December 8, 2010

1940: Bears Demolish Redskins 73-0 for NFL Title

The NFL Championship game on December 8, 1940 remains the most one-sided in pro football history. It represents an astounding domination of one championship-caliber team by another. It also served as a demonstration of the capabilities of the revamped T-formation which, over the coming decade, would replace the single-wing as the offense of choice for most pro football teams.

There were 36,034 fans at Washington’s Griffith Stadium to see the Redskins, champions of the Eastern Division, take on the first place team in the Western Division, the Chicago Bears. The Redskins, under Head Coach Ray Flaherty, ran a double-wing offense and had the league’s best passer, tailback Sammy Baugh, to direct it. He had good receivers to throw to in ends Wayne Millner and Charley Malone, and FB Jimmy Johnson and HB Dick Todd were both effective receivers out of the backfield as well. In an era when defenses operated with three defensive backs, Washington typically sent four receivers down the field, and Baugh could usually find an open one.

Chicago, under the direction of George Halas, the owner and head coach, had been using variations of the T-formation for several years, but had recently refined it. He had an outstanding quarterback to operate it in Sid Luckman, a second-year ex-tailback out of Columbia. The club also had rookie HB George McAfee, who had quickly laid claim to being the best open-field runner in the league, Ray Nolting at the other halfback spot, and FB Bill Osmanski, as well as a stable of capable players who could spell them. The line was anchored by another rookie, center Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, and contained other eventual Hall of Famers in guard Danny Fortmann and tackle Joe Stydahar.

The two teams had met three weeks previously in Washington and the Redskins won by a score of 7-3. Also owning a better record (9-2 to Chicago’s 8-3), they were the favorites coming into the title contest. However, the motivational seeds had been sown after that earlier game when several of the Bears complained about a referee’s call that had nullified a potential game-winning touchdown. Washington’s imperious owner, George Preston Marshall, publicly referred to the Bears as “cry-babies” and “first-half ballplayers” – quotes that the Chicago players took careful note of.

Not only was there a motivational element to fuel the Bears, but Halas had been meeting with his offensive consultant, Stanford’s Head Coach Clark Shaughnessy, and several new plays were developed to attack the Redskins’ defense (primarily counter plays to take advantage of the tendency of the linebackers to shift toward the man-in-motion). The club was well-prepared and sky-high emotionally upon arrival in Washington.

It didn’t take long for the Bears to strike. On the second play of the game, Osmanski took a handoff, found a big hole at left tackle, cut to the sideline, and ran 68 yards for a touchdown (pictured at top). The last two Redskins with an opportunity to catch him were taken out in a single block by end George Wilson. Chicago was up by 7-0 less than a minute into the first quarter.

Washington came right back, however, getting a good kickoff return and then running the ball effectively. On a third down play, Baugh passed for the first time and had Malone open for what would have been an easy touchdown – he dropped it and the Redskins came up empty. Chicago responded by driving 80 yards in 17 plays. Only one was a pass, and it was to McAfee for 15 yards to the Washington two yard line. Shortly thereafter, Luckman scored on a quarterback sneak from less than a yard out.

The Bears got the ball back at the Redskins’ 42, and on the first play Luckman pitched out to FB Joe Maniaci, who went the distance. It was 21-0 after one quarter of play. Baugh was pulled out of the game and played little the rest of the way. The Bears scored just once in the second quarter, as Luckman connected with end Ken Kavanaugh for a 30-yard TD, and the quarterback was rested during the second half.

Chicago poored it on in the third quarter, adding another 26 points, three on interceptions that were returned for touchdowns (15 yards by end Hamp Pool, 34 yards by McAfee, and 24 by Turner). The offense also contributed a 23-yard scoring run by Nolting. Two of the extra point attempts failed, but it didn’t matter as the Bears were leading 54-0 with a quarter to go.

HB Harry Clarke made it 60-0 in the fourth quarter with a 44-yard touchdown run, followed by a failed extra point attempt, and as there was now a shortage of footballs due to PAT attempts sailing into the stands (there were just a dozen balls available for the game), for the remaining scores Halas told the team to run plays for the extra point attempts (under the rules of the time, they still counted for just one point). FB Gary Famiglietti ran for a two-yard TD, followed by a successful pass from QB Solly Sherman to Maniaci, and Clarke ended the scoring with a one-yard touchdown, after which the pass for the extra point fell incomplete. The lead was large enough, in any event, as the Bears became NFL Champions by a score of 73-0.

The domination was complete statistically, too. The Bears rolled up 519 total yards, to 231 for Washington. The Redskins gained just five net yards on 15 carries, to 381 on 53 attempts by Chicago, and also turned the ball over nine times (eight interceptions, one fumble). The Bears suffered just one turnover, on a fumble.

Bill Osmanski, who started it all, ran for 109 yards on 10 carries. Twelve Bears ran with the ball during the course of the game, with other notable contributors being Harry Clarke (73 yards on 8 carries and two TDs), Ray Nolting (68 yards on 13 attempts and a score), and Joe Maniaci (60 yards on 6 rushes and a TD).

As a whole, the Bears threw ten passes, and Sid Luckman (pictured at left with Halas) was good on three of four attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown. Maniaci was the leading receiver with three catches for 39 yards.

Sammy Baugh was successful on 10 of 17 passes for 102 yards with two intercepted. His capable backup, Frank Filchock, completed 7 of 23 throws for 87 yards and was picked off four times; he also led the Redskins with 20 yards on two carries. Wayne Millner caught 5 passes for 84 yards.

Afterward, Baugh was asked if the result might have been different if Malone had not dropped the sure scoring pass in the first quarter. The laconic Texan reportedly replied, “Yeah, it would have been 73-7.” He also called the game “the most humiliating thing I ever went through on the football field.” Such was Chicago’s total domination.

The Bears went on to repeat as champions in 1941 and, by 1943, had gone to four straight title games and won three of them. They aptly earned the nickname “Monsters of the Midway”. Washington fell short of a rematch in ’41 but won the Eastern Division in 1942 and upset Chicago for the championship to gain at least some measure of revenge for the trouncing in 1940.