Today's From the Archive is going to take a look back to when the Bears still shocked the nation with their T formation. This inventive and deceptive offense reached its peak in the hands of Sid Luckman, who still ranks as the greatest quarterback in Bears history seventy years later. In 1946, the Bears were led by Luckman on the field and George Halas on the sideline, and they rolled their way to the NFL Championship to battle the Giants on December 15th, 1946 at the Polo Grounds. A record-setting 58,000 fans came out to see the game despite a growing scandal surrounding the contest. As the spread on the game grew from Bears -7 to Bears -14, Giants quarterback Frank Filchock and star fullback Merle Hapes were offered bribes to make sure the Bears covered the spread. While the players did not accept the bribes, Hapes was suspended for the game. His benching, coupled with the Giants' loss of their starting fullback Bill Paschal gave the Bears a decisive offensive advantage, but Filchock was still a force to be reckoned with. Follow me below the fold for this classic, leather-helmeted battle for the NFL crown...
The Bears won the coin flip to start the game, and things got luckier from there. While their first offensive series was dead on arrival after a loss of eight on a busted first-down run, Luckman got a good punt off and set up the Giants deep in their own territory. The Giants, also featuring star power at the quarterback position with Frank Filchock, looked to air it out deep on their first play, but the ball was overthrown and incomplete. Looking to shorten the field for third down, Filchock called a run, but the ball was stripped out and recovered by the Bears for the first of their eight turnovers in the game. The Bears, already at the Giants 31, called three straight runs for a net gain of 11. With the Giants stacking the line against the ground assault, Luckman aired the ball out to Kenny Kavanaugh, hitting him as he ran between the goal posts for an amazing touchdown play. The extra point was good and gave the Bears a 7-0 lead midway in the first quarter.After he returned the kickoff to his 24, Filchock wasn't able to get a drive started - the Bears were plugging holes on the line and placing well-timed hits on Filchock's receivers. The Giants punted the ball away, but Luckman was stymied by a third down sack and was forced to punt. Being on defense wouldn't stop the Bears from looking to score, however: on a third and thirteen scramble, Filchock was picked off by Magnani, who ran the ball 40 yards into the end zone to give the Bears a 14-0 advantage. The Giants' bad luck continued on the next drive, as Hugh Gallarneau punched the ball out of the Giants hands and right into his own. The Giants almost get one back when Filchock barely missed an interception on an errant Luckman pass, but his defensive play and a Bears holding call killed the drive.
Filchock was down, but he wasn't out. After a short Luckman punt, he organized a quick scoring drive with a pass to his tight end, Jim Poole, and then a 38 shot downfield to Liebel for the touchdown. With 1:30 still left in the first, the Giants were on the board, cutting the margin to 14-7. The Bears' offense stalled once again on their next drive and almost gave up a return touchdown, but Bulldog Turner was able to make a saving tackle to keep the Giants on their side of the field. The Bears were their own worst enemy on this Giants possession, which was given new life after a roughing the kicker penalty set them up just inside Bears territory. Filchock's accuracy was still causing him fits, however, and he threw another pick into the hands of Dante Magnani. The Bears weren't done with their own mistakes, with a holding call setting them up in a third and fourteen. Luckman wasn't willing to give up the drive, hitting Ken Cavanaugh in double coverage 42 yards downfield to put the Bears in scoring position. The Giants, however, weren't giving up either, and forced a field goal attempt after holding the Bears for no yardage on the next set of downs. The try went short, and Filchock was there to return the ball all the way out to the 32. It was time for another deep shot by the Giants, but once again, a Bear was in position to make a play: McAfee was able to pick off the ball and bring it back to midfield.
With six minutes left in the half, the game was at a standstill: the Bears went three and out and then the Giants' drive was ended with another great interception by McAfee. He showed his versilitility on the next play, taking the handoff and running off-tackle for 37 yards to give the Bears one last shot at scoring before the gun. Luckman, looking at the clock, figured it was now or never and threw a jump ball to Magnani at the goal line. The Giants were the ones to come up with the ball, however, and ran one play before the half ended with the Bears still leading 14-7.
While everyone had figured that the Bears were the easy favorites, the Giants were not ready to lie down just yet. The Bears fumbled the ball on their first drive of the second half and then roughed the passer on the Giants' first play, setting up Filchock for a 37 yard throw to Filipowicz to even the score and bring life back into the cold Polo Grounds. With the score now tied at 14, the game became a defensive battle: three straight three-and-outs set up a punting stalemate which was finally broken by the Giants. Filchock hit Filipowicz in stride for a 37 yard catch-and-run, but a holding call on the next play forced the Giants to punt yet again. Luckman was finally able to get a drive going for the Bears, first handing off to McAfee for 18, then throwing an amazing pass to Jim Keane in triple coverage for another 12. With an unnecessary roughness penalty putting the Bears into the red zone, Luckman called his own number: he ran down the right side of the field with four Bears flanking him and pushed his way into the end zone to put the Bears back up 21-14.
Now that they had the lead again, the Bears defense wasn't going to give it up easily. The Giants tried to grind out yardage on the ground as the fourth quarter wound down, but with the line getting stacked up on every play, they had to try the passing game. Unfortunately for the Giants, the first pass of this drive went into the hands of Bulldog Turner, who returned the pick to the Giants 23. Having traded punts with the Giants earlier in the quarter, Luckman found himself trading interceptions: his first pass went awry and was caught by Howie Livingstone at the Giants 13. Filchock squeezed out a first down on an over-the-top pass to his tight end to give himself some breathing room, but Sprinke was able to bring him down on vicious sack to back him up inside the Giants 20. The drive ended there and the punt didn't help much either, going for only 27 yards and setting the Bears up on the Giants 37. While the Bears were only able to get 12 yards on six running plays, their field goal attempt was good this time, giving the Bears a two-score lead, 24-14.
With only four minutes left, it was now or never for the Giants. Filchock put the game in his hands and was able to move the ball 20 yards on the first play on a quarterback keeper, but his next pass would be his last: Sid Luckman got in on the interception action to pick off the pass at the Bears 40. With the fans starting to file out of the stadium, all the Bears had to do was get a first down to be able to run down the clock, and they were able to convert a tough third and two to give themselves the first down they needed. There was no taking a knee in this era, however, so the Bears simply ran straight ahead four more times, exhausting the last 2 seconds on the clock on a fourth-down dive. The Bears were crowned with their (number) championship with a final score of 24-14.
Football was a very different game in its early days, but some things haven't changed. Sid Luckman was a one-of-a-kind player, equally adept at passing and running, able to punt with the best, and skilled at running the Bears' trademark T formation offense. While many quarterbacks have come and gone since, none have achieved the statistical or on-field dominance that Luckman did in an era where quarterbacks were afforded little protection. His amazing skill set and performance still have him at the top of the list of best Bears quarterbacks seventy years after he was in his prime. Speaking of Bears quarterbacks, come back next week for a look at the Bears quarterback whose neckbeard and rookie season are both underrated.