The Bears won the title again the next year, in Pearl Harbor month, and in '43 when Halas was Commander Papa Bear, and in '46 when he was back from the war, 51 years old. But thereafter, the Bears declined, drifting most years in the horse latitudes of mediocrity. Halas took his third respite from coaching in 1956-57, but he returned by personal demand. The Chicago press always remained in his corner, but this time he was scarred by whispers and innuendo: he was too old; it had passed him by; he was a miser, too patronizing of the players; he was blindly loyal to the family and old cronies who rattled about the Bear payroll.
Some of this was all too true, but probably these grumblings dog anyone who stays in one place for so long. As consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so, too, does it sustain the steadfast soul. And loyalty. What would we expect of someone who spent his whole life at the same stand—the migratory qualities of Elizabeth Taylor?
Then, too, there is something about Halas' hometown that nurtures—or countenances—these virtues. Chicago is, after all, the second largest city in the U.S., but for all its size it is curiously contained. It never makes waves across the land, as New York and Los Angeles do. In a way, Chicago is not an end in itself but only a huge crossroads, which, throughout history, Indians, cattle, gangsters, conventioners, trains and airplanes soon enough have stumbled upon. Merely because of its convenient central location, all sorts of national publications, such as this one, are printed in Chicago. The New Yorker, of all things, is printed in Chicago. Type is set there. But these magazines are not conceived in Chicago, not written there, not affected by the place, any more than are America's networks or fashions or mores.
Hence, local figures can grow to large proportions in Chicago while rarely casting long shadows nationally. The sagas of such diverse creatures as Mayor Daley, Colonel McCormick of the Tribune and George S. Halas are not that dissimilar.
So Chicago was just the ticket for Papa Bear and, save for the odd world war, he has never really been away from the Windy City, nor it from him. After he came back from the Navy in 1945, he did not age so much as he fell out of joint with the times. There was nothing in the immigrant tailor's son to prepare him for the relaxed days of peace and prosperity. Here was a fellow who had played a football game with a broken jaw, who had threatened to slug affable Art Rooney of the Steelers over a lousy $500 dispute, who, a friend once said, "believes that if you haven't got anything to do, you ought to be at your office doing it."
He still thought it a point of honor to fight for everything in the book, but now it was a world of easy credit, cigarette-smoking women and Saturdays off, and nobody else wanted to put their dukes up. "He succeeded in rewarding all the wrong people," says an old colleague. "The more intelligent, sensitive players wouldn't fight him, so they got screwed." No indeed, Papa Bear never did grow old, but he did grow old-fashioned, and it really was incidental whether that happened when he was 60 years of age, or 40 or 25. He was a man of the times, and the times had changed.
He suffered most for his parsimony. Mike Ditka's celebrated gibe—"He throws nickels around like manhole covers"—cemented his reputation for all time as a Scrooge. It did not matter that his family always knew him as a benevolent patriarch, that he was an easy touch for friends and good causes, that he had made a fortune in oil and real estate and several other endeavors. The Bears' ledger was frozen in time, back when Halas' office was a hotel lobby, when he sold tickets himself on the street, when Bronko and the Galloping Ghost had to take IOUs.
Maybe it is easy to throw nickels around like soybean futures if you are from money—Lamar Hunt, Clint Murchison, that crowd. And it is easy to spend rashly if you are nouveau, if you made it wheeling and dealing—Ray Kroc, Gene Autry, fellows like that. It is seldom how much money we have that indicates how we will spend it. No, it is how we obtained the money. And what Halas made from oil and land doesn't count, not with the Bears it doesn't. Here are three stories that will tell you something or other about this.
Story one: Brian Piccolo used to shake his head and laugh about it, even as he neared his death. In Piccolo's last season, he fought Halas for three weeks to get an extra $500. Then when Piccolo became ill with cancer, Halas paid all his bills, thousands of dollars' worth, right to the end. And never a word.
Story two, told by Mike Pyle, the center on the '63 team, the only Bear champions since '46: "The two years before. Green Bay had won and Lombardi had given fur coats and TV sets to the wives and girl friends. So we win, and the old man gives some charms—worth maybe $50, tops—and only to the wives. The single guys don't get a thing. I mentioned this to Mugs [Halas' only son, a team executive] and he said, 'Now, Mike, of course I'm not talking about you, but we just can't take the chance of having any Bears jewelry end up on some Playboy bunny or some Rush Street floozy.' "