Every time I see a football team - high school, college, professional - go on the offense, I see Sid Luckman crouched closely behind the center, both hands waiting for the ball. Regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl next Sunday, I'll still see Luckman on every play. In my mind's eye, I'll also see Carl Brumbaugh and Frankie Albert.
There was incredible slaughter in old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., the afternoon of Dec. 8, 1940. The Chicago Bears ate up the Washington Redskins 73-0 for the National Football League championship. If you aren't familiar with that game, the score of 73-0 is correct. Not a typo.
What made it incredible was that the Redskins, led by the great Sammy Baugh, had beaten the Bears in Washington 7-3 three weeks before. In the regular season the 'Skins were 9 wins and 2 losses while the Bears were 8 and 3. Washington was favored.
On the final play of that 7-3 game, the Bears threw a pass to Bill Osmanski which was ruled incomplete. Had the pass been completed, the Bears would have won. The Bears complained bitterly that Frank Filchock, Washington defensive back, had illegally grabbed the receiver's arms so that the ball hit Osmanski on the chest and fell dead.
George Preston Marshall owned the Redskins. He was loud-mouthed, flashy, and was always seeking publicity for himself and his team. Marshall told the writers: ''The Bears are front-runners, quitters. They're not a second-half team . . . just a bunch of crybabies.'' For the three weeks before the teams would play for the NFL title, Marshall poured it on. George Halas, who both owned and coached the Bears, simply posted each insulting story from Marshall on the Bears' dressing-room bulletin board. The Bears really got ready.
I know something about that game. I was the only announcer for it. The Gillette Safety Razor Company put it on the Mutual Broadcasting System, and it was the first time a professional football game was broadcast coast to coast. The entire country heard the shock waves from Washington.
Let me offer additional background that sets this game apart as the most pivotal ever played. In 1940, only the Bears in pro ball and Stanford in college football used the T formation - balanced line, three men on each side of the center, backs in a T with the quarterback reaching under the center for the ball. Other teams ran from single or double wing, line unbalanced or balanced, with the center snapping the ball some five yards through the air to a deep back.
Owner and Coach Halas had always believed in the T. Ralph Jones coached the Bears three years - 1930-31-32 - while Halas ran the office, and Jones developed the man-in-motion which added to the versatility of the T. Later, Clark Shaughnessy, coach at the University of Chicago, contributed additional finesse, including the counterplay. Shaughnessy gave the T its final paint job.
When Chicago dropped football, Shaughnessy became coach at Stanford. His team would play Nebraska, coached by Col. Biff Jones, in the Rose Bowl New Year's Day 1941, three weeks after the devastation at Washington. To add to it, Colonel Jones, in full uniform, was in the stands at Washington - he saw it, then he got it.
When I entered the University of Florida in 1928, Carl Brumbaugh was the star halfback. We sat together in several classes. Carl joined the Bears in 1930 and became the first successful T formation quarterback. Brumbaugh taught Sid Luckman how to run the T and then was loaned to Shaughnessy at Stanford to polish Frankie Albert in the intricacies of the T.
The night before the Bears and Redskins were to tangle, Assistant Coach Brumbaugh and I spent an hour together. Carl briefed me on personnel, then told me: ''This is strictly between us as friends . . . you'll announce the game tomorrow . . . I want to tip you off . . . don't be surprised at what the Bears do . . . don't be surprised . . . I never saw a team so ready.''
The Bears had magnificent personnel. The team matured as the season lengthened. The T formation was polished to perfection. Luckman was now the master. He was so able that Coach Halas allowed him to call every play.
The Bears won the toss, received the ball, and then won everything else. On the second play from scrimmage, Bill Osmanski broke off left tackle for 68 yards and a touchdown. The rout was on. The score mounted inexorably, terribly.
In the second half with the Bears leading by telephone numbers, I got afraid listeners who had just tuned in would not believe what they heard. After all the Redskins were formidable, Baugh was the great passer, and the 'Skins had beaten the Bears three weeks before. It was 21-0 at the quarter, 28-O at the half. The Bears added 26 more points in the third quarter.
There were no broadcast booths then. I was working from an overhang in front of and just under the first row of upper-stand spectators. I did the game alone. No color man. Sitting behind me was Nebraska Coach Biff Jones. Suddenly I stood up, introduced Coach Jones to the radio audience, and asked if he would confirm the score. He did.
The team Jones soon took to the Rose Bowl was the first Nebraska team in a bowl. It was a splendid squad and it played a fine game at Pasadena. But Stanford, with Frankie Albert running the T, won 21-13.
Suddenly, the T was IT. Still is.