History of the Chicago Bears

chicago bears timeline

The Chicago Bears franchise is among the NFL’s elite — especially in the league’s early days. Prior to the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Bears won eight NFL championships. They also won the 1985 Super Bowl.

In addition to their traditionally winning ways, many know the Bears from the “Da Bears” pop culture phenomenon, popularized by “Saturday Night Live” and its humorous take on former coach Mike Ditka, who coached the Bears’ legendary 1985 season. The Bears franchise has been through winning and many memorable characters, ranging from Coach Ditka to legendary players like Walter Payton and Dick Butkus.

Bears fans are certainly familiar with excitement, as the franchise has endured a rich and exciting history. Entering their 101st season in 2020 with coach Matt Nagy at the helm once again, the Bears have ample promise — especially with a 3-0 start and a rock-solid defensive line supporting an evolving offense headed by a new quarterback, former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.

As fans show their excitement for a new season, it’s a good time to go back and appreciate the history of the Chicago Bears.

history of chicago bears

Significant Dates in Chicago Bears History

Throughout the illustrious history of the Chicago Bears, these dates stand out the most:

  • 1919: The Bears are formed as the Decatur Staleys in Decatur, Illinois. The team originally began as a company team for the A.E. Staley food starch company.
  • 1920: The Staleys join the American Professional Football Association (APFA) with George Halas as their representative and coach.
  • 1921: The Staleys move to Chicago and are given to George Halas, who leads them to their first championship victory.
  • 1922: The Staleys are officially renamed the Chicago Bears, and the APFA becomes the NFL.
  • 1932: The Bears win the first indoor NFL game, defeating the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0.
  • 1933: In the first NFL championship series, the Bears beat the New York Giants 23-21.
  • 1940: The Bears trounce the Washington Redskins 73-0 to win the NFL Championship by using the now popularized T-formation offensive setup.
  • 1942: Coach Halas and 45 Bears players leave to serve in World War II, leading to the Bears merging with the Cardinals in 1943.
  • 1945: Coach Halas returns to coach the Bears to another Western Division title, beating the New York Giants 24-14 in the championship game.
  • 1963: The Bears defeat the New York Giants 14-10 for the team’s first championship win in 17 years.
  • 1964: Running back Gale Sayers and linebacker Dick Butkus are drafted to the Bears, both of whom would go on to become Bears legends.
  • 1965: Gale Sayers wins Rookie of the Year with a record 22 touchdowns in the season, and the Bears place third in the league.
  • 1967: Coach George “Papa Bear” Halas retires after 40 seasons and a record 324 coaching wins with the Bears.
  • 1970: The Bears beat the Green Bay Packers 35-1 in their last game at Wrigley Field.
  • 1981: The famous tight end Mike Ditka becomes the Bears’ head coach.
  • 1985: The Bears win their first Super Bowl, defeating the New England Patriots 46-10. Having lost just one game to the Miami Dolphins all season, the 1985 Bears team has gone down in history as one of the best NFL teams of all time. The Bears also produced and released “The Super Bowl Shuffle” this year.
  • 1986: The Bears lose the NFC Championship game 13-27 to the Washington Redskins.
  • 1988: Defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 20-12, the Bears win the Fog Bowl on New Year’s Eve in the midst of a fog so thick it was nearly impossible for spectators to see the game.
  • 1990: After sustaining a heart attack, Coach Ditka returns to coach the Bears just 10 days later.
  • 1991: The Bears wrap up the season with a disappointing 5-11 record and Coach Ditka is fired.
  • 2006: The Bears win the NFC Championship but lose the Super Bowl title to the Indianapolis Colts.
  • 2009: Jay Cutler debuts as the Bears’ starting quarterback and the team goes 7-9 for the season.
  • 2010: After making it to the playoffs, the Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers.
  • 2013: The Bears finish the season with an 8-8 record.
  • 2016: The Bears complete the season 3-13, setting a record for number of losses within a season.
  • 2017: The Bears fail to make the playoffs with a 5-11 record.
  • 2018: Matt Nagy becomes the head coach of the Bears, and the team wins the NFC North for the first time since 2010. They lose their wild card playoff game to the Philidelphia Eagles by the infamous “Double Doink” blocked field goal attempt. Finishing the season with a 12-4 record, Nagy was named Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association and Associated Press.
  • 2019: In the 100th season for the Bears franchise, the team finished 8-8 despite a 3-1 start to the season.
  • 2020: The Bears begin the season undefeated at 3-0, with recently drafted and former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles subbing in to lead the team to a 30-26 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons in game three.

The Early Days

The Bears’ first iteration was as the Decatur Staleys, based in Decatur, Illinois, in 1919 and created by the A.E. Staley food starch company. Like many teams, such as the Packers, the Bears’ name is derived from a business. The Staleys joined the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, alongside team representative George Halas, who was given the team in 1921 with the Staleys’ move to Chicago.

The Bears weren’t called the Staleys for long in Chicago. In 1921, the Staleys were renamed “the Bears,” with the new name and city effectively making the team the Chicago Bears. Conveniently, the Bears’ name change coincided with the APFA’s transition to the NFL in 1922.

The following decades saw plenty of success for the Bears franchise. They made history by playing the first indoor NFL game, defeating the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 in 1932. A year later, the Bears beat the New York Giants 23-21 in the first NFL championship series (prior to the “Super Bowl” name taking hold in the ’70s).

Their 1940 NFL Championship win was particularly impressive, where they defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 73-0. The Bears popularized the T-formation offense with that year’s success, led by QB Sid Luckman.

The year 1942 marked a tumultuous year for the league and country, with many professional athletes leaving to serve in World War II. Coach George Halas and 45 Bears players left that year, resulting in a temporary merge with the Cardinals in 1943. Halas and many others returned in 1945, going on to defeat the Giants 24-14 in the championship game.

Following that 1945 championship, the Bears went on a 17-year drought, not winning another championship until 1963, when they beat the Giants 14-10 in the championship game. Runningback Gayle Sayers and linebacker Dick Butkus, two NFL legends, arrived in 1965, marking an exciting run for the Bears prior to the 1970 merger.

After the Merger

Following 1970’s AFL-NFL merger, the Bears struggled for a period. However, in 1981, the Bears made the great decision to hire legendary tight end Mike Ditka as their coach. In addition to infusing a great culture with his tough-love demeanor, Ditka was an excellent strategical coach and motivator, bringing the Bears their first Super Bowl victory in 1985. That same year, the Bears released the classic “Super Bowl Shuffle” — a viral video before viral videos were a thing. It was a great year for Bears fans. Ditka would go on to coach until 1992, when he was fired after a 5-11 season.

In 2006, the Bears had another memorable season, although the team came up just short by losing to the Colts in the Super Bowl. The team made it to the playoffs in 2010 and 2018, though they have yet to make another Super Bowl appearance.

Still, the future for the Bears looks bright. Since his astonishing three fourth-quarter touchdowns, Foles has been named the team’s starting quarterback, giving Bears fans hope that there might be a little more Nick Foles magic in store for them this season.

When you are in town for a Bears game, be sure to visit the closest Giordano’s to Soldier Field!