Happy Birthday to George Halas

In honor of what would have been George Halas' 110th birthday here's a look at a book that offers an intimate perspective on the legendary figure.

In many respects, the story of George Halas is that of the National Football League but it also has a much broader appeal. Halas' rise from a hardscrabble life as the son of immigrants to become one of the leading figures in sports is one of the great American success stories. That's what first attracted author Jeff Davis to Halas' story.

"There aren't too many lives that are more compelling than that of Halas," Davis said. "He was proud, defiant and tough. Halas worked his way up from virtually nothing and founded the NFL which today is a multibillion dollar enterprise that impacts every sports fan in the country."

Davis spent three years of research while compiling material for ‘Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas' and the meticulous nature of his efforts are evident on every page. He brings the Halas story to life through extensive interviews with his friends, fellow coaches and former players including Ed Sprinkle, Chuck Mather, Doug Buffone, Jim McMahon, Dick Butkus, and Mike Ditka.

"Just about everybody I spoke to was eager to talk about the Coach Halas," Davis said. "He was such an outsized personality who had a tremendous effect on everybody he came in contact with throughout his lifetime."

Notably absent from the interviews, however, are members of the McCaskey family who declined to comment on Halas for the book.

"I can understand if they might be somewhat displeased that somebody they consider an outsider would be writing about their father and grandfather," Davis said. "But this story is one that the public needs to know."

Davis chronicles Halas' progression from the Decatur Staleys through the years with the Bears, then analyzes what happened within the Bears organization after Halas' death and its eventual impact on the team.

"It's long been rumored that one of the Coach's last requests for his beloved Bears was that ‘anyone but Michael' should take over the helm," Davis said. "Of course, we all know what happened to that hope."

In Davis' eyes, the notably tightfisted coach was more concerned with power than with money, although there are numerous accounts of fierce negotiations over salary matters between Halas and his players. But for most who came into contact with him, Halas was much more than a hardhearted businessman. Davis quotes Hall of Famer George McAfee who flew from his home in Durham, North Carolina to attend the Halas funeral.

"I felt I had to come. George was such a good friend from the time he signed me. He was a tough guy. He stood for no nonsense. But he was fair. He just wanted to win so badly."

Johnny Morris comments on Halas' often hidden softer side, particularly where Brian Piccolo was concerned.

"The Old Man knew that Brian had such a huge respect for the institution of professional football. He knew that George Halas had created this thing that he loved and so he wanted to be a part of it."

Halas quietly paid all of Piccolo's sizable medical bills and remained close to the Piccolo family throughout his lifetime.

Papa Bear is a book to be savored. It is artfully written and provides a compelling story for both football fans and anyone who appreciates a tale well told. This not a book for the impatient .The reader may learn more than he ever hoped to know about the life and times of George Halas, but this detailed, leisurely journey is well worth the time and effort.

Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas
Jeff Davis, forward by Gale Sayers
McGraw Hill, 2004 $24.95 534 pages

Halas Achievements
George Halas coached the Bears for 40 years and was a charter member of the NFL Hall of Fame. He holds the NFL record for most World Championships with six. He's second in most career victories at 324. Up until this season he held the record for most consecutive regular season victories (17) and most consecutive including the postseason (18).


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