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The More You Know: The Birth of the Bears

Yeah, this is a little more intimidating then a cute little cub.
Yeah, this is a little more intimidating then a cute little cub.

Last week we kicked off the More You Know series with some basic Bear-related facts and information, and had some quality additions to our list of factoids in the comments section. For the second part of this series, we go back (to the future! No wait, that's wrong) to the early twentieth century to look at how the Bears came into being, the key individuals that helped make it happen, and the Bears entry into what we now know as the National Football League.

The Birth of the NFL

Football as we know it today began as the mutant love-child of association football (soccer) and rugby football (rugby). The difference between the original scoring system (two points for a TD, five for a FG, four for a conversion kick) and the modern one (do I really need to spell them out to you?) used - with tweaks such as the two-point conversion - shows the evolution of the game away from rugby and soccer and into a whole different kind of animal. While collegiate styles of football were played in the late 1800s, it wasn't until the 1920s when the first professional football league was formed in Canton, Ohio.

The American Professional Football Association (APFA), under the watchful eye of APFA president Jim Thorpe, began as a fourteen team league and included the Decatur Staleys, Chicago Cardinals, and the Chicago Tigers. That's right, the Tigers, who folded after one season possibly thanks to a WWE-style winner-take-all game against the Decatur Staleys. Winner stays in the league, loser closes shop and walks away forever. The 1920 unofficial champion of the APFA was the Akron Pros (brilliant!), who won despite not playing a championship game and technically being tied for best record in the league with the Buffalo All-Americans. The APFA had many teams come and go within its first two years due in part to a revolving door of sponsors and available playing fields throughout the midwest and New York areas, and by the time the league was re-christened the National Football League in 1922, only the Cardinals and Staleys (Bears!) remained from the original group.

The Birth of the Staleys

The way professional football teams generally came into being in the 1910s and 1920s was to be backed by a company that provided uniforms, equipment, and funds for players' salaries (you know, like little league baseball, except for the player dough... probably). In return, often the company had the team named after them in order to use the burgeoning sport as a marketing tool for their company. In 1919, a Decatur based company, Staley Continental, decided that they were interested in creating a professional football team.

The company was one of the largest processors of corn in the nation, and produced well-known household and food products (Staley Pancake and Waffle Syrup? Delicious!) The owner of the company was A.E. Staley, who wanted to expand his company's namesake with a professional football team. Staley decided to hire a former semi-pro baseball player and football player for the Hammond Pros. Staley wanted his new hire to work as a company representative and participate on his company sponsored baseball team and serve as a player/coach for his new company-sponsored football team. That man was Bill Brashke George Stanley Halas. (author's note: Edward "Dutch" Sternaman was involved along with Halas as co-coach and co-alot of things, but takes a big backseat thanks to the work ethic and myth of Halas.)

Halas served as the point man from the newly created Decatur Staleys: he attended the first APFA meeting in Canton, oversaw the team as a coach and general manager, handled ticket sales, and even found time to play wide receiver and defensive end. He chose the Bears' jersey colors (navy and orange) as a nod to his alma mater (University of Illinois). While his tireless efforts were rewarded on the field - the Staleys went 10-1-2 in 1920 - the franchise was a financial sinkhole for the Staley Corporation.

The Birth of the Bears

Each player earned $1,900 that season, and Staley had concerns about the viability of the league and maintaining a franchise at such a high financial cost. In 1921, Staley turns over the franchise to Halas along with $5,000 and the promise that Halas will keep the "Staley" nickname for one more season. Legend has it Staley said to Halas, "take your team to Chicago, young man." Halas moves the team to Chicago and thanks in part to the goodwill of Cubs' owner William Veeck (who allowed Halas to use Wrigley Field for home games) the franchise is rewarded with an APFA championship after going 9-1-1. (We'll get into the 1921 championship controversy at a later date, its pretty crazy).

In 1922, the NFL is officially formed, and Halas changes the Chicago Staleys to the Chicago Bears. Halas did so as a tribute to the Cubs for helping Halas transition his team to Chicago, and also a slight to show Chicagoans that cubs are cute, but nothing beats a bear.