Recalling Pre-Season Football, The Old School Days
With pre-season football upon us, I yearn for the days, now buried deep in the scrapbook, when the beloved old man George Halas and the Bears would camp out at tiny Rensselaer College where Papa Bear and his kids would prepare for another year of regular season football.
No, there was no air conditioning. Players brought fans and hoped for the best. The conditions were tough and outright spartan. Today, any con housed at legendary Cook County Jail in Chicago would have filed suit charging inhumane treatment.
Oh, the memories I have packed away. A rogue defensive end Doug Atkins has to top the list. One year, it might have been '64 or '65, the future Hall of Famer and his squad were running the traditional Halas Mile. The Halas romp was actually a bit of a joke, since guys had to finish in only 10 minutes.
But we're going back 50 plus years to the days when most players didn’t arrive in camp in game condition. They arrived with bellies that needed to be trimmed and quads that needed to be reintroduced to hamstrings.
Anyway, Atkins just loved to drive Halas nuts. He'd frequently call the old man's apartment off fashionable Lake Shore Drive to complain about the offense. As a personal note, I've attended 67 consecutive Chicago Bears home openers and have determined that complaining about the Bears offense is as much a part of my windy city as a cooked alderman.
I can still see Doug loafing as he completed lap one while Halas barked at him to pick up the pace. Atkins didn't exactly turn on the jets on lap two. By the midway point of lap three, Halas was screaming at Atkins in three different languages. So, what does Doug do? He begins to jog to the locker room.
A furious Halas screamed, "Where the hell are you going ya big SOB?" Atkins never broke stride as he yelled back at the old man, "Go bleep yourself. I'm a football player not a track man!" There wasn't much George could say. Atkins was the most ferocious player on his roster.
A few years later, in 1969, I flew to Washington D.C. to see the Bears play their pre-season opener against the Redskins. The game had two engaging story lines. It was Vince Lombardi's first game as coach of the 'Skins’ and Gale Sayers, the greatest open field runner in NFL history, was making his first appearance since suffering a brutal knee injury the previous year.
I was 20 at the time and just in awe when WGN Sports Editor Jack Rosenberg asked me to spot the game for Bears announcers Lloyd Petit and Irv Kupcinet.
The weatherman didn’t do either club any favors. About an hour before game time, a driving rain storm turned RFK Stadium into Lake Erie. The muddy field convinced me Sayers wouldn't play. I was off base as Gale returned the opening kickoff about 70 yards.
This was round one of a five game exhibition slate, so why risk Gale? It was simply a different era. If Sayers were playing today and was on the field to return the opening kick, the G.M. would fire the coach before the kicker reached the tee.
More recently, Mitch Trubisky, the Bears sophomore quarterback, played 34 snaps during the warm up games. 34 snaps? Halas would have milked Trubisky. Even Mike Ditka would have had him take 40 to 50 more snaps.
Pre-season football games have become stoop tag tournaments. Players are treated like dandelions and as a result, athletes are still employing muscle memory when they block and tackle the first two weeks.
Gang, my take as an old-timer who’s seen it all? The league actually plays 14 instead of 16 games a season that qualify as "real".
Chet Coppock is frequently billed as “The Godfather Of Sports Talk Radio” and is a member of the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. Chet is the author and co-author of several books available for sale on our site. His latest book ‘Your Dime, My Dance Floor: Chet Coppock In Pursuit of Chet Coppock’ can be obtained at Eckhartzpress.com or by emailing Chet at email@example.com His social media sites are www.chetcoppock.com and www.dailycoppock.com
FOOTBALL March 17, 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney is nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The son of Steelers’ founder Art Rooney, the younger executive enjoyed a successful tenure at the helm of his football franchise, winning 6 Super Bowl championships between 1974 and 2008. He was ambassador from 2009 to 2012.
BOXING March 13, 1999 Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis draw a controversial tie for the WBA, WBC, IBF, and lineal Heavyweight Championships. Though Lewis dominated Holyfield with a higher percent of punches connected, the 3 judges were split: a win, loss and tie. In a rematch 8 months later, Lewis prevailed in a unanimous vote.
BASKETBALL March 12, 1989 Georgetown beats Syracuse 88-79 at the 10th Big East men’s basketball tournament. It was the Hoyas’ 6th win at the famed college competition, which has been held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden since 1983. Georgetown is currently tied with UCONN for the greatest number of championships at 7 each.
HOCKEY March 13, 1979 Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders posts his 5th career hat trick. Drafted in 1977, Bossy spent his entire career with the Islanders and was an integral member of the team’s 4-year reign in the Stanley Cup from 1980-1983. The Montreal native is the NHL’s all-time leader in average goals scored per regular season game.