George Halas’s Chicago Bears had mastered a new modfied T-Formation in 1940. The T-Formation had been around for decades by 1940. Originally popular, a certain number of NFL competitors must have thought Halas was tied to the past in some ways by operating under the old formation. But Halas had been tinkering with it for a number of years; he had help from Hunk Anderson, Ralph Jones, and Clark Shaughnessy to devise the modifications.
Halas never had problems seeking new ideas so he could not only compete, but win. Lombardi’s mantra, “winning is everything” got a lot of media buzz in the 1960s-1970s, but anyone who knew Halas understood that winning was pretty darn important to Papa Bear. Halas and his coaching friends had “supercharged” the T Formation by improving it’s predictability with man-in-motion, special line-play, and other modifications. Shaughnessy and others would use it in college ball.
In 1936, the NFL had instituted the college draft. Before the draft, teams had sought out the best talent possible out of colleges themselves. But just as Hollywood had moved on to talking pictures in the early 1930s, the draft changed the NFL dramatically. Introduced in 1936, the college draft saw that weakest NFL teams would get the rights to the highest picks and the strongest teams would get the rights to the lowest. Halas was right on the cutting edge with draft strategies and deal-making to insure his Bears got stronger not weaker. One of his fiercest competitors, Green Bay, had won the championships two of the last four years in the late 30s. While the draft was meant to help even out the playing field, just where a team was going to find themselves on that playing field at the end of the season was still about skill, planning, management and guts. The draft was not there to take away competition. It was there to give teams the opportunity to get better.
Halas had added Bill Osmanski and Sid Luckman to his roster in 1939. Bulldog Turner and George McAfee were added in 1940. Osmanski was a powerful fullback. Luckman had the brains and the brawn to run the new T. McAfee had the speed and power to score any time he touched the ball. Turner, well Turner was a bulldog at center giving the Bears Hall of Fame strength up the gut.
The regular 1940 Season for the Bears was a winner, but they did not look invincible at 8-3 when they won the Western Division and won the right to battle to the Washington Redskins for the title. Because the Redskins had beaten the Bears, 8-3, in the regular season, and were at home for the Championship, they were the favorite. Halas’s NFL foil, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, had called the Bears cry-babies after the Redskins season win when the Bears had criticized a call. Halas plastered the newspaper coverage of Marshall’s remarks for his Bears to soak it all in before the big game.
The Bears clobbered the Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship game. Three Bears’ scores in the first quarter, including a Bill Osmanski 68-yard touchdown run, set the tone for the game. In the second quarter, Sid Luckman hit Ken Kavanaugh on a 30-yard scoring play to give the Bears a 28–0 lead heading into the half. Ray Nolting scored on a 23-yard run in the third quarter, but the Bears wowed the Washington crowd when they scored three more times that quarter on interceptions. Three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter gave the Bears a final 73–0 win—the highest score in NFL history.
The rest of the NFL flocked to the new T Formation thereafter. The trio of Shaughnessy, Jones, and Halas published The Modified T Formation with Man-in-Motion, essentially a no-frills coach’s manual with 70 diagramed plays and brief explanatory information.
Despite the score, the Redskins had the great “Slinging Sammy” Baugh on his way to a Hall of Famer career. After the butchering by the Bears, a reporter asked Sammy about an early pass that one of his teammates had missed in the end zone. Would that play have made a difference if the ball had been caught? Baugh honestly replied yes, “It would have been 73-7.”
For more on NFL history see our book Pillars of the NFL by Patrick McCaskey in the product section on this site. McCaskey is the grandson of George “Papa Bear” Halas.
Image: George Halas illustration Copyright Bill Potter.