Papa Bear

Papa Bear : The Life and Legacy of George Halas

3.84 (101 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

This is the first truly comprehensive biography on George Halas, the father of professional football. The founder of the National Football League and father of the Chicago Bears, George Halas single-handedly changed the way Americans spend their Sundays. "Papa Bear" tells the incredible story of how one man grabbed an outlaw game by the throat, shook it up, and made it into the richest and most popular spectator sport on the planet. Nearly 20 years after his death, Halas remains one of the towering figures of professional sports - rivaling the legendary Vince Lombardi - yet there has never been an authoritative biography published about this great American success story. At last, "Papa Bear" fills that gap. Written with unprecedented access to Halas's family, his closest friends, and associates, this thoroughly researched account includes exclusive interviews and a treasure trove of never-published archival materials on the Hall of Famer and his enduring legacy.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 544 pages
  • 160.02 x 231.14 x 41.91mm | 916.25g
  • McGraw-Hill Education - Europe
  • McGraw-Hill Contemporary
  • London, United States
  • Ill.
  • 0071422064
  • 9780071422062

Review quote

From the Book Review Section The Boys of Winter By Joe Queenan On Nov. 28, 1943, with the Chicago Bears trailing their hated crosstown rivals, the Cardinals, 24-14, and a scant 15 minutes remaining in the final game of the year, the legendary Bronko Nagurski entered the lists at fullback. Famous for breaking more collarbones than any fullback in history -- this is not an official statistic -- Nagurski had retired in 1937 after an amazing career, but agreed to suit up for the Bears six years later when World War II made it difficult to scare up large, unpleasant men with a talent for breaking collarbones. Nagurski, who was now old and slow, and had played most of the season on the offensive line, promptly pile-drove his way into the end zone, ripping the hearts out of the forlorn Cardinals. The game, which the Cardinals lost, 35-24, took place at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. This is a story that every fan should know by heart, a legend passed down from father to son -- or daughter -- with the same mixture of reverence and disbelief that old-timers use to describe Willie Mays's catch in the 1954 World Series, or Babe Ruth calling his shot in the 1932 Series, or Bill Mazeroski poleaxing his home run in the 1960 Series. But today's fans do not know this story by heart because football has never devised a mechanism for transmitting its history from one generation to the next the way baseball has. American children freshly swaddled in the maternity ward arrive with memories of Ty Cobb's sharpened spikes, Don Larsen's perfect game, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Enos Slaughter's mad dash home in the 1946 World Series already encoded in their DNA. But most sports fans have only a dim recollection of who Bronko Nagurski was or what he achieved or how old and slow and mean he was when he achieved it. As for Red Grange, Johnny Lujack, Sid Luckman and all the other Monsters of the Midway, just forget it; their once astonishing deeds are now as remote as the Druids'. These sports fans can cite verse and chapter about Charles Comiskey, the villain in whose stadium Nagurski performed his epic but now largely forgotten feats that fateful afternoon, for Comiskey was the nasty, vindictive, tightfisted owner of the infamous "Black Sox," the team that conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. The story of Bronko Nagurski, and many more like him, is recounted with unabashed awe and affection by Jeff Davis in "Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas." Halas was a nasty, vindictive, phenomenally tightfisted man who created professional football as we know it; he midwifed the National Football League into existence after failing to land the right fielder's job with the Yankees in 1919. (Halas, who could not hit the curve, was succeeded in right by Babe Ruth, who could.) A better-than-average football player, an innovative owner, a superb general manager and an even more brilliant coach, Halas was a fiercely proud man who probably felt that his stature as father of both the league and the Bears was insufficiently appreciated as the years rolled along. This was partly because he was nasty, vindictive, cruel, cheap and widely suspected of having the refs in his pocket. Securing eight N.F.L. championships as a coach or owner, and even garnering coach-of-the-year honors in 1965 at the age of 70, Halas looked on in mounting dismay as the capital of the gridiron universe first shifted east to New York and Baltimore, then north to Green Bay, then back east to Pittsburgh, then south to Dallas, before angling west to San Francisco, as the notoriously capricious public