By Phil Hecken
Seeking to channel the Bears’ glory years, the Chicago football squad will honor the original “Monsters of the Midway,” and have introduced a new alternate (throwback) uniform of from the 1940’s for selected games this season (NFL rules permit them to wear the uniform up to three times). Those “Monsters of the Midway” dominated the 1940s, winning four NFL titles in seven seasons (1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946), and were led by Hall of Famers Danny Fortmann, Sid Luckman, George McAfee, George Musso, Bronko Nagurski (read more about him here), Joe Stydahar and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner.
But why were they called the “Monsters of the Midway,” and just why were they so dominant? The Bears, one of the original members of the NFL, had won three championships prior to the 1940s — in 1921 (as the Chicago Staleys), and back-to-back in 1932 & 1933, but they were truly THE dominant team in the early and mid-forties (and quite possibly could have won even more than the 4 titles they captured in that decade had not World War II decimated most NFL squads). Led by their Hall of Fame Coach George Halas (who played for the Bears previously), much of the success of the teams of the 40s can be traced to the 1939 & 1940 drafts, which yielded their QB, Sid Luckman, running back Bill Osmanski, guard Ray Bray (in 1939) and (thru a trade with the Eagles) running back George McAfee. McAfee and Osmanski served as the perfect compliments to each other, an olden-day “thunder and lightning.”
By 1940, it was obvious the Bears were something special. They started the season 6-2, with the next game against George Preston Marshall’s Washington Redskins, in D.C. The Bears would lose that game 7-3, but Marshall was quoted in the newsprint as saying Halas and his Bears were “crybabies,” “quitters,” and “frontruners.” This was not a particularly wise move on Marshall’s part. Buoyed by these words, Halas led the Bears to two more wins to close out the season, and as fate would have it — the Bears and Redskins would meet for the 1940 title game. You may have heard about what happened that fateful day of December 8, 1940: the Bears eked out a 73-0 victory, the largest margin of defeat in NFL history. Halas had to rest his regulars to keep the game from getting out of hand and, at one point, the referees asked the Bears to stop kicking extra points, as they were running out of balls (which at that time were kicked into the crowd and not returned). This would lead some to argue, not without validity then or now, that the 1940 Bears were the best football squad ever assembled.
Part of the success of the 1940 team, and their absolute destruction of the Redskins in the Championship game, would undoubtedly be due to Halas introducing the “T Formation,” in which three running backs line up behind the passer. Although the “T” itself was ‘invented’ in the 1880s, it was never used with more success than in the 1940s, particularly with Luckman under center. While the obvious emphasis, with three men in the backfield, is on running, innovations on the gridiron during the time — like the smaller football — had led to more passing, and a faster-paced, higher scoring game.
While no team would dominate as did those 1940 Bears (at least in terms of the end result), the Bears during the decade would see tremendous success. In 1941, with America on the brink of war, the Bears introduced their fight song, “Bear Down Chicago Bears,” (you can listen to it here). The ’41 campaign would be as successful as 1940, as they finished 10-1 (losing only to the Packers by a mere two points). They’d pay the Pack back by defeating them 33-14 in the final game before the playoffs, and would take their second straight championship by knocking off the New York Giants, 37-9 at Wrigley Field. Unfortunately for the Bears, and the nation, that game was played a mere 2 weeks after a seminal event in the nation’s history, and all understood that everything would change after that.
The War, and the volunteers/draft, would take their toll on the NFL in 1942, as the talent pool of players shrunk, and while the Bears continued in operation, many teams would be hard-hit financially and in the player department (in 1943, the Eagles and Steelers merged to form the “Steagles”, and in 1944, the Steelers and Cardinals would merge to form the “Car-pits” [read more about them here]). But although the Bears would continue to function during the war, they did lose something even greater, when Papa Bear entered the Navy in October of 1942. The Bears would continue to dominate in that season, but fell short of the Championship, losing the 1942 to the Redskins, 14-6.
1943 would prove to be an amazing season for the Bears, as Bronko Nagurski, who had retired following the 1937 season, was talked into returning to the Bears for one season. Although he mostly played tackle, he did return to his old running back position for several games. And in yet another unforgettable moment in an unforgettable run, Halas would return to the sidelines, in his Navy uniform, to watch the Bears avenge their 1942 defeat, trouncing the Redskins 41-21, in the 1943 Championship game.
The War would really take it’s toll on the Bears in its final two years, and the Monsters of the Midway would prove mortal. Playing to records of 6-3-1 in 1944 and dropping to 3-7 in 1945, the Bears would not return to the title game in those years. They began 1945 0-5, but following the War’s end, they’d begin to get their stars back during the end of the season, ending up 3-2 for the final 5 weeks, and setting up one last return to glory in 1946.
