It’s hard to pick the Chicago Bears’ finest moment. For nearly a century, the team has occupied a special place in the Chicago psyche (“’Da Bears!” as popularized by Saturday Night Live). Their tough, dogged, blue collar spirit is synonymous with the city, and through good times and bad, the city and team have stood as one.
You could make a strong case for the 1985 Bears as the franchise’s finest moment. That year, the Bears won 15 of their 16 regular season games, conceded no points in the two playoff games (the first team to do so) and recorded what was then the biggest Super Bowl margin-of-victory ever. Many have rightly called that year’s team the greatest NFL team ever, with only the 1972 Miami Dolphins mentioned in the same breath.
But as amazing as that team was, we think the Bears’ 1940 championship game against the Washington Redskins deserves some attention, too. It was the kind of result that unites a city and cements a legacy for decades to come.
Three weeks before that December game, the Bears had lost their regular season face-off with Washington. The Bears had gone in favorites, but Washington edged past them for a 7-3 win. The Bears hotly-contested the play that put Washington over the line, but the officials wouldn’t hear it.
Washington owner George Preston Marshall thought little of the Bears’ protest, delivering a strongly-worded response in the newspapers. "The Bears are a bunch of crybabies. They're front-runners. They can't take defeat. They are a first-half club. They're not a second-half team. The Bears are quitters."
“Crybabies”? “Quitters”? The Bears just couldn’t let that kind of talk stand.
So when the two teams made the championship game, the Bears got fired up in a way that few others could. Owner-coach George Halas can take credit for much of that fire. In the week leading up to the game, he’d rile the team up in the locker room, pointing to the headlines and hollering, “I hear the Chicago Bears have no guts! It's what they tell me in the newspapers." The Bears were more than ready for revenge, something the players convinced Halas of in Washington the day before the game.
Rather than a leisurely jog onto the field for practice, they launched out the locker room screaming at the top of their lungs. They kept the whooping going the entire length of the field and back. Halas noted, “My, but the boys are enthusiastic,” then called them back in. He didn’t want to risk losing that kind of energy on a practice.
Halas continued his team-pushing tactics. As recalled by quarterback Sid Luckman in a 1980 Milwaukee Journal interview, his pre-game locker room pep talk focused on Marshall’s insults. “Gentlemen, this is what Mr. Marshall thinks of you. I know you are the greatest football team in America. I know it and you know it. I want you to prove that to Mr. Marshall, the Redskins and, above all, the nation.”
And they did. The Bears went out and won the game 73-0, hammering the Redskins with a perfect execution of the T formation. It was the biggest winning margin in NFL history, and the biggest score posted by a single team. Both records still stand today. As the New York Times’ Arthur J. Daley summed up in his account the next day, “The weather was perfect. So were the Bears.”