Anyway, I perked
up when I heard this news. Then Halas began a long speech about the traditions
of the Bears, how much they needed me, what it meant to be a Bear and all that
jazz. He even reminded me that he and I had something in common: our ancestors
came from Eastern Europe. He said, "George, you'll really enjoy being a
Bear, we're gonna win year after year, and you'll pick up all that extra
playoff money and we can do a lot for you in the business world around Chicago,
I asked about
dollars and cents. He threw out a figure: $6,000. My head went ding-a-ling like
a cash register. I'd studied phys ed at Kentucky, and I'd planned to graduate
and go into teaching and coaching, which would have paid about $3,000 a year,
so already I was ahead of the game. But I still had the Los Angeles Dons to
think about. Maybe they'd pay more. "I'd hate to sign anything today, Mr.
Halas," I said. "I've got another offer."
He became very
emphatic. "We've got to get this squared away right now," he said.
said, "suppose the Dons offer me a lot more money?"
you don't want to go to that junior high school league, do you? Why, they'll be
broke in a year. You want to play with the established National Football
League, with a team that's got tradition."
said, "but $6,000 doesn't sound like much money."
tell you what I'm gonna do," Halas said. "I'll give you a $600 bonus,
and that'll make it $6,600. I'll write you out a check for the $600 right
now." He whips out a checkbook and starts writing.
What could I do?
It was one thing to talk about some intangible $6,000-a-year salary, but a $600
check right now was something else again, a terrible temptation for a
21-year-old kid who'd never had anything in his life. So I said O.K., and I
signed the contract and another piece of paper. When I got outside, I looked at
the back of the $600 check where it said, "Advance on 1949 contract,"
and I looked at the other piece of paper and discovered it was an IOU for $600.
If I didn't make the team I'd have to repay the $600 with interest. It wasn't a
bonus at all; it was an advance against salary.
At the time I was
more interested in getting out on the field and playing football. But there was
an obstacle: the Bears" playbook. Or I should say, the Bears' playbooks.
There were volumes of them! When I went to Chicago three weeks early to begin
studying plays, they handed me three big ledger books, 200 or 300 pages each,
full of plays. I dug into them and asked all the questions I could, but I never
claimed to be Albert Einstein, and the sheer amount of memory work involved
frustrated me completely. Johnny Lujack tried to help me, and so did Luckman,
in his own way. Under the Halas system every player has to copy every play into
his own fresh notebooks at the beginning of the season. Every player! Every
play! So Luckman helped me by letting me copy his notebooks for him. Of course,
I did my own, too. And still I didn't know all those plays, and I'll bet
Luckman didn't either. There must have been at least 1,000 pass plays and 800
I took it all so
seriously. What did I know about the pros? I'm older now, and I look back on
that poor, dumb, 21-year-old George Blanda with sympathy and sadness. Now I
know that other pro football teams don't have nearly that many plays, and very
few coaches subscribe to the mastermind theory of football that Halas uses,
where everything is X's and O's and secret plays and double options off the
Statue of Liberty on a hidden-ball variation. Now I know that football is
blocking and tackling, throwing and passing and kicking, and hitting, and that
execution is the thing, and that you can have all the playbooks in the world
and you still won't win if you don't hit and execute.