Most of the great players from 1940-41 returned to the team following World War II, older, wiser, and definitely battle ready. They would return to the pinnacle one last time, defeating the New York Giants 24-14, in 1945, completing their 4th title in 7 years (and how many more might they have won had not WW II intervened?), easily one of the greatest runs in NFL history.
The Bears would remain competitive throughout the end of the decade, but never quite returned to the glory of the previous years.
Aided by UW Historian Timmy Brulia, lets take a look at the Bears uniforms thoughout the 1940s and have a look at what the Bears chose to emulate as they begin play in 2010 with their gorgeous throwback.
The 1940 season would be the last one the Bears would wear white until 1957, when they were required to by the NFL. The uniform was remarkably similar to the one worn today, and was also worn in the late 1930’s. It was a white jersey with three stripes (blue, orange, blue) on the arm, with blue pants and striped blue socks. At practice Sid Luckman liked to go stirrupless (as you’ll see in later pics), and the jersey numerals were standard block.
1941-1946 would see the introduction of one of the jerseys to which the Bears are “harking” back. Navy blue, with three orange stripes, less blocky numbers (almost McAuliffe-esque in style), which were also orange in color. The pants were white, almost identical to today, with a blue-orange-blue stripe with blue socks with 3 orange stripes (that classic picture is from New Year’s Eve, 1941 — Bears workout at the Polo Grounds in preparation for their game against the All-Star team in aid of the Navy Relief Fund). Love those Chucks too.
This shot, taken in 1943, shows the Bears at Wrigley prepping for the Championship Game which would take place a few days later (and which they would avenge their loss the previous year to the Redskins). Pictured there are Dante Magnani; Harry Clarke; Bronko Nagurski and Sid Luckman. Another interesting shot from this period shows Luckman and Bulldog Turner — Tim notes that Sid is not wearing 42, the jersey is hanging out, his pants are missing the navy stripes, and he’s bare legged.
In 1947 (and early 1948), the Bears would change up their uniform slightly, adding thicker numbers and some additional serifing. The pants would retain the navy-orange-navy pattern, and blue stirrup socks with three orange stirpes. Just a gorgeous, gorgeous uniform, and basically the version on which the new throwback is based.
As the 1948 season wore on, the Bears would again tweak their jersey slightly, returning to the old font style and adding white outlines around the numbers. They would still wear blue leather helmets thoroughout the decade. I just love this photograph of Bobby Lane, Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack from the 1948 season.
In 1949 and into the 1950’s and beyond, the Bears would make the ‘final transition’ to the modern jersey, adding the white numerals in rounded font. That uniform, except for a few minor modifications (like adding TV numbers in 1956) and going to block numbers in the 1970’s, would remain as it is today. So (with the exception of the Thanksgiving throwback in 2004, and the 1994 NFL 75th Anniversary throwback — which looked um…great from the front, but from the back?…not so much), the “new” alternate will only mark the third time the Bears will have delved deep into their illustrious history for a throwback uniform. And with the exception of bringing back this little striped number from the 1930’s, the Bears have made a fantastic choice.
So, how’d they do? Early screengrabs from a handheld video are tough to good feel, but Earl Bennett tweeted a photo from the unveiling. The pants, helmet and socks look good though. Check out the video. Hopefully more updates will be available. If you guys come across any, be sure to post pics in the comments below.
So what’s the verdict, Uni Watchers? Did Da Bears score six with this throwback? That pretty much makes for a bee-you-tiful NFC Norris Division throwback contingent. Now, if only two of those teams would make their throwbacks permanent, we’d be talkin’.
From The Squiddie Files: Back again with our Life Coach, Lance Smith, who’s back with more great stuff. Today’s entry comes from Japan, where the major leagues used to open their season…Ok, that wasn’t so long ago, but MLB’s history and interaction with Japanese baseball goes far beyond the few “MLB Japan Series” played earlier this decade. So, let’s sit back while Squiddie takes us on the way back bus to the Land of the Rising Sun. Here’s Lance:
One of the names you might be surprised to find in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is Lefty O’Doul. Best known for managing the San Francisco Seals from 1937 to 1951, O’Doul was also involved with the organization of baseball in Japan in the 1930s. He helped organize one of the first professional Japanese baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, and is thought to have come up with the teams name and colors. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 1949, O’Doul led the San Francisco Seals on the first post-war tour of Japan by American players. The seven game tour was a success and in 1950 O’Doul was asked if he could organize a team of major league players for another tour. O’Doul teamed up with Joe DiMaggio to form the Joe DiMaggio and Lefty O’Doul All-Stars, a twenty man squad of players from the majors and the Pacific Coast League. The team included Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Ferris Fain and Billy Martin. The UPI reported that a million fans turned out for the arrival of the team in Tokyo. The team would go 13-1-2 losing a game to the Pacific League All-Stars on November 13th.
