Most people remember George Halas for being the tough, no-nonsense, relentlessly competitive coach and owner of the Chicago Bears who helped found the NFL. Images of him come from his rants on the sideline and his endless supply of memorable stories and quotes. Both from and about him. Let’s just say Halas had a reputation for doing whatever it took to win. Even if it meant taking liberties with the rulebook.
He also was notorious for being remarkably stingy with money. Contract negotiations with him were legendary. Mike Ditka famously said he threw nickels around “like manhole covers.” That likely fed into the longstanding reputation of the Bears being cheap. Something that has long since been debunked.
However, what a lot of people don’t know is Halas was a remarkably giving man. Few knew that more than the widow of Brian Piccolo, the famous Bears running back who died of cancer 50 years ago.
She told Dan Pompei of The Athletic that she may not have survived Piccolo’s death without Halas.
“And then there was Halas.
It was Halas who paid for all of Brian’s medical bills and the family’s peripheral expenses, Halas who honored the remainder of Piccolo’s contract, Halas who paid for the funeral, and Halas who set up college funds for Lori, Traci and Kristi.
Halas even had a hand in making sure Joy kept her house. She had a mortgage with American National Bank, but was told the loan would not be honored because she didn’t have a regular income. It turns out Halas was on the bank’s board of directors, and he pulled a few strings.”
George Halas was many things but most importantly a family man
Few people took family more seriously than Halas. Not just off the field but on it as well. If players gave everything to him, then he rewarded them with lifetime status as members of the organization. Such was the case with Piccolo. Even though he never managed to become a star, his time with the team was not wasted. His impact on teammates was renowned. Especially Gale Sayers.
How many owners today would go to the lengths Halas did for a player who wasn’t even a superstar? Not many. The man was a different breed. Sure he was stingy with money but that was less because of simple greed and more a byproduct of where he came from. Halas purchased the team for $100 when the league began. He’d had to fight through a lot of tough financial times including the Great Depression of the 1930s to keep the Bears alive. So it’s only natural he was careful with his money.
When times called for it though, he spent what he had to. Joy Piccolo is one of those amazing stories.