Most younger fans only know George Halas by his legacy. He was the man who purchased the Decatur Staleys in the 1920s and renamed them the Chicago Bears. Under his careful direction, the franchise rose from that of a barnstorming team to a multi-million dollar organization that would win eight NFL championships under his direction as head coach and owner. He also had a direct hand in setting them up for their iconic 1985 Super Bowl run, though he sadly never got to see it before passing away in 1983.
Most people probably envision Halas as a beloved father figure who oversaw his many children in the NFL with a caring disposition. While that is partly true, it doesn’t tell nearly the whole story. Halas was a mature, good-natured man at times in his life but he also had a long-standing reputation for mischief. Not only would he often do anything for an edge during games, he also wasn’t afraid to mix it up verbally or physically with others.
Perhaps no story illustrates his mischievous nature than one recounted by Will Larkin of the Chicago Tribune. One where Halas willingly heckled all-time baseball great and notorious villain Ty Cobb before a baseball game. One that almost saw him throw hands afterward.
Like many rookies, he was easily goaded. His teammates pressured him to tease Tigers legend Ty Cobb as he batted. Halas, who idolized Cobb, went along.
“I shouted nonsense at him, using some gutter terms,” Halas wrote. “He dropped his bat and strode to the dugout.”
“Punk, I’ll see you after the game,” Cobb said. “Don’t forget, punk.”
“I will look for you,” Halas said.
Halas took a long shower, hoping Cobb would forget their meeting. Instead, they walked out of their facing clubhouse doors at the same time. Halas put up his dukes. Cobb extended his hand.
“I like your spirit, kid,” Cobb said, “but don’t overdo it if you don’t have to.”
George Halas proved he had nerve and that took him far
Think about that. Imagine being a young kid watching Javier Baez take batting practice. You mercilessly heckle him to such a point that he openly declares he’ll see you after the game to have it out with fists. Most guys would’ve slinked away with the crowds after the game. Not Halas. He stood up to the confrontation like a man, ready to back up his bravado. This earned Cobb’s respect, something that wasn’t easy to come by.
That nerve would end up serving him well later in life as he bravely carried the Bears through the uncertain years of football when it wasn’t clear if the NFL would even last as a league. He no doubt faced plenty of crisis moments along the way. That the team not only survived but thrived and became one of the most valuable sports franchises in the United States is a testament to his legacy.