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Review Fri Jan 09 2015

Review: 73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre

BearsBook.jpgIt was 28 days before Virginia Halas's 18th birthday, and her father, Bears owner and head coach George Halas, was about to lead his team onto the frigid field of Griffith Stadium in the nation's capital to battle Washington for the league title. The country was at a tipping point and about a year away from entering another World War, while the economic decline of the previous 10 years that crippled so many families was slowly beginning to reverse.

The world was a little different back then, but with the exception of leather helmets and god knows what other flimsy protective equipment was available on the gridiron 75 years ago, the game of football still remains the same today: 11 men on each side of the ball, trying to cross the pigskin across the goal line for six points, all within the span of 60 minutes. That and a little trash talking.

The Bears were 8-3 and already had three world titles under their belt from 1921, 1932 and 1933. Washington was 9-2 and previously had beaten the Bears earlier in the regular season by the final of 7-3. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall made the mistake of running his mouth after the game, calling Halas's crew a bunch of whiners and crybabies. What happened next is captured perfectly in Lew Freedman's new book, 73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre.

Freedman, who has written for the Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer, covers the entire championship game in over 200 pages, starting with the buildup and capping it off with the ripple effect it left on the sporting world and the lives of those involved thereafter.

Both teams featured names familiar to football fans: Sid Luckman, George McAfee and Ken Kavanaugh for the Bears with Sammy Baugh, Dick Todd and Bob Masterson for Washington. Stats weren't necessarily as inflated as they are today, but if one were drafting a fantasy team in 1940, Luckman's 941 yards and four touchdowns (eighth in the league) would have kept you competitive, but Baugh's over 1,300 yards and 12 TDs (third in the league) would have rode you through the playoffs. (Luckman's big year was in 1943 when he threw for over 2,000 yards and 28 TDs, which led the league. Jay Cutler be damned!)

Freedman tells the tale of Halas recruiting Luckman after college in 1939, even going as far as visiting his apartment in New York with $5,000 in hand. Certainly a lot of money back then, which, after three-quarters' of a century and an annual inflation uptick of 3.82 percent, it would translate to roughly $83,000 in 2014 money.

Halas was putting together his team for another championship run and also looking to avenge the team's 1937 loss to the same Washington team at Wrigley Field by the final of 28-21. He had Luckman and rode into the 1940 season in hopes to win his franchise another title.

Freedman's book sets up each quarter and describes in full detail what happens by way of previous accounts from players and newspaper clippings. In the chapter "First Quarter," Freedman sets the tone with the game-time temperature at 39 degrees on a brisk afternoon, with the Bears starting their dominance for the day by winning the coin toss.

From there, the reader is taken through the historic pounding set forth by a team hungry for redemption and a coach hell-bent on proving his critics wrong, especially those who claimed the college game was far superior to that of the pros.

As over 36,000 fans packed Griffith Stadium to witness the historic event, it also was heard on the radio in homes and bars within a large radius for the first time in league history. Fans watched and listened to the likes of Bears fullback Bill Osmanski taking an end-around 68 yards on the game's second play for a touchdown, as well as a McAfee's 35-yard pick six in the third quarter (Joe Stydahar's kick was true).

Freedman's detail of how a driven Halas would not let up, even after a 28-0 halftime lead, gives credence to the old man's bare-knuckled ways of coaching. In fact, Freedman throws in a quote from tackle George Musso:

"At the half we were leading 28-0, but [Halas] brought [Marshall's insults] up again and we got mad all over."

Talk about using motivation to get your point across.

As the Bears led by 54 points after the third quarter, Freedman describes Halas's intense focus along the sidelines with yet another quarter left to be played. And as the fourth quarter began to wind down, the fans began to depart for warmer settings and Bears fans within earshot began to imagine a team set for greatness for years to come.

When the clock mercifully reached zero, the Bears walked away winners in what was referenced years later as a "The Perfect Murder." Each player earned $873 (Freedman researched that each Seahawks player received $92,000 after winning Super Bowl XLVIII), while each losing member scraped up $606 per (not bad after a loss like that).

Freedman closes the book with Halas the man and the historic impact of the game in which he wouldn't let up despite already having won the game after the first quarter. The Bears and Halas would continue their dominance throughout the World War II era, winning championships in 1941, 1943 and 1946, before winning it all again in 1963.

After the Bears closed out one of the most depressing seasons in memory in 2014, Freedman's book acts as a big shoulder on which to be comforted as the family business searches for new leadership on the field. After reading 73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre, Bears fans might understand Virginia's recent disappointment in the team her father created so many years ago a little more clearly.

73-0! Bears Over Redskins: The NFL's Greatest Massacre is a great read for Bears fans looking to fill the void left behind by the Marc Trestman era, and is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 
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