George Halas is forever “Papa Bear,” the man who founded the Chicago Bears as the Decatur Staleys in 1920.
Company teams, particularly baseball, were common in the early 20th century, as wealthy owners sought a certain prestige for their firms. A.E. Staley Sr. was no exception, but he also had his eye on a new sport — football. Halas moved to Decatur and lived at 280 W. William St., according to the city’s street directory.
On Sept. 17, 1920, the Staleys, with Halas as their representative, joined the American Professional Football Association, which was renamed the National Football League in 1922. The franchise fee was $100 ($1,225 in today’s money). The Bears today are worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes.
From the start, Halas’ team, for which he was also a player, proved formidable. Representing Decatur in such sister Midwestern cities as Akron, Rock Island, Dayton and Canton, the team went 10-1-2. The Staleys’ first game Oct. 3, 1920, was a 20-0 win over the Moline Universal Tractors in Decatur.
In 1921, the team moved to Chicago, keeping the Staleys name for one year before becoming the Bears in 1922.
Halas served the Bears as an owner, player, coach, general manager, traveling secretary and in virtually every other capacity imaginable from 1920 until his death in 1983.
When he retired after the 1967 season, he ranked as the all-time leader in coaching victories with 324, a record that stood for 27 years. He won eight NFL championships, and his beloved Bears won Super Bowl XX following the 1985 season.
Halas is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, but it all started for him and the Chicago Bears with the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. in the Pride of the Prairie, Decatur.
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