the way it is now,' " Luckman says. "You didn't have a guy sitting in the press box phoning down instant adjustments. Sometimes you had to feel your way along, and you were expected to dodge one or two guys rushing you."
There was nothing wrong with the passing techniques. Baugh and Luckman were terrific passers, throwing that fat ball. The trouble was that they were always throwing off their back foot, with defenders in their face. They threw in the 50% range, but it's a wonder they completed that many.
Luckman threw a lot of timed, quick-drop passes, and he was very good at it, especially the fade pass, in which he let the receiver run under the ball. Baugh was always running for his life. He was an athlete, a pass-run-punt, single-wing tailback. He threw sidearm, sometimes underhand, while falling down, scrambling, being rushed from all directions. That was what a team needed in those days, an athlete to throw the ball.
The Bears had been mixing their coverages on defense, sometimes dropping an end back, like a linebacker, sometimes dropping an inside man or two, very much like a modern 4-3. But in the second half, when the Skins had to throw out of their spread formation, which looked amazingly like a modern shotgun, Chicago rushed six and the hunt was over.
They were the Monsters of the Midway. They had an inexhaustible supply of talent—"We were the Detroit Pistons of the '40s," Luckman says—and the next year they simply wore down the Giants in their 37-9 championship win. It was 9-6 in the third quarter and then Chicago blew 'em away. They substituted almost completely new units. I could understand what Nagurski had said about Halas stockpiling so many good backs. They were loaded with them. Osmanski and Ray Nolting were only the beginning. In one six-year period the Bears had seven different runners finish among the league's top five.
As I watched that 1940 and '41 footage, one figure kept jumping out at me—number 14 for Chicago, Dick Plasman, 6'4", 220 pounds, helmetless, ferocious on his blocks, a great pass rusher and a receiver, too. He made a catch in the Giants game with two defenders blanketing him. The guy was terrific, a force out there, and then I remembered that Plasman was the last guy to play without a helmet.
"Yeah, in 1938 he ran into the wall in Wrigley Field and knocked himself out," says Ed McCaskey, the current board chairman of the Bears. Helmets were made mandatory by the league in 1943.
The old films were full of revelations about the game. But I still had to pin down that elusive pair, Nagurski and Hutson.