Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1941: New York Giants @ Chicago Bears
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.

George Halas and his 1941 Bears
L-R: George Halas, Young Bussey, Bob Snyder, Ken Kavanaugh, Dick Plasman

Bears FB Norm Standlee
Norm Standlee

Bears HB Hugh Gallarneau
Hugh Gallarneau

Bears RB George McAfee
George McAfee

Tuffy Leemans' Day Program

Joe Maniaci
Joe Maniaci

Giants Coach Steve Owen
Giants Coach Steve Owen


The NFL's 22nd season brought the league's first commissioner.
  • Carl Storck, who served for two years as president after Joe Carr's death, resigned, and the owners hired Notre Dame coach Elmer Layden and gave him the title Commissioner.
  • Three teams also had changes at the top.
    Dan Reeves purchased the Cleveland Rams.
    Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney, tired of losing both games and money, sold his club to 28-year-old Boston businessman Alexis Thompson. Rooney used the proceeds to buy a half interest iin Bert Bell's Philadelphia Eagles.
    However, during the summer, Thompson and Rooney decided to trade franchises. Art moved back to the Steel City with Bell and changed the name of the team from Pirates to Steelers while Thompson took control of the Eagles. About 30 players also changed teams in the swap, but to no avail - the teams finished at the bottom of the East Division with only three wins between them.
  • The owners changed the bylaws to require a playoff when a division race was tied after the regular season. They also called for sudden-death over­time in case a playoff game was tied after four quarters. The first rule would be applied right away, but the OT rule wasn't needed for 17 sea­sons.
  • Other rules changes:
    The penalty for an illegal shift is 5y.
    The penalty for an illegal kick or bat is 15y.
    Whenever a player is ejected, his team is penalized 15y.
    A personal foul committed by the defensive team on a scoring play is en­forced on the ensuing kickoff.
  • The league also experimented with more liberal substitution rules in the preseason, with each team able to substitute four men at a time. How­ever, it would be two years before any changes affected the regular sea­son.
Don Hutson and Elmer Layden
Commissioner Elmer Layden presents the 1941 MVP award to Don Hutson.

1941 was expected to be the year of the big rematch with the Redskins getting a chance for revenge against the Bears who thrashed them 73-0 in the '40 title contest. But the Giants spoiled the party.

  • Steve Owen's 8-3 crew beat Washington twice, 17-10 and 20-13, to win the East by one game over the surprising Brooklyn Dodgers.
  • New York did it with defense, holding opponents to a league-low 114 points.
  • Ed Danowski returned after a one-year retirement to help Tuffy Leemans run the NY offense. Like many other pro and college coaches after the Bears' T offense annihilated the Redskins, Owen added some T-formation plays to his offense, including the man in motion.

However, the two strongest teams played in the Western Division.

  • The Bears and Packers tied for first with 10-1 records, losing only to each other. The Bears beat the Packers in Green Bay 25-17 to open the sea­son, but Curly Lambeau's club returned the favor n the Windy City Novem­ber 2, 16-14.
  • Both teams sat atop the league in points with the Bears amassing an un­heard-of 396 (98 more than the previous league high the Bears had set in '39) to the Pack's 258. Halas's boys outscored their opponents by an ave­rage of almost 23 ppg.
  • The day after the '40 title game, Halas stayed in Washington for the annu­al draft. He added some fresh blood to his offensive powerhouse, notably two backs from Clark Shaugnessy's undefeated Stanford club that, within a month, would win the Rose Bowl:
    Norm Standlee, a 238 lb FB/LB who was immediately dubbed the next Bronko Nagurski.
    Hugh Gallarneau, Standlee's slimmer but faster running mate at Stanford
  • More and more commentators referred to QB Sid Luckman as "another Sammy Baugh." The pride of Columbia completed 57.1% of his passes, distributing the ball to 15 different receivers, with E Dick Plasman leading with 14.
  • The running game was no less potent, with 2nd-year speedster George McAfee compiling the most yardage, 474. Standlee trailed by only 60y.
The final Sunday of the regular season, December 7, saw three games sched­uled.
  • The Giants celebrated "Tuffy Leemans' Day" at the Polo Grounds but lost to the Dodgers 21-7 for the second time.
  • At Griffith Stadium in Washington, the Redskins defeated the Eagles 20-14 on a bitterly cold day before 27,102.
  • The Bears visited their crosstown rivals, the Chicago Cardinals, at Comis­key Park where they rallied for a 34-24 victory that clinched a tie for the Western crown.

