Bears, NFL shaped by Illini

By Masaki Sugimoto

The Chicago Bears got some of their best from Illinois. The Chicago Bears, no the NFL itself, may have not gotten to where it is today, without the help of some key Illini.

The first of these great Illini was Chicago-born George Halas, a man whose name has become synonymous with the Bears and the NFL.

Halas played football and baseball for the Illini and helped the team to the 1918 Big Ten championship. Halas later played in the 1919 Rose Bowl for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. The reason Halas did not represent Illinois was because so many men were in the Military due to World War I, the Rose Bowl was played by teams representing military bases to make for the lack of college teams. Halas went on to become the MVP of that game and ended up graduating from Illinois soon after.

Halas eventually moved on to other ventures in sports, playing for the New York Yankees and the Hammond Pros.

Later, Halas moved on to manage and play for the Decatur Stayleys. Halas eventually went on to buy the team and move them to Chicago, renaming them the Bears. Halas loved the Illini colors so much that he decided to make the Bears wear Orange and Blue, a trend that has continued to this day.

As a player/manager/owner, Halas was able to dominate in the early days of the NFL. The team was able to win eight NFL championships in that era and signed another Illini great who would change the game of pro football.

That player was Red Grange. The “Galloping Ghost” became a legend in Illinois history and is seen by many as one of the greatest, if not the best football player ever.

Grange brought the Illini into the national scene, beating powerhouses like Michigan and UPenn to put Illinois on the map.

Grange’s statue stands tall on the west side of Memorial Stadium, and the brand new Tailgating area for fans is named in his honor. Grange Grove will be opening up this season.

The Bears signed Grange within a day of him finishing his career for the Fighting Illini.

Grange is often seen as the player who is known for legitimizing pro football. The game was thought of to be something for students to play, not something that you did for a living.

The second Illini to make his mark was Dick Butkus. Along with Red Grange, Butkus is the only other Illini football player to have his number retired for Illinois football.

The two-time All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year made his impact with Illinois, wearing the number 50 in college, before switching to the iconic 51 for the Bears. Butkus saw immense success in college, and that continued in the NFL.

Next to Walter Payton, Butkus is one of the most iconic Bears players, being a 12-time pro bowler and 10-time all-pro. The Bears were not a great team in his time, but Butkus was arguably the most feared defensive player in his era, if not of all time.

These Illini players would shape the Bears and Pro Football, and their impact is felt to this day. Illini football players that shaped the Bears.

Masaki is a junior in Media. 

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@MasakiSugimoto