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.
November 14, 1983
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.
On a second series of penalty kicks there were 22 more misses. Still tied.
On a third series of penalty kicks, the first player on each team scored. The deadlock continued.
The remaining 10 players on each team failed to score. Won't somebody ever win this thing?
Another series of penalty kicks was ordered. There were 22 more misses. Still all even.
The coaches wearily agreed to decide the outcome with a coin toss. The Eagles captain called tails and the referee flipped the coin. The coin landed on its edge in the soft ground.
Although a "winner" finally was determined—CB&O won the second coin toss—the league's higher-ups had the good sense to realize that the two sides were about as evenly matched as they could be. They decided to award third-place trophies to both teams.
University of Minnesota football Coach Joe Salem, who recently announced his resignation, effective at the end of this season, says he has received a phone call from Lee Corso, who was tired last year as coach at Indiana. Corso wanted to offer some advice on how to survive after football. "Lee said it's important that you find something to do each day, like go to breakfast with Sam or out lo lunch with Dick." Salem related. "But just make sure you don't go to lunch and breakfast the same day. Otherwise you won't have anything to do the next day."
When President Reagan signed a bill last week to establish a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he may have been subtly altering the way millions of Americans will watch at least some future Super Bowls. The new holiday, which begins in 1986, will be celebrated on the third Monday in January, and assuming that the NFL follows its traditional scheduling patterns, it appears likely that at least some of the resulting three-day weekends will include Super Sunday. Of the 17 Super Bowls so far, eight were played on the day before the third Monday.
How will American life be affected by Super Sunday and Martin Luther King Day falling on successive days? Well, if state governments and private industry follow Washington's lead in observing the new holiday, Super Bowl-goers presumably will be able to linger a day longer in the host city without having to rush home right after the game to get to work the next morning. The TV audience figures to feel the effect, too. Instead of tuning in at home, many Americans may catch the Super Bowl telecast at Grandmothers house, ski resorts or other holiday destinations. None of this concerns NFL or television executives because of their conviction, as NBC-TV Manager of Sports Information Kevin Monaghan puts it, that "people might go to the mountains or to the shore, but they'll still watch the game." Monaghan notes one other likely change. Because TV viewers won't be facing the prospect of having to go to work the next day, he says, many of them may have one or two more beers than usual while watching the game.
PLAY IT AGAIN, COACH
Unbeaten Castle High of Newburgh, Ind., the state's defending schoolboy football champion and ranked 12th in the nation in the latest USA Today high school poll, scored on a dramatic 24-yard field goal with two seconds left Friday night to take a 21-19 lead over unbeaten Bloomington South in a state quarterfinal playoff game. When Bloomington South's Mark Brainier appeared to be tackled near midfield after handling Castles subsequent squib kick, jubilant Castle fans, believing the game to be over, began pouring onto the field. However, unnoticed by the fans and at least some of the Castle players, Brauner had, just before he was downed, lateraled to teammate Brad Jackson. Jackson then cut to the left sideline and using part of the Castle throng is interference, raced into the end zone, giving South a stunning 25-21 victory.
All right, everybody, let's run that Cal-Stanford tape again, O.K.?
PILLOW TALK ON THE GRIDIRON
You may have noticed squarish pillow-like objects protruding from behind the necks of linemen and linebackers at football games this fall. Well, don't think those fellows have been sleeping on the job. Formally called helmet restrictors but more jocularly referred to as "rocket launchers" or "humpbacks of Notre Dame," the pillows were developed by Byron Donzis, the innovative Houston sporting-goods designer who first made news with football gear a few years ago when he fitted injured NFL Quarterback Dan Pastorini with a then-revolutionary rib protector (SI Sept. 3, 1979). The Donzis "flak jacket" has since become standard equipment among pro and college quarterbacks.
Because they're made by hand, the helmet restrictors, which attach to the back of the shoulder pads with Velcro and metal snaps, are pricey; each one sells for $87.50. They're designed to soften blows to the head and thereby prevent one of football's most common and painful injuries, the burner, or stinger, an affliction caused by the neck being thrust violently in any direction. The pads are tilled with open-celled urethane foam that, on impact, displaces air in proportion to the Strength and speed of the hit. A linebacker can slowly tilt his head back over the helmet restrictor during pregame neck exercises and the pillow will fully deflate. However, in the event of a sharp hit by an opposing player, the pillow will deflate only enough to cushion the blow. "We needed to pad players so the neck would be immobilized." Donzis says. "But we don't want them to feel encumbered."
One of the helmet restrictor's biggest boosters is Notre Dame trainer John Whitmer, who hits bought 17 of them for this year's Irish team. Other users include West Virginia. UCLA and a smattering of players in the pros. Not everyone is sold, though. Boston College tried but shelved them. Northwestern trainer Steve Long dismisses the helmet restrictor as merely a "bigger and bulkier" version of the neck roll, a protective item long used by many teams.
Donzis also makes a variety of padded gear for hockey, soccer, lacrosse, rodeo and other sports. One thing the firm's founder says he'll never manufacture, however, is a protective cup. "I personally test everything before it goes out the door." Donzis explains. "And I'll be damned if I'll stand there and let somebody take a swipe at me with a baseball bat or a sledgehammer."
THEY SAID IT
•Dave Casper, Viking tight end, on the difference between playing for his present team and his previous one, the hapless Oilers: "In Minnesota, I look up at the scoreboard to see the score. In Houston, I looked up to see how much time was left."
•Al Antak, assistant football coach at Camas (Wash.) High, after a 2-0 loss to Prairie High, in which a Camas punt returner ran 54 yards the wrong way for the decisive safety: "We need to start teaching geography a few years earlier."
•Gordon Hill, forward for the MISL Kansas City Comets, his fourth team in the past year: "I've had more homes than Century 21."