At all three stadiums, the PA announcer interrupted his commentary on the game to tell all servicemen to report to their units.

  • The Redskins announcer also paged high-ranking government and military personnel in attendance but did not mention the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that morning. Reporters were instructed to check with their offices. Team owner George Marshall wouldn't allow an announcement of the attack during game, explaining that it would distract the fans. QB Sammy Baugh later said, We didn't know what the hell was going on. I had never heard that many announcements one right after another. We felt something was up, but we just kept playing.
  • The Chicago announcer told the crowd that the Japanese had attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Halas thought about calling the game at that point but decided to play on
  • The radio broadcast of each game was also interrupted for the bulletin from the White House.
Griffith Stadium 12/7/41
Crowd at Griffith Stadium 12/7/41

The Bears and Packers met in the Western Division playoff December 14.

  • Convinced that this was truly the NFL championship game, 43,425 braved the numbing 19° cold, including 10,000 Packer fans and the entire Giants coaching staff.
  • The frigid conditions immediately affected play as Gallarneau fumbled the opening kickoff, and the visitors recovered on the 19. Five plays later, Clarke Hinkle plunged over from the 1' line to give the Packers a quick 7-0 lead.
  • Gallarneau also fumbled the next kickoff but recovered. But a few mo­ments later, Standlee dropped the ball, and GB covered it at the 35. How­ever, the Bears stuffed the Pack and blocked Hinkle's 40y FG attempt.
  • After receiving a punt, Green Bay couldn't move, and Hinkle punted to Gallarneau who took the ball on the 18 and eluded the coverage unit for an 82y TD. Bob Snyder, who kicked PATs standing still, had his boot blocked to keep the score 7-6 as Q1 ended.
  • The Bears express rolled in Q2 to the tune of 24 points.
    First, they rumbled 37y to the GB 14, from where Snyder booted a FG to give the Bears a lead they never relinquished.
    Before a steaming cup of coffee had a chance to get cold, Joe Maniaci returned a Packer bobble to the 12. Three plays later, Standlee went in from the 3.
    On the next possession, Chicago drove 58y, with Standlee doing the honors again, from the 2.
    Next came a 63y march leading to Bob Swisher's 9y TD run.
  • The game was essentially over, though the Packers won the second half 7-3 to make the final 33-14.
  • Green Bay's star receiver Don Hutson, the league MVP, had only one re­ception on the afternoon.
  • The Chicago Daily News article on the game included this passage: Stout Steve Owen and sundry other officlals of the New York Giants are back on Broadway today, but unless they're marvelous actors, they're not fooling any­body. One look at the long faces Stout Steve and his gang carried out of Wrigley Field yesterday afternoon will be all the Giants need to warn them of what is in store for them on the same sod next Sunday afternoon.
Bears-Packers Playoff Action
1941 Bears-Packers Playoff Action - 11941 Bears-Packers Playoff Action - 2
L: Standlee scores his second TD; R: Bears chase Packer fumble.
The bare-headed player is Dick Plasman, the last NFLer to play without a helmet.
The Bears put themselves into position to become the first NFL team to win back-to-back championships.
  • The two teams had not played during the regular season. But comparing scores against common opponents, the oddsmakers installed the Bears as 4-to-1 favo­rites over the Giants. Others pegged the margin at 15 points.
  • Coach Halas hoped his Monsters of the Midway had not been reading the sports pages. But he added that Harry Clark and Bill Osmanski (the latter a big star in the '40 title clash) were fully recovered from injuries. Papa Bear had re­minded his players that the Giants, with neither Leemans nor Eshmont making an appearance, outplayed them for all but the final minutes of a preseason game, and the Bears were lucky to take that one, 14-8. Owen had employed a five-man line effectively.
