George and his dragons

Wily George Halas, who almost invented pro football, leads his Bears out of hibernation
October 27, 1958

There could not have been a more typical Chicago Bear victory than the one last Sunday. Willie Galimore, a halfback who is harder to hold than an eel in a tub of butter, scored two touchdowns; penalties fell thick as a snowstorm off Lake Michigan; and George Halas, who owns the Bears and employs himself as their head coach, almost precipitated a riot as he got into a pushing contest with a Los Angeles Ram halfback. When it was all over, the Bears had beaten the Rams 31-10 to take over second place all by themselves in the Western Conference.

It was a familiar feast to the eyes of Chicago football fans to find Halas back on the sidelines throwing his tantrums. For this unusual man—so quiet and soft-spoken off the field and so violent on it—is a hero to the home folks and the blackest villain in sport in every other league city. When he is not engrossed with his beloved Bears, Halas is a man whose mild blue eyes peer pleasantly through half-steel-rimmed glasses and who dresses and acts much like the president of a friendly small-town bank. He has the same paternal interest in his players that a small-town banker has in his depositors. But when the Bears trot out on the field, Halas shucks his mild manner to race up and down the sidelines, howling imprecations at officials. He kicks field goals and extra points, squirms away from tacklers, throws blocks, bats down passes. He is as good a show as the game, and Chicago fans love to watch him; in other league cities there is no sport quite like booing George Halas on Sunday afternoon.

But what is Halas doing back in the coaching end of the Bear operations after he resigned with such finality three years ago?

"I couldn't stand it on the sidelines not running the club," he says quite frankly. "It was a lot harder on me than coaching. And I thought I saw a few things that might help us, so I came back. I feel good."

Halas, of course, must be ranked among the greatest of football coaches. He stuck with the T through the long years of single-wing football and he has remained au courant to the latest developments. In fact, many of them stem from the Chicago Bears, who inspired the almost universal shift to T-formation football in 1940, with their whopping 73-0 victory over the Washington Redskins in the pro title game.

"Coaching is tougher now," Halas says. "The defenses change constantly, from play to play, and the offense has to broaden to cope with that. The personnel is so much better, too. When I started, each team had one or two great players. They would be great today, too. But now each team has so many more of them."

Halas has mellowed in recent years; he was once known as one of the hardest-driving of all pro coaches. According to Sid Luckman, who quarterbacked the great Bear teams of the early '40s and who is the prototype of all T quarterbacks, Halas had mellowed when he came back from Navy service after the war.

"He was a lot tougher before," Luckman says. "But don't get me wrong. I don't think there's a Bear who ever played for Halas who doesn't have the deepest respect and admiration for him. You knew he would stick by you. He was like a father to me. I can truthfully say that all I am today I owe to George Halas and the Bears." Since Luckman is an eminently successful Chicago businessman, this compliment means something.

His estimate of the Halas character points up what may be George's most valuable asset as a coach—a quality of warmth which inspires tremendous affection from the players. Although Halas, on the surface, is still a stern, strict disciplinarian, the warmth seeps through.

For instance, one of his pet rules has to do with the weight of the Bear players. Halas decides how much each player should weigh when the season starts and checks the scales against his estimate religiously every day. "It's like handicapping a horse," he explains. "A 2-pound up in weight means a difference in speed. I figure five extra pounds on a 190-pound halfback is the difference between a good and a great player."

Halas used to fine the players $50 per pound for anything over his prescribed weight. Now he has changed that to $25 per pound for the first three pounds, $50 per pound after that. No player ever gets over the three pounds. "I had to," he says. "I'd fine them $50 per pound and at the end of the season my conscience would hurt me and I'd cut the fine in half. Now I cut it in half to start."

The Sunday incident, when Halas was pushed by Ram Defensive Halfback Don Burroughs after protesting that the Rams had been unnecessarily rough in pushing Bear End Harlon Hill out of bounds after a pass completion, illustrates his players' attitude toward Halas. The team, led by newly acquired Guard Abe Gibron, an ex-Brown, boiled off the bench intent on mayhem. It is doubtful that the officials could have kept them off Burroughs; Halas sent them back with a few words.

Halas runs his meticulously organized practices with an iron hand though. From the Bear practice field have come many of the innovations which make the pro offenses so exciting: the spread ends, flanked halfback, the slot back. Halas tailors offenses to fit personnel; this year he has developed plays to loose probably the most destructive projectile in the league, a wide-shouldered, slim-legged Negro halfback named Willie Galimore, who has been called the finest runner in pro football. Willie provides George with a tremendous outside threat and he's the kind of player Halas likes. "He's quick and coachable," Halas said. "He's intelligent."

FOOTBALL'S WILLIE MAYS

Galimore is a relaxed, Willie Mays-type athlete who regards his recent eminence with mild wonder. "I just pick my feet up and put them down and keep squirming when I get hit," he explains. "I get away that way."

The combination of Halas and Galimore, plus the sound, tough Bear team may mean another Bear era in football.

In other games around the league, the Baltimore Colts remained undefeated at the expense of the winless Detroit Lions. The loss of longtime Quarterback Bobby Layne, traded to Pittsburgh two weeks ago (SI, Oct. 20), may have had a deep psychological effect on the Lions, who appeared demoralized in the 40-14 defeat.

The Chicago Cardinals, who upset the poise of the Cleveland Browns defense last week with a new-fangled offense best described as a triple-wing T, went back, for the most part, to their double-wing T in whipping the New York Giants 23-6, although they used the triple-winger enough to make a Brown scout in the press box say, "We didn't think much of that offense until we started going over the pictures; then we realized that when they get their timing down, it's going to be tough to stop. It is."

The Browns, who appear more and more in the image of the Browns of the Otto Graham-Marion Motley era, took one more step in their methodical and inevitable progress toward the Eastern Conference championship by stifling the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bobby Layne 27-10. One of Cleveland's most formidable challengers fell when the Philadelphia Eagles lost to San Francisco 30-24; the 49ers, using second-year quarterback John Brodie in place of injured Y. A. Tittle, regained the offensive polish they appeared to have lost irretrievably in the last two games.

Consistently unfortunate Green Bay ran into the Washington Redskins, a consistently inconsistent team, on a good day and lost 37-21 on a woefully leaky defense.

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PHOTOLOOKING LIKE a banker in coach's clothing, the Bears' coach, George Halas, gives Willie Galimore, the best in pro football, the benefit of his sage advice.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)