Halas paused to
riffle through the papers again. It was an ingenuous explanation, even possibly
an accurate one.
"I'm going to
take things a little easier now," he said, grinning hugely. "I may even
cut down to an eight-hour day." There were reports that Halas is involved
in a wintertime romance. "You can say I'm keeping company with Mrs. Rita
Hauk," Halas said. "We've known each other a long time, and we have a
lot of laughs together. Mrs. Halas died six years ago and Mrs. Hauk is the
widow of an old friend. Rita will be coming out to Honolulu with me to the
NFL's spring meetings." Halas beamed.
But his bright
mood darkened when the feud with Butkus was mentioned. "I don't understand
it," he said. "Dick sat right in that chair a year ago last spring and
said if I'd give him what he wanted, he'd get me a championship. I don't know
what went wrong."
It seems easy to
guess what did. Halas and Butkus are strong, proud, determined men. Neither has
been willing to yield at points of contention. Mugs' letter, if indeed it was
phrased as Butkus says, did not help. Thus far the Bears have not assigned
Butkus' famous No. 51 to any other player, although Butkus recently told a
luncheon audience that he thought the jersey probably would be given to an 18th
draft choice or "used to spread fertilizer on the AstroTurf." In retort
one Bear fan said, "I don't think Butkus wants them to retire the jersey—he
wants them to retire the position."
know," Halas went on, "in my 40 years as a coach, dealing directly with
more than 700 players, I ran into only three bad ones." Butkus is not one
of them; when Halas was coaching they got along well. "And all these
stories about my wars with the press—I think I've known 900 sportswriters and
in all that time I've only complained about one of them to his boss. Just
one." Chicago sportswriters dispute that avowal, but there is no hard
evidence that Halas ever got anybody fired.
In any event, the
times have changed. George Washington—er, Halas—may be alive and well, but he
has stepped to one side, and the new era belongs, for better or worse, to Jim
Finks. He has the image of Halas looming over him to cope with, and The
Monsters of the Midway and the love-hate attitude of the bitter, yearning fans.
After a satisfying Bear victory early this season the crowd was filing its way
out through the scabrous interior of Soldier Field when an ethnic in a blue
windbreaker asked another in a red windbreaker, "You think we turned the
corner?" Red Windbreaker grunted, "Hell, we turned a corner last year,
and then we got mugged."
Whether the Bears
come back or not, it will be a difficult job to fill George Halas' shoes,
perhaps an impossible one. Here is a man whose career in football is
unparalleled, yet listen to a story Mike Royko tells: "One time at a party
I told Halas I wanted to ask him the tiredest clich� question in sports. I
wanted to know, what was his greatest sports thrill? The Redskin game in 1940?
The tour with Red Grange? That final championship in 1963? He thought a little
and then he said, 'No, none of those. My greatest thrill in sports was the time
in 1919 when I was trying to make it as an outfielder with the New York
Yankees. I hit two balls out of the park off Walter Johnson. Not home runs, you
understand. They were both foul by about a foot. But they went out of the
That will be a
tough one for Jim Finks to top.