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Ask Chicagoist: Why Are They Called the Bears?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Jan 31, 2007 3:30PM

Why the Bears? Chicago doesn't really seem to have much of a bear problem, so why'd we name our venerable football team that?

All Fired Up For The Super Bowl

2007_01_askbears.jpgDear All Fired Up,

Firstly, we feel your excitement. It's hard not to get a little swept up when the entire city keeps talking about Sunday's game, and not a whole lot else. Not really being sports junkies ourselves, we haven't paid this much attention to football since our 5th grade class performed a pretty embarrassing rendition of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” at a district-wide talent show (we "played" the keys for the event).

So why the Bears? Well, we pay strict attention to Stephen Colbert, so we firmly believe there's no better animal to scare away any and all opponents (especially horses). And, you know, all those wild bears running rampant around the Loop made the name pretty obvious.

Or, in reality, the team our city's rooting for this coming Sunday was named after another Chicago sports legacy, the Cubs. In 1921, home base for this team in the newly formed American Professional Football Association (now known as the ubiquitous NFL) was in fact Wrigley Field (known then as Cub Park). The former Decatur Staley's, founded in 1920 when the league itself first formed, and sponsored by the A. E. Staley Company (a starch manufacturer), had just moved to Chicago as the Chicago Staley's.

The former owner of the Staley's in Decatur had the prescient view that football was more likely to grow popular in big cities, and sent his team off to Chicago with a $5000 check and a promise they'd keep the Staley name for one year after the move. At the time Chicago had two other football teams, the Chicago Tigers (that team only lasted for one year), and the Racine Cardinals. The Staley's won the league championship that year.

When the year was up, on January 28, 1922, the coaches and managers of the team, George S. Halas and Ed “Dutch” Sternaman, decided to rename the team the Chicago Bears in honor of their hosts at Cub Park. They wanted a little more oomph to the name, though, reasoning that football players were bigger than baseball players, so the cub grew up into a full-fledged bear. Of the original 14 NFL teams, the Bears are one of only two still in existence today. The other being the team now called the Arizona Cardinals — the aforementioned Racine Cardinals which was renamed the Chicago Cardinals in 1922.

We'll see how the Bears live up to their grown-up name this Sunday.

1921 Chicago Staley's NFL Champions image via

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