With the Bears trailing 7-0 early in the 1963 NFL championship game at Wrigley Field, Giants receiver Del Shofner got behind cornerback Dave Whitsell but dropped a pass from Y.A. Tittle in the end zone.
On the next play, linebacker Larry Morris intercepted a pass and ran 61 yards to set up the Bears' first score and keep them in a game they eventually won 14-10.
Whitsell was a hero that season. Two weeks earlier at Wrigley, he had returned an interception of the Lions' Earl Morrall for a touchdown that clinched the Western Conference title and put the Bears into the championship.
What former Bears assistant coach Chuck Mather remembers about the Shofner play was Whitsell's cunning if not his execution.
"He was yelling at Shofner, 'Watch the wall! Watch the wall! Watch the wall!' " Mather recalled years later.
Such unfriendly confines helped the Bears win nearly 70 percent of their home games over 50 years, a whole lot better than the Cubs can boast over 100.
The north end zone abutted the left-field ivy-covered brick, and the south end zone was so close to the first-base brick wall and dugout that a slice of the southeast corner was cut a tad short. Bears Chairman George McCaskey recalled seeing film of Andy Frain ushers holding a cord between them as "security." A sheet of plywood guarded the dugout steps. It made "wall-to-wall" football an intimate pleasure for fans from 1921 through 1970.
As the Decatur Staleys in the inaugural 1920 NFL season, George Halas' team played its final two games at Wrigley, then called Cubs Park. The games drew up to 12,000 fans, many more than the 1,500 the Decatur field held or the 5,000 accommodated at Normal Park at 61st and Racine.
After moving the team to Chicago in 1921, Halas asked Cubs President William Veeck Sr. if his team could play there regularly. Veeck wanted 15 percent of the gate and concessions.
"All right, provided I can keep the program rights," Halas recounted in his 1979 autobiography, "Halas by Halas." "I left the park a happy man. This verbal agreement stood firm without change for 50 years. It is a pleasure to do business with people like the Veecks and the Wrigleys."
Halas was so grateful, he considered naming his team the Cubs but thought, "I noted football players are bigger than baseball players; so if baseball players are cubs, then certainly football players must be bears."
The Bears played 330 home games at Wrigley, among the most any NFL team has played at any stadium. In the early years, the Bears sometimes played as many as 10 or 11 home games a season to take advantage of the gate and to make up for annual starts on the road to accommodate baseball.
The Bears' record at Wrigley was 221-89-22, including two wins as the "visitors" against the Chicago Tigers.
The AFL-NFL merger, which required stadiums to seat 50,000, plus a concern for players' health led to the Bears' move to Soldier Field. They took their portable Wrigley outfield bleachers with them and used them in the north end zone until 1978.
No stadium still standing witnessed the NFL lore of Wrigley, from league championships featuring Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman to Dick Butkus chasing Lions running back Altie Taylor into the stands, which were close enough to the sidelines for referees not to notice Butkus' intent. Halas insisted there were witnesses to Bronko Nagurski cracking the brick wall with his helmet after a touchdown run and claiming, "That last son-of-a-gun really hit me hard."
Wrigley was home during eight of the Bears' nine NFL championship seasons. It hosted five "Super Bowls" of the time — 1933, 1937, 1941, 1943 and 1963 — all except 1937 Bears victories.
Wrigley was the stage for the final confrontation between Halas and Packers coach Vince Lombardi on Nov. 27, 1967, when the Packers were on their way to their second Super Bowl title in the two years of the new-fangled event and the Bears were on their way to the lowest period in their history.
But on Dec. 13, 1970, they beat the Packers 35-17 in their final game at Wrigley, rekindling memories of a glorious reign.
FIVE MEMORABLE GAMES
Dec. 12, 1965: Bears 61, 49ers 20. Rookie Gale Sayers left everyone stuck in the mud while scoring six touchdowns — an 80-yard screen pass, runs of 21, 7, 50 and 1 yards and an 85-yard punt return. George Halas replaced him with Jon Arnett, who scored on a 2-yard rush, so Sayers conceivably could have had seven touchdowns. "The way things were going, I probably could have scored eight," he said. He finished with 336 total yards — 113 rushing, 89 receiving and 134 on punt returns — outgaining the entire 49ers team by 6 yards. One of the happiest days in the Bears' Wrigley history was followed three seasons later by one of the saddest as Sayers suffered a devastating knee injury against the same 49ers.
Dec. 29, 1963, NFL title game: Bears 14, Giants 10. A crowd of 45,801 endured an 11-degree temperature and an 11 mph wind to watch a dominant Bears defense intercept five passes by Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Interceptions by Larry Morris and Ed O'Bradovich set up touchdown sneaks by Bears quarterback Bill Wade, and Tittle was hobbled from a hit by Morris, the game's MVP. It was the final championship for George Halas as coach.
Nov. 2, 1941: Packers 16, Bears 14. After beating the Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 title game, the newly named "Monsters of the Midway" were cruising at 5-0. "Our players kept reading, day after day, about the Bears being the wonder team, the unbeatable team," Packers coach Curly Lambeau said. The crowd of 46,484 was the largest for a pro football game in the Midwest. It included 3,000 Packers fans, many of them arriving via four special trains from the north. It was reported that nine people at Wrigley suffered heart attacks. Two died, including Mary Halas, wife of Bears traveling secretary Frank and sister-in-law of George. She was 59.
Dec. 14, 1941, Western Division playoff: Bears 33, Packers 14. One week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 43,425 attended on a 16-degree day. It was the first NFL game conducted with rules allowing for sudden-death overtime. The Packers scored first after Hugh Gallarneau fumbled the opening kickoff, but Gallarneau quickly scored on an 81-yard punt return and George McAfee ran for 119 yards as the Bears scored 30 unanswered points. It put them into the NFL title game the following week against the Giants, when only 13,341 showed up at Wrigley to watch the Bears win 37-9. It was the smallest crowd for an NFL title game. Despite a balmy 47-degree day, thoughts obviously had turned to World War II.
Dec. 26, 1943, NFL title game: Bears 41, Redskins 21. After five years out of football and on the pro wrestling circuit, Bronko Nagurski returned in 1943 for one final season. NFL rosters were depleted by the war and Nagurski agreed to play only tackle, but at 35, he finished the season at fullback, getting the Bears into the championship and scoring the first touchdown in the title game. Sid Luckman threw five touchdown passes, and the defense knocked Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh groggy.
Former Tribune reporter Don Pierson covered the Bears for 38 years.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun