Try to think of men who are known as the father of something important, and the list peters out pretty quickly after George Washington (his country), Enrico Fermi (the atomic bomb) and Hippocrates (medicine). George Halas, who died last week at 88, was referred to in more than one obituary as "the father of pro football." Indeed, it has long been the practice to describe Halas in paternal terms. He was one of the NFL's patriarchs, and insofar as his beloved Chicago Bears were concerned, his paternity was never questioned. He was—and always will be—Papa Bear.
But Halas didn't just sire; he survived. He was there at the beginning, one of a handful of men who gathered in a Hupmobile showroom in Canton. Ohio in 1920 to found the organization that became the NFL, and he remained at least nominally in charge of the Bears until his death. He went from being the Bears' player-coach-owner to coach-owner to just plain owner, a 63-year involvement with one team that eclipsed Connie Mack's 50-year reign as the Philadelphia Athletics' owner-manager. Halas not only logged 10 seasons as the Bears' right end, but he also had a brief and inglorious fling at Mack's game, as an outfielder for the Yankees. He knew what it was like both to be run over by Jim Thorpe and to hit—or try to hit—Walter Johnson's fastball.
It was a measure of Halas' success as an NFL coach that he won 326 games, even more than that other legendary Bear, the one at Alabama. Over the years the Bears also won eight NFL titles, and their 73-0 win over the Redskins in the 1940 championship game is generally reckoned to be the most nearly perfect performance by any pro football team. No NFL team has since beaten a rival so soundly, not even during the regular season, not even the Steelers at their Super Bowl best against the Buccaneers at their expansion-team worst. And Papa Bear was as innovative as he was successful. He popularized the T formation in the pros and it was he who introduced daily practices, assistant coaches, training camps, press-box spotters and game films. One supposes that somebody had to come up with the idea of hash marks, and Halas gets the credit for that, too.
Halas, as much as anybody, is responsible for what millions of Americans do with their Sunday afternoons and their Monday nights. It is also part of the Halas record that the man was crusty, combative and controversial. As a coach, he wasn't above tripping rival players along the sideline or condoning an aide's use of a stethoscope to eavesdrop on an opponent from an adjoining hotel room. He gained a reputation as a skinflint, although he claimed in his autobiography that his parsimony was sometimes a matter of tactics: "Teams visiting Wrigley Field [where the Bears used to play] constantly complained about lack of soap, towels, programs. They put it down to stinginess. But why not deprive visitors, if doing so upsets them?"
The Bears weren't much good in Halas' later years, and a lot of fans complained that the game had passed him by and suggested that he sell the team to someone who could produce a winner. Halas sell his cherished Bears? He dismissed such heresy the same way he shrugged off the derision that was heaped on him when he stormed along the sidelines in opponents' stadiums. He was booed everywhere during his heyday because he was thought to intimidate officials and control the league. Referring to the booing he got from 49er fans, Halas once told SI's San Francisco correspondent, Art Rosenbaum, "When they boo you, you know they mean you. Music, that's what it is. One time they gave me a standing boo ovation at Kezar Stadium. Those fans always gave me 100 percent." A lot of people wouldn't relish standing boo ovations, but Halas was different. He thrived on everything that was part of pro football, the boos included.
THIS, MR. ROZELLE, IS REAL PARITY
Officials of a youth soccer league in Council Bluffs, Iowa couldn't leave well enough alone when two teams in the under-eight division, the Nixon Body Shop Eagles and CB&O Equipment, finished the regular season in a third-place tie. Instead, because the final standings affected the distribution of trophies, the officials decided that the two teams should play a game to break the deadlock. But, as subsequent events suggested, some teams are simply meant to tie. Here's what happened:
The playoff game ended with the score 1-1. No winner yet.
On a series of overtime penalty kicks, all 22 players—11 on each side—failed to score. Still no winner.