#1. Began as a company team
George Halas, considered the “Father of the NFL”, was employed as a scale clerk of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, a company that produced starch and syrup products in Decatur, Illinois. Halas had played college baseball and football at the University of Illinois and was now a working man.
In 1917, Mr. Staley, an avid sports enthusiast, decided to start a company baseball team. Besides the competitive aspect, Staley thought a team comprised of employees would bring a sense of company loyalty, friendship and fun plus help advertise his household products.
Besides playing college baseball and football, Halas was in the New York Yankees farm system and eventually played 12 games in the Major Leagues. He also played pro football for the Hammond Pros for one season.
Staley approached Halas about becoming the player-manager of the baseball team, which he accepted. Two years later, Staley realized that the only advertising aspect his company was receiving was mainly on a regional basis and sought out a more national avenue. He asked Halas to begin a company football team for the same reasons for his employees, but also more for advertising purposes which would reach out to a Midwest and Eastern buying public.
Staley put up all funds for equipment, field, uniforms and paid players per game. Halas was the player-coach and organized the team, plus performed their schedule. The team was dubbed the “Decatur Staleys.”
Halas knew men who had played college football and recruited them to play for the Staleys. Part of the deal was that these men would become employed with the Staley Starch Company full-time as well. This would allow them a steady income since playing football wasn’t lucrative enough to support a family. Part of these men’s work day was two hours devoted to football practice.
Just as many of us have played on the company softball team with the name of the team the company we worked for, the Bears, or Staleys, began as a company team.
#2. Controversy about winning the 1921 APFA (NFL) title
The NFL wasn’t called the “National Football League” until its third year of existence. Before that, it was identified as the “American Professional Football Association” which began in 1920.
Their second year of 1921 the Decatur Staleys relocated to Chicago and were renamed the “Chicago Staleys”, precursor of the Bears. This squad won the league in only its second year.
However, there was a dispute. Back then, the league champion was whichever club had the highest win percentage after all games had concluded. This was done at the winter owner’s meeting and was voted on by the owners themselves.
Before the next season, Staley told Halas that he could no longer support the team. The Staleys home field could only hold 2,500 with tickets at $1 a game while employees paid half-price. Staley had all these new football players on payroll and the gate receipts just couldn’t justify the cost. He saw that football was a growing sport, but needed a loftier venue to draw larger crowds. Staley also had to decide if he was in the corn starch business or the sporting business.
He met with Halas and gave him an offer. Staley suggested to Halas he move the team to Chicago. Staley would give Halas a one-time endowment of $5,000 if the club would be called the Staleys for one more season. Halas agreed and got Dutch Sternaman as a co-owner before renting Cubs Park (later renamed Wrigley Field) in Chicago. In 1921, the “Chicago Staleys” competed another season in the APFA.
The Staleys began the 1921 season with seven victories before losing 7-6 to the Buffalo All-Americans. The Staleys then won their final game to finish 7-1-0 for an .875 win percentage. Meanwhile, the All-Americans went 9-0-2 (1.000). Back then, ties did not count in determining win percentages.
Halas then challenged the All-Americans to a rematch game to be played in Chicago which would certainly become a sell-out and an extra financial boost for both franchises. Buffalo owner Frank McNeil agreed as long as both teams considered the contest a “post-season exhibition match” and had no bearing on the final standings.
The rematch was scheduled for December 4, 1921. The day before, the All-Americans played a home game against the Akron Pros and won 14-0, their final game of the season. Buffalo then had to board a train and travel all night in order to get to Chicago. The Staleys won the rematch exhibition game 10-7 in front of an all-time best crowd of over 12,000.
Seeing an opportunity, Halas then scheduled two more games hoping to end the season 10-1 and best Buffalo’s win percentage. The Staleys then defeated Canton 10-0 and tied the Racine Cardinals 0-0. Halas then claimed that with the two wins over Canton and Buffalo, coupled with the All-Americans’ loss in the rematch, that the two squads had identical 9-1 records and .900 win percentages.
Back then, it was up to each individual team to make a schedule and could play as many – or as few – games as they saw fit. Halas had taken advantage of these loose scenarios and took it to the next level.
The winner of the APFA title was not officially valid until the winter owner’s meeting in which the league owners voted on the victor. The standard was that the team with the highest win percentage would be declared the champion. At this particular meeting, Halas tried to convince the other owners that the second game against Buffalo did indeed count and even though the two clubs had beaten each other once that his team should be declared the winner because the second game had more on the line than the first regular season game.
The league owners decided to make a new rule in which a rematch game would count more than a first series game which would inevitably create a tie-breaker. The proposal was discussed, voted on, approved and immediately added to the league by-laws so that this situation would never happen again. Next up, the vote on league champion. Because this new rule went into effect, this essentially gave the Staleys the league title.
This has since been labeled the “Staley Swindle.” From this situation, the owners also adopted another new rule that set limits to when a season is officially completed, thus eliminating teams from adding a multitude of games that would affect the final league standings.
Until McNeil’s final days on earth, he spent it trying to get the league to reverse their decision and give his All-Americans the title. The truth is, though, that if he had not wanted the extra gate revenues the rematch game received, his club would have won the title outright.
#3. Chicago Cubs football team?
When Halas moved the Staleys to Chicago, he reached an agreement with William Veeck, Sr., President of the Chicago Cubs as well as William Wrigley, owner of the baseball Cubs plus Cubs Park (later renamed Wrigley Field). Most rental agreements between sports teams and stadiums were for a fixed amount regardless of the gate. The deal Halas received for each home game was: a portion of the gate, concessions and program sales. This ultimately became the only way those early squads finished the year in the black.
The first year they were called the “Chicago Staleys” because A.E. Staley had given Halas $5,000 to keep the team going for one more year.
After the 1921 season, Halas decided to change the team name because Staleys represented starch and syrup products. Back then, the only sports teams that anyone followed was college football, and mainly professional baseball. At the same stadium were the Cubs who drew very well at the gate.
Back then, it was common for a professional football club to call themselves the same, or similar, to their baseball city counterpart. The New York Football Giants were named after the New York Baseball Giants. There was a Boston Braves football team, as was there a New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians pro football teams.
Veeck and Wrigley had been very good to Halas. Instead of a lopsided expensive rental agreement, the contract was more based on gameday results as far as ticket sales and the like. This was meant to not overextend Halas and his efforts in attempting to make his team successful.
So, Halas decided to rename his team the “Chicago Cubs” to honor his landlord.
Then he had a idea. He noted that football players were bigger than baseball players, so if baseball players were cubs, then football players must be bears.
Therefore, he honored his friendship with the two men and kept the identity association going.