It was George Halas' plan that the names Shaughnessy,
Luckman, Bulldog, Osmanski, McAfee and others would change the face of his team
forever. Pehaps Halas couldn't even imagine how fast the turnaround would come,
and to what positive extent.
The fabulous draft of 1939, that added quarterback Sid
Luckman, running back Bill Osmanski, guard Ray Bray and others was reprised in
1940. With their first two picks they picked center/linebacker Clyde "Bulldog"
Turner and end Ken Kavanaugh. They also traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for
first-round running back George McAfee. McAfee would add some "lightning" to
Through the first eight weeks of the '40 season, the Bears
were 6-2 and set for a showdown with George Preston Marshall's Washington
Redskins. On that November 17th in Washington, Chicago lost 7-3, and Marshall
was quoted in the paper as calling Halas and his Bears "front-runners,"
"quitters" and "crybabies".
Using Marshall's printed words as a catalyst, Chicago scored
78 points in its final two games. Chicago and Washington's records set up an
NFL Championship Game showdown in Washington on December 8. Prior to the game,
Halas distributed clippings of Marshall's comments to his players, and said
"Gentlemen, this is what George Preston Marshall thinks of you. I think you're
a great football team, the greatest ever assembled. Go out on the field and
Fifty-five seconds into the game, Osmanski swept left and
scored on a 68 yard touchdown. Late in the game, the officials pleaded with
Halas to not kick for extra points as they were running out of footballs that
had flown through the uprights into the crowd.
In the end, the score was 73-0, the largest margin of defeat
in NFL history.
After his team had proven to Halas that they were one of the
best assembled ever on that day, in the following years they made good on
showing that they were indeed perhaps the best every to that point. In 1941,
the Bears finished 10-1, losing only to the Green Bay Packers by two points. In
a playoff game prior to the NFL Championship, Chicago paid the Packers back,
winning 33-14. Then a second championship in a row was secured for Chicago with
a 37-9 victory over the New York Giants at Wrigley Field. That game was played
under sobering circumstances, two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, and
players had to have known that the coming years would not be the same.
Indeed, as was expected, current players were drafted into
the military and at the same time the talent pool of potential players was
diminished. The Bears continued operations normally, although some other
teams were forced to merge or fold during the war. For example, the
Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers merged to form the Phil-Pitt
Chicago did lose something significant when founder/coach
Halas entered the Navy for a tour of duty in the Pacific theater.
Following the October 25, 1942 victory over Philadelphia,
Chicago's twelfth victory in a row, Halas turned his team over to
assistants Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos. The Bears would win the final
six games that season-giving them 18 straight regular and postseason wins-but
lost the 1942 NFL Championship game 14-6 to the Redskins.
In 1943, former star fullback Bronko Nagurski was coaxed
back onto the team to play one final season. He played the season mostly
at tackle, but did turn in several unforgettable performances at his old role
of fullback before the year was over. On December 26th, a visiting Halas
returned in his dress Navy uniform to soundly defeat the Redskins 41-21 for
their third NFL title of the decade.
The story of Nagurski's return to football has been written
in Jim Dent's book Monsters of the Midway. The book is currently
being made into a feature film.
In 1944 and '45, the war continued to erode the talent pool
of the Bears as well as the rest of the NFL. Chicago finished 6-3-1 in
'44, and 3-7 in 1945. The return of the Bears' stars at the end of '45
was evident, however, as the team did finish 3-2 over the final five weeks of
The 1946 season became the final championship season of the
decade, as many of the great players from 1940-41 made it back to the team
following the conclusion of World War 2. The Bears defeated the New York
Giants in New York 24-14 to seal their fourth NFL Championship in seven years.
Chicago remained competitive through the end of the decade,
compiling a 27-9 record from 1947-'49, but could not win another
championship. Talent was still there, however, and the looming 1950's
promised to be another exciting era for the Bears.
Head Coaches: George Halas, 1940-1942;
1946-1949; Luke Johnsos and Hunk Anderson, 1942-1945
Championships: 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946
Records: Best 11-0, 1942 (lost Championship
game); Worst 3-7, 1945