Today’s Top Question

BearsTwo questions, actually: What’s the origin of the Chicago Bears’ nickname, “The Monsters of the Midway,” and how did it come to be applied to the Bears?

Part One is easy. When Kate asked me a couple weeks ago, I knew it had something to do with the Midway Plaisance on Chicago’s South Side, but was fuzzy on why that might apply to the Bears, who played in Wrigley Field (on the North Side) through 1970.. That Midway began as a park, was the center for carnival-type attractions during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and ran adjacent to the University of Chicago. And in fact, the original Monsters of the Midway were the U. of C.’s football teams under coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. But the university, once a gridiron powerhouse, gave up football in 1939. That coincided with a golden age of Bears football. After the U. of C. abolished football to better focus on the serious business of education and splitting the atom, the Bears became known as the Monsters of the Midway (and began using the stylized letter “C” that the university had adopted as its helmet emblem).

OK so far. But all the accounts I’ve come across fail to explain just how the Bears began using what had been a college nickname. Invariably, references say the Bears “acquired” the name or that it “was applied” to them. A scholarly study of the University of Chicago football, “Stagg’s University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago,” says the Bears “appropriated” the name.

Something’s left out here. Either George Halas or someone else with the team came up with the idea to grab the University of Chicago nickname (which was long out of date, by the way; my dad likes to recall how in the late ’30s, some locals wanted to set up a contest between the Maroons and the Austin High School, a juggernaut on the city’s West Side), or–my theory–it caught on after some sportswriter or headline writer began using it.

More research to come on this pressing question.

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