Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How the Bears Almost Became the Cubs

     As 99 percent of Bear fans know, the Bears started out as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. They played three home games in Decatur and five in Chicago. In 1921, A.E. Staley decided to get out of the football business. He suggested that player/coaches George Halas and Dutch Sternaman take over ownership of the team and move it to Chicago. He even offered them $5,000 to get started, in return for a promise to retain the name “Staleys” for one more year. Halas and Sternaman eagerly took him up on it.
     Shortly before the 1921 season, Halas called on Bill Veeck, Sr., president of the Cubs (and father of a seven-year-old son who was destined to become a legend). Halas wanted to make Wrigley Field his team’s permanent home. According to Halas, the negotiations lasted less than two minutes. Veeck asked for no cash up front, probably recognizing that the young entrepreneur had none anyway. Instead, he asked for a straight 15 percent of the gate receipts and all concessions. Halas, inwardly delighted but not wanting to accede too easily, said the Cubs could have all the concessions except the game programs. Veeck agreed. Veeck suggested that the Cubs’ take should be raised to 20 percent whenever the gate exceeded $10,000. Halas agreed. The deal was sealed with a handshake, and, according to Halas, never committed to paper. It remained in effect until the Bears moved to Soldier Field half a century later.
     In 1922, the Chicago Staleys needed a new name. “I considered naming the team the Chicago Cubs,” Halas remembered, “out of respect for Mr. William Veeck, Sr., and Mr. William Wrigley, who had been such a great help.”
     Naming the team the Cubs would not have been as strange as it might seem today. In the early decades of pro football, it was not at all unusual for a city’s football team to be named after its baseball team. There were, and still are, the New York Giants. There were the Pittsburgh Pirates, who later became the Steelers. There were the Boston Braves, who eventually moved to Washington and became the Redskins. There were the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees—none of which lasted long enough to be remembered except as answers to trivia questions. And there were the Detroit Lions, whose name derived from that of their baseball cousins, the Tigers.
     Ultimately, Halas decided not to name his team the Cubs. Years later, he explained why. “I noted football players are bigger than baseball players,” he wrote, “so if baseball players are cubs, then certainly football players are bears!”
     The Staley franchise was officially transferred to the Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc. A year later, the fledgling American Professional Football Association also adopted a new name—the National Football League.

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