In December, after the tour, Joe DiMaggio announced his retirement from baseball making these his final professional games. Some histories of Japanese baseball note that there was a certain national pride that DiMaggio’s final home run with hit in Japan.
Let’s look at some photos.
O’Doul and Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara talk with the umpires. Gotta love those bow ties.
Lefty addresses the fan.
Does anyone recognize this Indian?
You know how you sometimes see some athletes with their digicams out like at the opening ceremonies at the Olympics? Other than the technology, some things haven’t changed much. (I believe those are Joe Tipton and Eddie Lopat.)
Pepsi product placement.
O’Doul, Mel Parnell and Tipton get into a rhubarb about the strike zone. Apparently, it was resolved amicably.
Great stuff as always. Thanks, Lance!
Now I’ve seen everything. Benchies has gone and done the unthinkable. Black for Black’s sake. No really…here’s Rick:
Ever fantasized about meeting someone famous? Of course you have. We all have. Well, in BenchiesLand things are no different. And sometimes it seems, just for a moment, that it’s actually happening.
Here’s your … ahem … “full color” Sunday Benchies.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: This one’s not particularly tricky, and if you play the game often enough, you’ll notice it has been used before, but not this particular photo. That’s all the hint you’ll get. Ready? Guess The Game From The Scoreboard. Date, location and final score, please, and be sure to link to your answer. And, as always, if you enjoy the game, please send me some new scoreboards! Drop me a line. Thanks!
Back again with more Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions today. Lots to get to, and if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
First up is the pseudonymous Coachie Ballgames, who has ‘cracked’ the 2011 “Mets code”…right?
(A couple weeks ago the) Uniwatch ticker reported, via MetsBlog, that the Mets might ditch the blue piping on their black uniforms next season.
Next up is Joel Zimmerman, who has “about 50” NHL tweaks, but he’s sharing 2 of them with us today:
I have at least like 50 “uni tweaks” for hockey I could send in, they all look pretty similar and are made with templates, they’re not concepts and have no different logos, but they are pretty sweet in my opinion, I’m no whiz with these programs. So, should I send them in??
Here’s a basic example some basic examples:
Closing out the tweak show today is Britton Thomas, who’s a Braves fan. Enough said:
I am a Braves fan and fairly avid Uni Watch reader. The Braves debuted alternate navy jerseys and navy billed hats in ’08. They were used sparingly at first, but now it is a rare treat when they break out the traditional grays. I love the Braves home whites and road grays, and I can tolerate the Sunday red jerseys, but I am struggling with the onslaught of navy. These uniforms are flawed on several levels.
My first issue with the navy jerseys is that they are not consistent with the Braves’ other jerseys. There is no trim around the neck or sleeves. Their other three jerseys have trim. This look leaves them a pit stain and side stripe shy of looking like spring training jerseys. I would argue that the Braves spring jerseys actually look better than these, because they have red lettering. Both the Atlanta script across the chest and the numbers on the back are navy. This makes for a bland uniform. It also makes the numbers harder to read. (Although that’s more of an issue in basketball). No pick me up from the hats either. All navy hats work for the Yankees, but I’m not loving them on the Braves.
Color on color can look alright. The Rays make the navy numbers, navy jerseys look tolerable. I think it’s the white pants…or the light blue piping. This effect looks better with brighter colors. The Angels look okay in red on red. It might look okay on the Braves’ red jerseys, but those jerseys have navy script. So why don’t the navy jerseys have red lettering?
My concept is simple enough. I took the Braves navy jersey, added some piping for consistency, and inverted the color scheme from the red alternates. I would throw in some stirrups (notice Andruw in this pitcure), but it’s a lost cause. No current Brave wears em high. I also did away with the nameplates on the back. Anyway, this is not a solution, but I think a significant improvement over what we are currently dealing with. You can see my rendition here.
Thanks to everyone for their tweaks today. Check back next time for more.
Thus endeth another Sunday post. Everyone have a good one today. And let’s hear your thoughts (and any pics you may find) on the new Bears unis. Best “new” look of 2010, by far.
The Bears are front-runners. Quitters. They are not a second-half team, just a bunch of cry-babies. – George Preston Marshall