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Wrigley Field historical sleuthing: Chicago Bears edition

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This is a real good view of Wrigley during a Bears game.

Bettmann / Contributor

Given that this is an NFL Sunday with the Bears playing the Packers tonight, I thought I’d make today’s sleuthing photo a Bears-at-Wrigley image.

Getty Images supplied the following information:

General view of crowd watching the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams battle it out in a National Football League game in Wrigley Field. The Chicago Bears surrendered the lead to the Rams in the last three minutes of the game, then roared back to salvage victory on a 55-yard pass, Bill Wade to Willie Galimore. The final score was 28-24.

The detail made it fairly easy to find the date. This game was played at Wrigley Sunday, November 26, 1961, just a couple of weeks more than 60 years ago. While the Getty caption says the pass was 55 yards, the boxscore link says it was 52 yards.

The boxscore appears to be wrong. From the Tribune recap by George Strickler:

Harlon Hill, playing offensive end for the first time this season, had caught a 23 yard pass and the Bears were on their own 45 yard line. [Charlie] Bivins dropped a pass, but on the next down Wade found Galimore over the middle.

Willie had his balance, the ball and a clear view of the goal by now, and he left them in his wake as he hiked for the Waveland fire station.

Sounds like a 55-yard pass to me. The Bears led 28-24 with about two minutes remaining, and eventually recovered a Rams fumble to clinch the win.

I’m also posting this photo because it’s one of the clearest looks at the entire football field as it was laid out at Wrigley during the Bears’ time there. Unlike the Northwestern game last month, where the field ran from third base to the right field wall, in the Bears era the field ran from first base to the left field wall. There wasn’t really enough room for a regulation field, so the end zones were just eight yards deep. As you can see from the photo, in that era it didn’t matter as the goalposts were on the goal line, not the end line of the end zone, and had been since 1933. They weren’t moved to the end line until 1974.

In the photo you can see where the temporary bleachers were set up on the right field grass to increase Wrigley’s capacity (45,965 attended that 1961 game, far above Wrigley’s capacity for about 37,000 for baseball at the time), and the baseball seats that, as a result, were unused due to lack of visibility of the field.

And, you can also see the clock, to keep time for the football game, attached to the bottom of the scoreboard. Click here for a larger version of the photo.

Just a quick note on what you see on the board: There’s 6:48 remaining in the second quarter, per the clock and the board, and the Bears are leading 14-7. NFL games in that era started (generally) at 1 p.m. local time, so that checks out. The Rams are running a play; you see their quarterback Zeke Bratkowski (a former Bear!) setting up to pass. There’s no specific play log available for this game so the result of that play is unknown.

One last note about the Bears’ game-winning pass, specifically about the receiver, Willie Galimore. Galimore was a tremendous talent who played for the Bears from 1957-63. Some say he was nearly as great an open-field runner as Gale Sayers. Sadly, Galimore died in a car accident July 27, 1964, driving near the Bears’ training camp, then located in Rensselaer, Indiana. He was just 28 years old. Here’s Galimore’s playing record with the Bears.