found flashier new idols to revere. Like his namesake, George Washington, who founded a similarly impressive social unit that has always relied heavily on marketing, Halas was remorseless, indefatigable, indomitable and utterly inexpendable. Unlike Washington, when Halas went into battle, he usually won. Sports books are almost always written from a heliocentric point of view: whatever the author is writing about is, ipso facto, the very center of the sporting universe. Nothing else is allowed to intrude; no dissent will be brooked. Forget what you heard about Joe Montana; Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback who ever lived. Forget what you've read about the Dallas Cowboys; the Bears were America's Team first. Forget what you've been told about the Baltimore Colts' seminal victory in 1958; it was the Colts' seminal defeat in 1969 that changed the face of professional football forever. This technique works well in many settings, but is inadvisable if it involves sporting enterprises based in San Diego or Buffalo. Sportswriters, often lifelong fans of the teams they write about, are determined to right wrongs, clear up misconceptions, lay myths to rest, set the record straight. But their work is often infused by a nagging suspicion that as great as their heroes may be, they may not be quite great enough to avoid being forgotten. In their occasionally labored and sometimes excruciating prose, there is frequently a bittersweet evocation of Paradise Lost: take it from me, Baltimore did once dominate the pigskin universe; trust me on this, without the Chicago Bears, there would be no New England Patriots; I don't care how sick you are of hearing about Joe Namath's appalling Fu Manchu and hideous white shoes, I'm going to tell you that Broadway Joe story one more time. Yes, papa. Fine, papa. But when you're done, can we talk about Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb? We know their paltry accomplishments pale in comparison with Jim Brown's and Y. A. Tittle's. But they can still play. A little. "Papa Bear" is everything a sports book should be: passionate, encyclopedic, utterly biased and filled with endearingly anachronistic phrases like "They bivouacked in corn country" and "By season's end, they were glad to beat a retreat home to the City of Big Shoulders." At 534 pages in length, it seems to describe every bone-crunching tackle, ill-advised draw play and outrageous holding penalty in the Bears' history. Davis, a journalist and a lifelong resident of Chicago, is generally admiring of the Promethean Halas, without attempting to camouflage his abrasive personality, his mistreatment of his players, his manipulation of the press, his baiting of the officials, his penchant for hiring private detectives to tail his own family members and his gutter mouth. All this is interspersed with unabashed contempt for Halas's successors, who have made it almost impossible to believe that the Bears have ever been anything but a laughingstock. Though Davis has never forgiven Halas for trading away the future Hall of Famer Bobby Layne and chasing away the future Hall of Famer George Blanda and driving the Notre Dame legend Johnny Lujack into early retirement, he has never forgiven the present owners of the Bears for anything. Like all Bears fans, he rues the fact that Gale Sayers never appeared in a Super Bowl, labors mightily to persuade readers that the great linebacker Dick Butkus was better than the far greater Lawrence Taylor and overplays his hand by positing Walter Payton as "perhaps football's greatest all-around player." Sorry, Mr. Davis, that would be Jim Brown. Hands down. No one else is close. And no, I am not from Cleveland. Football is very different from other sports in that it continually modifies its official history. Davis argues that the sport first entered the nation's consciousness during the 1930's, when Halas finally succeeded in wresting fans away from college football, a revered institution, and professional wrestling, a long-running national joke that has never been professional and has rarely involved wrestling. This is a minority view. For many, many years it was believed by those in the know that professional football did not truly capture the public's fancy until 1958, when the Colts beat the Giants, 23-17, in sudden-death overtime in a stupendously dramatic, if badly played, championship game witnessed by millions of television viewers. From that point on, the nation was smitten. ... The New York Times 20041205show more

Author information

Jeff Davis is a lifelong Chicagoan and career journalist. He has covered network and local news and sports for more than three decades as a writer, television sports producer, and reporter. His work has earned numerous honors, including five Emmys. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.show more

Rating details

101 ratings
3.84 out of 5 stars
5 25% (25)
4 44% (44)
3 24% (24)
2 7% (7)
1 1% (1)
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