The Chicago Bears owe their name to the Chicago Cubs. The idea was that the brawny, upstart footballers were physically larger than Cubs — they were as big as Bears. Now the Chicago Bears are the biggest sports team in town. But it didn't begin that way.
1. The Bears were called the Decatur Staleys — sponsored by a downstate agri-businessman — when they helped organize pro football in 1920. The Staleys' first victory was against the Moline Tractors; their first loss was to a Chicago team, the Cardinals. In 1922, the Staleys became the Chicago Bears.
2. If 20-year-old George Halas had arrived on time to a work outing in 1915, his Bears might never have been established. Halas and other Western Electric employees were invited to ride a steamship across Lake Michigan for a picnic. But Halas showed up late, possibly because he overslept. By the time Halas arrived, the ship — the Eastland —- had overturned in the Chicago River, sending more than 800 people to their deaths.
3. "Monsters of the Midway" first referred to the fearsome University of Chicago Maroons. Back in the 1930s, when professional football could only hope for the same prominence as college programs, the team fielded by the University of Chicago was the gridiron giant, and Midway was a reference to the campus' Midway Plaisance. But the U. of C. dropped its football program in 1939, and the Bears gobbled up the "Monster" title in 1940 with a championship season.
4. During World War II, many players quit to serve in the armed forces. For the 1944 season, 19 of 28 men from the 1943 championship team went to war. That included star quarterback Sid Luckman, who participated in the Normandy invasion. Midway through the 1942 season, coach George Halas left for the Pacific theater. There, as Lt. Cmdr. Halas, he was the welfare and recreation officer for the 7th Fleet. He reportedly still kept track of the Bears' progress and telegrammed orders from overseas.
6. The Bears still sit atop the NFL record books in a number of categories, thanks in no small part to the powerhouse teams of the 1930s and 1940s. The team has led the league in more seasons than any other team in: scoring, touchdowns, first downs, rushing and fewest rushing yards allowed. And for a team started by Halas, who coached a rough-and-tumble style of football, maybe it's no surprise it also leads in the penalties category.
7. Famed columnist Irv Kupcinet refereed Bears games in the '40s while writing about the team for the Chicago Times.
8. Walter Payton stunk up the joint — at first. In his debut regular-season NFL game, he gained zero yards on eight carries. And he missed a game due to injury that season. Granted, he wouldn't miss another one through his entire 13-season career. The brilliant and versatile Payton so believed in consistency that he sat in the same seat on the team's charter flights all 13 years.
9. In 1968, the Bears defeated the Green Bay Packers on a "fair-catch kick" — a rare play that's still in the NFL rulebook. When a team makes a fair catch of a kick, it has the option of attempting a field goal from that very spot, with defenders kept 10 yards away. The Bears defeated the Packers 13-10 on Nov. 3, 1968, when Mac Percival booted a 43-yard field goal in the last minute. The next morning's Tribune described the fair-catch kick as a "very rare stratagem."
10. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was born in Santa Claus, Ind., has Type 1 diabetes, and was lampooned on TV's "South Park" when he was a Denver Bronco. In a 2007 "South Park" episode, Stan and Kyle attend a pool party with "all the biggest stars in Colorado," and Stan tells Cutler that "you kind of suck but my dad says you might be good someday." Jay Cutler is also the name of a bodybuilder who is the reigning Mr. Olympia — but that Jay Cutler is an entirely different guy who's 10 years older and hails from Sterling, Mass.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "The Bears: A 75-Year Celebration" by Richard Whittingham; "Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas" by Jeff Davis; "Rivals, the 10 Greatest American Sports Rivalries in the 20th Century" by Richard O. Davies; "The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange, An American Football Legend" by Gary Andrew Poole; "Bearers: Webster's Quotations, Facts and Phrases"; "The Pro Football Historical Abstract" by Sean Lahman; "Baseball and the Media" by George Castle; National Football League; southparkstudios.com; quirkyresearch.blogspot.com; chicagobears.com; mrolympia.com; Tribune archives.