  • The Giants were determined to keep the Bears from repeating. However, they were not completely sound physically. C-LB Mel Hein would play with a broken nose, George Franck with a damaged hip, Nello Falaschi with a deep gash in his shin, and Lou De Filippo with a lingering case of the flu.
  • Owen relished the role of underdog as his team prepared for its sixth champ­ionship game, having won two so far, the same number as the Bears.
  • The Giants benefitted from a week off while the Bears faced Green Bay in the division playoff.
  • To make sure the game could still be finished before dark even if it went into overtime, the NFL set the kickoff time for 1 PM CST. The game was broadcast coast-to-coast over the Mutual Network.
1941 New York Giants
1941 New York Giants
1941 Chicago Bears
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
2 Gary Famiglietti FB/HB 6-0 225 Boston U. 4
4 Harry Clarke HB 6-0 186 West Virginia 2
5 George McAfee HB 6-0 178 Duke 2
6 John Siegel E 6-1 203 Columbia 3
8 Hugh Gallarneau HB 6-0 190 Stanford 1
9 Bill Osmanski FB 5-11 197 Holy Cross 3
11 Joe Maniaci FB 6-1 212 Fordham 6
12 Hal Lahar G 6-0 225 Oklahoma 1
13 Joe Stydahar T 6-4 233 West Virginia 6
14 Dick Plasman E 6-3 218 Vanderbilt 5
15 Al Matuza C/LB 6-2 200 Georgetown 1
16 George Musso G-T 6-2 262 Millikin 9
17 Bob Snyder QB 6-0 200 Ohio 5
20 Bob Nowaskey E 6-0 205 George Washington 2
21 Daniel Fortmann G 6-0 210 Colgate 6
22 Norm Standlee FB 6-2 238 Stanford 1
23 Aldo Forte G-T 6-0 213 Montana 3
24 Bill Hughes C/LB 6-1 226 Texas 5
25 Ray Nolting HB 5-11 185 Cincinnati 6
26 Albert Baisi G 6-0 217 Kansas 2
27 Joseph Mihal T 6-2 234 Purdue 2
29 Ed Kolman T 6-2 232 Temple 2
30 George Wilson E 6-1 199 Northwestern 5
34 John Federovitch T 6-5 263 Davis & Elkins 1
35 Lee Artoe T 6-3 234 Santa Clara 2
37 Young Bussey DB 5-9 184 LSU 1
42 Sid Luckman QB 6-0 197 Columbia 3
48 Robert Swisher HB 5-11 163 Northwestern 4
51 Ken Kavanaugh E 6-3 207 LSU 2
57 Ray McLean HB 5-10 168 St. Anselm 2
66 Clyde Turner C 6-1 190 Hardin-Simmons 2
76 Hampton Pool E 6-3 221 Stanford 2
82 Ray Bray G 6-0 237 Western Michigan 3
1939 New York Giants
# Player Pos. Wgt. Hgt. College Exp.
2 Len Eshmont B 180 5-10 Fordham 1
4 Tuffy Leemans B 195 6-0 George Washington 6
5 Ken Lunday G 225 6-3 Arkansas 5
6 Howie Yeager B 178 6-0 Cal Santa Barbara 1
7 Mel Hein C 235 6-4 Washington State 11
8 Frank Reagan B 190 5-11 Pennsylvania 1
11 Chet Gladchuck C/T 245 6-4 Boston College 1
12 Kay Eakin B 190 6-0 Arkansas 2
14 Ward Cuff B 192 6-1 Marquette 5
15 Hank Soar B 210 6-1 Providence 5
17 Clint McClain B 190 5-9 SMU 1
20 Leland Shaffer B 202 6-2 Kansas State 7
21 Jim Lee Howell E 215 6-6 Arkansas 5
22 Ed Danowski B 198 6-1 Fordham 7
23 Jim Poole E 235 6-3 Mississippi 5
24 Will Walls E 220 6-4 TCU 4
25 Dom Principe B 205 6-0 Fordham 2
28 Nello Falaschi B 195 6-0 Santa Clara 4
29 Jack Lummus E 200 6-3 Baylor 1
30 Marion Pugh B 190 6-1 Texas A&M 1
32 Len Younce G 205 6-1 Oregon State 1
33 John Mellus T 223 6-0 Villanova 4
36 Frank Cope T 230 6-3 Santa Clara 4
37 George Franck B 180 6-1 Minnesota 1
39 Doug Oldershaw G 195 6-3 California - Santa Barb. 3
42 Orville Tuttle G 205 5-9 Oklahoma City 5
44 Ben Sohn G 230 6-3 USC 1
49 Dick Horne E 214 6-2 Oregon 1
50 Ed Widseth T 223 6-1 Minnesota 5
52 Vince Dennery E 200 6-0 Fordham 1
55 Lou DeFilippo G 225 6-2 Fordham 1
60 Monk Edwards G/T 205 6-3 Baylor 2
66 Win Pederson T 220 6-3 Minnesota 1
69 Tony Blazine T 240 6-0 Illinois Wesleyan 7
70 Andy Marefos B 225 6-0 St. Mary's (CA) 1
1941 NFL Championship Game Program
Chicago experienced unusually balmy weather, sunny and 47°, on Sunday, December 21.
  • Ticket sales (prices ranging from $2.20 to $4.40) had been slow throughout the week, but no one anticipated a crowd of only 13,341, the smallest of the season at Wrigley Field and smaller than the attendance in the teams' exhibition game and the fewest to witness an NFL championship clash.
  • Analysts pointed to three factors to explain the disappointing turnout:
    The game was anti-climactic after the heavyweight bout the week before for the Western Division championship.
