Perfect to a T, Bears' rout changed shape of football forever

John Steadman

December 10, 1990|By John Steadman

Never has one game delivered such telling impact and effect. It changed the face of football much the way the nuclear age drastically altered the concept of modern warfare. The ignominious fate of the Washington Redskins losing 73-0 was the most momentous humiliation any city or franchise has suffered at the major-league professional level.

In what was supposed to be its finest hour, the National Football League matched its two best teams in the 1940 championship event, the Redskins and Chicago Bears. What evolved was a 73-0 embarrassment that seemed more fiction than fact. But it was all so true -- 73-0.

Only three weeks before, the Redskins had toppled the Bears, 7-3. The same numbers were played out again on the scoreboard, only it was 73-0, which caused Dick McCann, the Redskins' general manager, to whimsically observe, "They beat the hyphen out of us."

It was an explosive Sunday afternoon 50 years ago that the Redskins gave up the most points any NFL club has ever allowed. Part of it came from self-destruction, as the Redskins' passers, Sammy Baugh, Frank Filchock and Roy Zimmerman, contributed eight interceptions. And, when they tried to run the ball, the Redskins gained only three net yards the entire game.

Before the kickoff, and in the days preceding, Bears coach George Halas produced newspaper clippings that had George Marshall, outspoken owner of the Redskins, referring to the opposition as "a first-half club . . . crybabies . . . and the world's greatest quitters." Marshall made other demeaning accusations so the Bears were on fire emotionally.

On the third play, Bill Osmanski went 68 yards, untouched, after George Wilson blocked Jimmy Johnston, who, in turn, leveled Redskin teammate Ed Justice. So the rout was on with only 55 seconds off the clock. The Bears were an awesome outfit, led by Sid Luckman, George McAfee, Joe Stydahar, Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, George Musso, Ken Kavanaugh and Bob Nowaskey.

The first time the Redskins had posseesion, Max Krause returned the kickoff 54 yards, injured his knee and never played again. The ball was at the Bears' 39 and, after a first down, they advanced to the 28. It was here that Baugh threw down the middle in a crossing pattern, to Charlie Malone, who dropped the pass. As he looked back to pull it in, the sun was in his eyes but, to his credit, Malone never offered an excuse.

We watched films of the play, Baugh-to-Malone, and although it was catchable, it wasn't the easy reception it has been made out to be. Methodically, the Bears then went 80 yards in 17 plays, without passing, for another score. Two minutes later, Joe Maniaci turned left end for 42 yards and a third TD. The elapsed time was 12 1/2 minutes.

In the third quarter, with the Bears leading 54-0, the public address announcer made an ill-timed solicitation, reminding the spectators to be sure to order season tickets for 1941. When the scoring orgy reached 60-0, the officials, including head linesman Irv Kupcinet, the prominent Chicago newspaper columnist, told the Bears the football supply was running out so, instead of kicking the extra point into the stands, they passed for the conversions.

The 73-0 result astounded America. It was the Bears' use of the T-formation, with a man in motion, that had confused the Redskins, when they weren't doing it to themselves. The Redskins had used the single-wing and double-wing alignments, with Baugh in the tailback position.

Luckman, the Bears' quarterback, was under center, pivoting, handing off for quick developing plays and operating with a series of fakes that tricked the defense. From that moment on, the "T" replaced power football. Sportswriter Arthur Daley of the New York Times wrote: "The weather was perfect. So were the Bears."

Then Stanford, on New Year's Day, using the "T", upset Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. It was further proof the "T" was the offense of the future and the single-wing, double-wing and box formations were soon to be outdated. Luckman made subsequent trips to West Point, Maryland, Columbia, Pittsburgh, Holy Cross and Notre Dame to help install the T-formation and to explain its complexities.

Speed and deception gave the game a different look and during the last half-century what Halas implemented has been the basis for the sport we're now watching. The 73-0 score was the attention-getter. Also the catalyst for finding a new way to expedite a football offense.

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