Championships Missed: The Lost Years, Pt. 3 - The 1956 Season
Ten years after winning the franchise's last NFL World Championship, the Chicago Bears returned to the pinnacle of the sport primed for the franchise's eighth title. Finishing with a league-best 9-2-1 record, the Bears needed only to defeat the New York Giants, owners of an 8-3-1 mark and champions of the Eastern Division. Chicago sported five All-Pro selections (FB Rick Casares, MLB Bill George, WR Harlon Hill,, C Larry Strickland, and RG Stan Jones) as well as two others who were also selected to the Pro Bowl (QB/P Ed Brown, and LDH J.C. Caroline). Casares, who once was a boxer, bulldozed his way to the league-lead in rushing yards with 1,126. The team, behind an unrelenting ground attack that averaged 206 rushing yards per game while passing for 172 yards per contest, looked loaded, though its defense tended to give up huge amounts of yards per game, a trait not traditionally typical of the great Bears teams of the past.
The game was played on December 30, 1956 in terribly cold conditions at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, NY, as the high temperature of the day reached 25 degrees Fahrenheit while the low dipped down to 16. The field was iced over, much as the 1934 NFL Championship Game between these two combatants was. Back then, technology did not exist to where the groundskeepers could keep the field warm with heaters. This set the stage for another epic match up between the Giants and the Bears, with the Giants wearing sneakers coming out of the gate.
Unlike the 1934 meeting, the Bears would not get off to a fast start against New York, as it was the Giants who began pummeling Chicago right away with their decided advantage in footing. In the first quarter, Giants RB Mel Triplett scored the very first touchdown that put the Giants ahead, 7-0, while Ben Agajanian (aka. "The Toeless Wonder" because he lost four of his toes in a work-related accident while in college) booted two field goals that would prove to be more than enough to seal the Bears' fate. However, the scoring flood for the Giants would not end there. Future Hall of Fame RB Alex Webster powered his way into the end zone from distances of three and one yards out, while DB Henry Moore returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter. In .the third and fourth quarters, Giants QB Charlie Connerly tossed touchdown passes to Kyle Rote (third quarter) and future Hall of Famer Frank Gifford (fourth quarter). The only points the Bears would score all day would be on Casares' nine yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Final score: Giants 47, Bears 7.
The Bears did switch to sneakers as the game progressed according to one source, but by then, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. History had repeated itself. It should be noted that two of pro football's greatest coaches were understudies under Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell. Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator, and he would go on to coach the Green Bay Packers to the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL with five league championships and wins in the first two Super Bowls. Also, Tom Landry, who would lead the Dallas Cowboys to victory in Super Bowls VI and XII, was the defensive coordinator. This game was not short on star names, though the Giants had a decided edge in the number of Hall of Famers not just in coaches but with players. The Bears were no slouches, but their defense lacked much to be desired in 1956, giving up 20.5 points per contest despite the powerful offense it possessed. Whether the sneakers played any role in the poor play of the Bears is largely debatable. What can be said is that both their defense and their offense looked horrible. In this sense, the talented Giants coaching staff simply outsmarted the coaching staff of Paddy Driscoll. Within a couple of years, George Halas had seen enough, and would force Driscoll out as head coach and would reinsert himself as field general for the Bears for the final ten seasons of his career.
Tune in next time as I examine the near misses of the great Chicago Bears teams of the 1980s, in "Championships Missed: The Lost Years, Pt. 4 - 1986-1988."
Sources: (http://members.cox.net/kbrews/nflwx/lga19561230.html ; http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedi...ship-102156683 ; http://www.pro-football-reference.co...mpionship+Game ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_Cha...hip_Game,_1956)