Bears dismantled Redskins 50 years ago in title game

73-0, THE SCORE FOR THE AGES

December 09, 1990|By Vito Stellino

When the late George Halas, the founding father of the Chicago Bears, was asked at age 82 what gave him the greatest satisfaction of his career, he replied, "The 73-to-nothing."

No explanation was needed.

It is still the most famous score in the history of pro football and possibly in all of sports.

Fans don't tend to remember scores -- can you remember the score of the blowout the Denver Broncos suffered in the Super Bowl last January? -- but they remember 73-0.

That was the score of the Chicago Bears' victory over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championship game. It was played 50 years ago yesterday at Griffith Stadium in Washington.

"It's amazing that people are still talking about that game 50 years later," said Bulldog Turner, who was the Bears' center in the game. "It was unbelievable."

They're talking a lot about it this weekend because the Bears are playing the Redskins today at RFK Stadium in Washington.

It was just a coincidence that the National Football League scheduled the same two teams in the same city a half century after they played in one of the most celebrated games in football history.

It has stirred a lot of memories of what was the league's most famous championship game until the Baltimore Colts' overtime victory over the New York Giants in 1958 ignited the modern pro football boom.

"It's the memory of a lifetime," Bears quarterback Sid Luckman said last week. "Can you imagine anybody today winning a championship game, 73-0? That's what we did. It was like a miracle."

As recently as 1987, Chicago fans in a poll voted it the second-greatest moment in Chicago sports history, right behind the Bears' only Super Bowl win, in 1986 after the 1985 season.

What made the game so improbable is that the Redskins weren't the Broncos of their era. They played the Bears four times in the championship game between 1937 and 1943 and won two of them.

They had beaten the Bears, 7-3, in a regular-season game Nov. 17 -- three weeks before the famous game.

It would be like the New York Giants, after losing, 7-3, to the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, coming back to beat them, 73-0, in the playoffs.

The Redskins also had Sammy Baugh, one of the best players to handle a football. Besides playing on defense, he threw, he ran, he kicked and he even blocked.

"We beat a great football team," Luckman said. "We beat one of the greatest football players who ever lived in Sammy Baugh. Nobody dreamed that could happen to the Redskins. He was probably one of the greatest athletes we ever had in our country."

Ray Flaherty, the Redskins' coach, is quick to note that nobody remembers the Bears didn't get an offensive touchdown in the 7-3 game or in the 1942 title game, which was won by the Redskins, 14-6.

What everyone does remember is 73-0.

Not that the Bears weren't a great team.

"For about seven or eight years, the Bears had the best team, whether they won it or not," Baugh said.

Six of their 11 starters -- players went both ways in their days -- are in the Hall of Fame. Halas' influence probably had something to do with that, but most of them deserved the honor.

In fact, 12 men involved in that game -- six Bears, three Redskins, both owners and both coaches -- are enshrined in Canton (that would appear to add up to 13, but Halas was both the coach and the owner -- and everything else -- of the Bears).

The teams also were led by larger-than-life characters -- Halas and George Preston Marshall, owner of the Redskins.

Marshall had more than his share of faults. He didn't integrate the Redskins until 1962, and only then because the federal government insisted he do so if he wanted to use new D.C. Stadium, which is now named for Robert F. Kennedy.

But he was a showman who helped promote the game in its infancy. He's also a central figure in some of the myths that surround this game.

For example, there's the story of what Marshall did or didn't say before the game.

"He popped off after we beat them, 7-3," Baugh said recently. "He said they were quitters, and he just ran them down something awful. They came out with fire in their eye."

Luckman said: "A big story came out in the Sunday edition. He called us crybabies and front-runners."

The crybaby reference supposedly was about Halas' storming into the officials' room to complain about the officiating in the 7-3 game.

But in the scrapbooks the Redskins have kept, there are no stories quoting Marshall as calling the Bears "crybabies or quitters."

There is a story in which he told Bob Considine: "The Bears are a team that must win by a big score. They beat Detroit, 7-0, in one of their two games . . . but the Bears won all the others by big scores. Don't ask me why they lose the close ones except that they do. If I were to guess, I'd probably say there's not too much harmony on that team. Too many stars and stars are inclined to beef at one another when the going gets rough."

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