    All signs pointed to a Bear runaway.
    U.S. entry into the war dampened the public's spirits and diminished their taste for football.
The Giants hung tough for awhile behind their 5-man defensive front.
  • Quarter 1
    The Giants started poorly by fumbling away the kickoff. The Bears flashed down to the NY 27 before being hurled back to the 45. So Luckman's unit drove to the 20. But they soon found themselves at the 39 thanks to penalties. So Lee Artoe tried a 48y FG, but Kayo Lunday blocked it with his face. However, a Bear recov­ered the ball at the 49 to retain possession for his team. Given new life, the re­lentless Monsters surged to the 6 where Snyder booted a 14y FG to make it 3-0 with just 2 1/2 minutes on the clock.
    Franck ran back the kickoff 34y to the 43 to set up the Giants' first offensive play. After two runs gained 8, Leemans escaped a blitzing Bear by running to his right, then heaved a pass down the middle to Ward Cuff, who made a leaping catch on the 26, falling on his back as he was undercut. Then Tuffy took the snap and threw a quick pass to Franck in the left flat, and the Minnesota Greyhound scampered 31y down the sideline to the EZ, eluding one tackler and benefitting from a great block by Jim Poole on the last defender. Johnny Siegel blocked Ward Cuff's conversion. Amazingly, the Giants led 6-3.
    But not for long. The Bears moved to the NY 32 on Luckman's passes as the period ended.
Bears-Giants Action - 11941 Bears-Giants Action - 2
Bears-Giants action
  • Quarter 2
    When the Giants held, Snyder hammered a 39y FG that just skimmed over the bar to tie the score.
    NY couldn't move and punted to their own 47. Running plays by McAfee and Osmanski gained to the 29, but again the defense stiffened. So Snyder clicked from the 37 to make it 9-6. Luckman's backup thus tied another Bear, Jack Man­ders, for most FGs in a title game.
Halas's team had confirmed his fears of overconfidence.
  • Quarter 3
    The Giants' first possession featured a 34y run by Franck to the Chicago 46. Cuff and Leemans picked up 10, and a 5y penalty moved the Bears back even more. Leeman passed 20y to Cuff on the 5, but the Bears got tough at that point. So after three plays netted -2, Cuff split the posts with a 16-yarder to tie the game again with half the period gone to the delight of the handful of New York fans.
    Then the Bears finally started clicking. They traveled 71y in seven plays. Standlee ran from the 30 to the 40, then gained 3 more. Luckman connected with Plasman on the 34, then to Siegal, who made a diving catch at the 8. Norm charged 4y, and Gallarneau gained 1. Finally, Standlee catapulted over from the 3. Snyder added the point.
    The Giants tried to answer, but Danny Fortmann's INT of a Leeman pass ended the thrust at the Chi 32.
    This time it took Luckman & Company eight plays to go the distance. McAfee, Standlee, and Ray McLean carried the ball to the 7, from where Standlee ran across. Joe Maniaci converted to make it 23-9.
Norm Standlee scores Bears TD.Bears T Danny FortmannBears C-LB Clyde "Bulldog" Turner
L: Standlee scores for the Bears; M: Danny Fortmann; R: Bulldog Turner
  • Quarter 4
    LB Bulldog Turner snagged another Giant pass on his own 46. Standlee and McAfee went 15y, and Sid passed to Standlee who charged to the 23. After a holding penalty, Luckman threw to McLean at the 5. The pass fell incomplete, but Chet Gladchuck was called for interference. McAfee picked up 2, then did the honors from the 3, bursting untouched into the EZ. Artoe took a turn at the PAT. 30-9
    With less than two minutes left, Owen inserted Andy Marefos to try the same play that had worked against Washington. Hank Soar took the snap and rifled a lateral to Andy, who was supposed to heave a long one down the field. But as he started to throw, T Joe Mihal hit him, and the ball popped out of his hand. Kava­naugh picked up the bounce and trotted 42y to the EZ. To complete the rout, Ray McLean drop-kicked the PAT, the first point via a drop-kick all season for any team, to make the final score 37-9.

