Monday, February 16, 2015

George Papa Bears' Early 1930s



In 1930, Halas and co-owner Dutch Sternaman hired Ralph Jones, who was athletic director at Lake Forest Academy, to coach the Bears.  Halas believed it was a good step to take to resolve the differences that had crept up in the owners’ relationship.  They both knew Jones from his days at the University of Illinois.  Jones made innovative adjustments to the Bears’ offense that gave the team a more mobile attack.  The Bears also added University of Minnesota standout, Bronko Nagurski, who gave the team one of the greatest power-runners of all time as well as a bone-crushing tackler.  With Red Grange and several other excellent players on the roster as well, the Bears were a formidable power.  

However, the Bears were almost derailed in 1931.  Dutch Sternaman needed money and decided to sell his stake in the team.  Tough negotiations between the two partners were followed by some desperate financial moves by Halas to raise the money at a time when many of the banks had gone out of business.  A few good friends and some last-minute maneuvers saved Halas’s stake in the Bears.

Overall, the Bears would continue their winning ways.  In the first 5 years of the 1930s, the Bears would win, place, or show in each of those seasons.  The number of teams were much more tightly controlled in the 1930s and the competition got tougher.  The Bears would continue in the first three places again, but within their smaller conference.  

Bears’ 1930 and 1931 Seasons

In Ralph Jones’s first season in 1930, the Bears recovered nicely from 1929.  For the season, the Bears scored 169 points and allowed 71 from their opponents.  They finished 9–4–1 for the season for third place behind the first place Green Bay Packers and the second place New York Giants.  Two of the Bears’ losses were to Green Bay.

Added to the 1931 Bears’ roster was halfback Keith Molesworth.  The Bears finished 8–5–0 in 1931 for another third place finish.  The Packers were winding up a three year championship run under Curly Lambeau.  The Portsmouth Spartans took second place.  The Bears scored 145 points and allowed 92 from their opponents. 

Bears’ 1932 Championship

Back George Corbett and Hall of Fame end Bill Hewitt were added to the Bears’ roster in 1932.  The season did not start out well for the Chicago Bears as they tied their first three games and then lost to the Green Bay Packers in their fourth.  The Bears turned things around after that and won 6 while tying 3 to give them a 6–1–6 record for their regularly scheduled games.  The Portsmouth Spartans ended the season at 6–1–4, which put them in first with the Bears.  Tied games were not considered in the standings.  It was determined that a championship game would be played in Chicago.   

Horrific weather sent the teams indoors to the Chicago Stadium, where the game was played on an abbreviated field with modifications.   Halas made the case that the game could be played there like the Bears had played an exhibition game.  

The field was only 80 yards long and 15 feet less that the 160 feet width.  The single goalpost was moved in place as needed.  The crowd was sitting a few feet from the playing field border above a wall.  For the first time, when a ball went out of bounds it was placed ten feet in from the border of the field.  This was the precursor to the hash marks arrangement in future years.

In Richard Whittingham's book, the Chicago Bears: An Illustrated History, Whittingam points out that the sounds of battle in the indoor arena gave the fans a true sense of the violence of the game--men crashing together in a way that could not be compared to an outdoor stadium. 

The Bears triumphed, 9–0, in a game that featured a Nagurski to Grange touchdown pass after the Bears brought the ball downfield on an interception.  Nagurski had moved the ball from the 7-yard line down to the 2-yard line on the first down, but was stymied in two successive rushes.  He lined up again, but rather than run for the score, he pulled up and backpedaled before flipping it to an open Red Grange in the end zone.  Potsy Clark, the Portsmouth coach, howled at the referee that Nagurski was not a full 5-yards back of the line (the rule at the time), but it was to no avail.  Bears won.  

Oddly enough, the Bears had an indoor championship game win in1932.  And despite the comfort of playing indoors at home, an indoor Bears stadium has yet to exist since. 

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships a book that examines the football lives of the top ten NFL coaches and much of the history of the NFL.