The Decatur Staleys

[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free

The Decatur Staleys were an American football team that played in the American Professional Football Association during the 1920 season. The Staleys was the franchise that became the Chicago Bears of today after just one season in Decatur. The Staleys’ famed ‘fist in the face’ defensive technique forced the introduction of the football helmet, one of the most iconic features of football gear.

How did the Decatur Staleys Start up?

The team was started as a company team in 1919 by Augustus Eugene Staley of the Staley Manufacturing Company, a firm that mainly produced corn starch products. Staley hired George Halas to run the team. Halas would take over ownership of the franchise in 1921 and was one of the people who facilitated formation of the NFL. The team would play its home games at the Staley Field which was located near present day Eldorado Street and N. 22nd Street in Decatur. George would practically fill the role of manager, coach and player at the same time.

The Decatur Staleys in Competition

The 1920 season was the Staley’s first and lone season, playing in the startup American Professional Association which would later become the NFL. At the time, teams were allowed to create their own schedules as the season progressed and there was no fixed number of games each team should have played per season. The Staleys’ roster was filled with workers from the Staley plant who would work at the factory during the day and then train for two hours. The team’s first game was a 20-0 win over the Moline Universal Tractors at the Staley Field on October 3, 1920.

A week later, they beat the Kewanee Walworths 25-7. Three more wins followed, to extend their winning streak to five games, rounded off by a fine 29-0 victory over the Rockford AC on October 31. A 0-0 draw against the Rock Island Independents on November 7 interjected their fine form but they returned to winning ways by beating the Champaign Legion 20-0 on Nov 11. Three straight wins followed to take their record to a remarkable 9-0-1 by the time they faced the Chicago Cardinals on November 28. Chicago would inflict the first defeat of the season on the Staleys, a 7-6 result. Decatur then rounded off the season with a win and a draw which took saw them finish the season with a 10-1-2 record. This placed them second in the AFPA behind the Akron Pros.

Decatur Staleys most Notable Moments

The Staleys’ final game of the season, played against the Akron Pros was arguably their most important. The Pros had an 8-0-2 record while the Staleys had a 9-1-1 record coming into this game. As things stood, the Pros would be crowned champions because they did not have a single loss and ties were not considered at the in calculating win percentage.

If the Staleys could win the game however, the tide would turn in their favor. Halas even borrowed Paddy Driscoll from the Cardinals to fortify his team’s roster for the occasion. The game, played in front of a season record 12,000 fans ended in a scoreless tie as both teams saw golden chances to score go begging. This allowed the Pros to finish the season without a loss and claim the championship, though accusations of referee bias were directed at them by the Chicago press.

Decatur Staleys most Notable Players

George Halas’ influence did not end at the front office. He coached the team and played rear end. He had 2 receiving scores that season, the highest in the team.

Ed ‘Dutch’ Sternaman was one of the star performers for the team with 11 rushing touch downs, 1 receiving touchdown, 4 field goals, and 3 PATs which gave him a total of 87 points. He was also an important member of the front office alongside Halas.

Quarterback Jimmy Conzelman also had an outstanding season, running for two scores and throwing two.

What Happened to the Decatur Staleys?

Despite the great play by the Staleys, they lost money during the first season owing to low attendance at the constricted Staley Park. Halas decided to move the team to Chicago, where the team could enjoy a larger market. The move was not entirely a sure thing however. The city already had two AFPA teams, the Racine Cardinals and the Chicago Tigers located close to each other. Competition for fans actually hurt both teams’ attendance figures and they agreed that the team that lost their 1920 season ending game would disband.

The Tigers lost and obliged. Under such circumstances, the Staleys’ transfer to Chicago wouldn’t have pleased the Cardinals. However, Halas moved his franchise far enough from the epicenter of the Cardinals’ influence so both teams did not affect each other’s financial viability. The new team, playing at Wrigley Field was renamed Chicago Staleys. In 1922, the team took up the name Chicago Bears to emphasize their ties with baseball club Chicago Cubs.