    McLean's drop-kicked point remains the last one in an NFL championship game.
The statistics reflected Chicago's dominance.
  • First downs: 20-8 Bears
  • Yards rushing: 207-84 Bears
  • Passing: Bears 19-11-0/170y, Giants 15-3-3/68y
  • Return yardage: Giants 124, Bears 26
  • Fumbles-Lost: Bears 3-1, Giants 2-1
  • Penalty Yards: Bears 3-31, Giants 9-65

The game netted only $41,985.50.

  • So each member of the great Bear team earned just $430.94, a little less than half what they received in 1940.
  • Each Giant took home $288.70.
Shortly after the championship game, 26 Giants joined the military. Before the end of the war in 1945, a total of 55 former Giants served in the military. Two died in service to their country - Jack Lummus and Al Blozis.
The Bears lost McAfee, Standlee, Kavanaugh, Plasman, Stydahar and Baisi before the '42 season.

In later years, members of the '41 Bears felt the advent of war broke up what would have been the greatest dynasty the game had ever known.

  • McAfee in 1991: Had the war not come when it did, there's no telling how many championship we might have won.
  • Kavanaugh: We could have beaten anyone for the next six years had we been able to stay together. Everybody in the league was afraid of us!
  • Luckman: George Halas said it was the best team he ever saw. We were a team of destiny, really.

1941 NFL Champion Chicago Bears

References: The Chicago Bears, Howard Roberts (1947)
Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
Halas on Halas: The Autobiography of George Halas with Gwen Morgan and Arthur Veysey (1979)
Papa Bear: The Life and Legacy of George Halas, Jeff Davis (2005)
New York Giants, Jim Terzian (1973)

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