A Day In Wrigley Field History: December 26, 1943

The Bears wore uniforms like this throwback sported by Josh McCown, when they won the NFL title in 1943. - Jonathan Daniel

The Bears were the dominant team in the NFL in the 1940s.

Imagine a headline like this today:

"BEARS WIN THIRD NFL TITLE IN FOUR YEARS"

We'd all be pretty happy about that as Chicagoans, I'd think.

That's exactly what happened at a chilly Wrigley Field on December 26, 1943, as the Bears crushed the Redskins 41-21 to win their third championship since 1940 (and in 1942, they lost the title game, otherwise it would have been four straight).

Edward Prell wrote in the Tribune:

Sid Luckman was the leading man in the Bears' dramatic push to the heights. The black haired fellow from Brooklyn fired five touchdown passes, two more than any passer in the National league's history had done in any preceding championship battle. And the sixth touchdown? That went to old Bronko Nagurski, who turned back the years in a smashing exhibition at full back.

Nagurski, it should be pointed out, was 35 years old -- that'd be old for a running back in today's NFL, never mind 70 years ago -- and hadn't played in six years, before being coaxed out of retirement for the war-depleted Bears.

Speaking of war-depleted, George Halas didn't coach this squad. He was in the navy during World War II, and the Tribune's Edward Burns wrote of his appearance at the title game:

Lt. Comdr. George Halas, owner-coach in absentia of the Chicago Bears, was very much present at the big game yesterday, joined in the whooping clubhouse celebration over the Washington Redskins, and enthusiastically expressed the hope the war situation will be such next August that the Bears will participate in the All-Star game sponsored by Chicago Tribune Charities.

"I expect to be busy with my navy duties for many months," said Lt. Comdr. Halas, "but if there is a Bear team next August, and I expect there will be, you may be sure that the team will be keyed to the competition, as much as it was today -- and that's talking in superlatives, for the players did a great job."

If you're younger than about 45, you probably don't remember the College All-Star Game, which was played every August at Soldier Field. It matched the previous year's NFL champions against a team of college players who had graduated, most of whom were rookies in the NFL. It seems like a strange concept now, but it was very popular in that era given that the college game was still bigger than pro football. It lasted until 1976. That summer -- and a game I actually went to -- the game was interrupted by a severe thunderstorm in the third quarter, after which the organizers gave up and called that game off, and later decided it would be the last one; NFL teams decided they didn't want to have their rookies taken out of training camp to risk injury in a meaningless contest.

Back to 1943 -- there was one more oddity about that game, written up by Maurice Shevlin in the Tribune (and in a very odd style):

The general manager, the clubhouse boy, the ushers and the guardians of law and order were rude to the point of being nasty, as George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington club, vociferously declaims.

His crime, it seems, and as he puts it, was his desire to be with his players on the field before the half ended but his presence was discovered by Ralph Brizzolara, Bears general manager, and he was ordered from the field. 

The duty fell to the clubhouse attendant who escorted Marshall to a couple of box seat ushers, who in turn let a couple of policemen show Marshall to the gate. They apparently left the portals open, for Marshall turned right around and walked back in. His future appearances were without escort.

"Very, very rude to say the least," said Marshall after the beaten Redskins had trooped into their dressing room at the conclusion of the contest. "A first class bush league trick," was Marshall's closing comment.

Even though things were much more casual in those days, I'm not sure why the owner of the visiting team would have just wandered onto the field without permission.

These were the Bears' "Monsters of the Midway" days; they had lifted the slogan from the University of Chicago, whose president dropped the school's football program in 1939. The Bears surely played like monsters, up to the late 1940s, at least.

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