August 30, 2013

1944: Bears Rally to Beat College All-Stars

The Chicago Bears, defending NFL Champions, were missing several veteran players due to World War II military service as they faced the College All-Stars on August 30, 1944. Owner/Head Coach George Halas was in the service as well, with assistants Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos acting as co-coaches. Fortunately for them, star QB Sid Luckman (pictured above) was available thanks to a ten-day furlough from the Merchant Marine.

For the All-Stars, coached by Northwestern’s Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, Tulsa QB Glenn Dobbs was available on a 20-day furlough from the Army. Due to relaxed wartime eligibility rules that allowed underclassmen to play, Dobbs was making his second appearance in the annual contest. Other notable players included HB Charlie Trippi from Georgia, Ohio State tackle Bill Willis, guards Dick Barwegan of Purdue and Bruno Banducci from Stanford, Indiana QB Lou Saban, and HB Steve Van Buren of LSU.

For the second straight year the game was played at Northwestern University’s Dyche Stadium. There were 48,769 fans on hand in rainy conditions for the Wednesday night contest. Chicago got the first break when Charlie Trippi fumbled a punt and HB Ray Nolting recovered for the Bears at the All-Star 36. However, the Bears were unable to capitalize and penalties moved them back to midfield, from where they were forced to punt.

The All-Stars couldn’t move either but Dobbs booted the ball 85 yards on a quick-kick punt that pinned the Bears at their own two yard line. Chicago was forced to punt in turn and Luckman’s kick gave the All-Stars good field position at the Bears’ 33. The All-Stars scored in four plays. Dobbs threw to Notre Dame end John Yonakor for 30 yards to the Chicago three and, after failing to cross the goal line on the next two plays, Dobbs passed to another Notre Dame player, HB Creighton Miller, in the corner of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown. Lou Saban added the extra point.

The Bears were forced to punt again and the All-Stars again drove to a score, helped along by Indiana HB Billy Hillenbrand’s 32-yard punt return. Dobbs completed two passes and, on a third down play, faded back to pass but instead ran 12 yards and, at the one, fumbled but C John Tavener from Indiana recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Saban again added the extra point and the All-Stars held a 14-0 lead.

With the game rapidly getting away from the Bears, the defending champs put together a solid 80-yard drive in response. After HB Ray “Scooter” McLean (pictured at right) ran for 11 yards, Luckman completed two passes, the longest to Nolting for 21 yards as the first quarter ended. The Bears finally got on the board on the fourth play of the second quarter when FB Gary Famiglietti ran for a three-yard TD.

Two minutes later the All-Stars had to punt and Dobbs’ kick was partially blocked. Luckman threw to McLean to advance to the All-Star 14. On a fourth down play from the 12, end Jim Benton caught the game-tying touchdown pass. Pete Gudauskas successfully converted following each score. Each team had another shot to put more points on the board in the second quarter but interceptions blunted the drives.

The halftime featured a tribute to college football players serving in the military during World War II. In the darkened stadium, entertainer Don Ameche took particular note of the six former All-Star participants who had died during the conflict.

The All-Stars took the second half kickoff and went 65 yards to re-take the lead with Hillenbrand in for Dobbs. The drive featured three pass completions and Saban ran for a one-yard TD and added the extra point. The Bears responded with a 64-yard scoring drive of their own. Three Luckman completions, the last to McLean for 16 yards, set up the scoring play as McLean weaved his way to an 18-yard touchdown to again tie the score.

A Chicago punt pinned the All-Stars back at their eight yard line. Dobbs tried another quick-kick, but with a torrential rain falling the kick was partially blocked and the Bears took over at the All-Star 29. With Famiglietti and McLean running effectively, Chicago moved inside the ten yard line before the series stalled. Pete Gudauskas kicked a 14-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that gave the Bears the lead for the first time.

The All-Stars fought back during the final period and at one point reached the Chicago 38 but Luckman intercepted a pass to snuff out the threat. The Bears held on to win the hard-fought contest by a score of 24-21.

The Bears outrushed the All-Stars (143 to 73) and had the edge in first downs (14 to 9) while the collegians went to the air more times and gained more yards (146 to 128). However, four of their 32 passes were intercepted. Along with a fumble, the All-Stars suffered five turnovers to just two by the Bears. Neither team was able to mount a credible pass rush.

The win was the eighth thus far for the pro teams against three for the collegians and two ties. The Bears were participants for the fifth time and improved their record to 4-0-1.

In the season that followed, the Bears, who had topped the Western Division for four straight years, fell into a tie for second place with Detroit at 6-3-1. Sid Luckman was usually able to get away from his Merchant Marine duties to play on Sundays, but a slow start kept Chicago behind the Packers.

Glenn Dobbs (pictured below), the MVP for the All-Stars, returned to his military duties and played service football before joining the All-America Football Conference, where he played for Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He continued to be a top passer and punter and went on to play in Canada after the AAFC’s demise.