Sid Luckman, a Jewish football player who helped the Chicago Bears dominate the sport in the early 1940s, has died at the age of 81.
“He was the smartest football player I ever saw, and that goes for college or pro,” Bob Zuppke, the famed University of Illinois football coach, was once quoted as saying.
Luckman grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Some 40 colleges sought to recruit him out of high school, but he turned them all down to play for Columbia University.
Columbia offered no athletic scholarships, so Luckman had to work his way through college painting walls and washing dishes in his fraternity house.
An outstanding college tailback at Columbia from 1936 to 1938, he was named an All-American in 1937 and 1938.
Luckman’s versatile skills and his talent and sense of the game caught the attention of the Bears’ owner and coach, George Halas.
Halas was introducing the modern version of the T-formation offense, which puts emphasis on speed, deception and passing skills — and Luckman had the skills Halas needed. Luckman’s mastery of the T-formation helped popularize professional football and made the Bears virtually unstoppable.
Luckman played for four championship Chicago teams — in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946. In the 1940 title game, he led the Bears to a 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins.
He was named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 1943. That year he set a single game record by throwing seven touchdowns against the New York Giants. In that game he threw for 453 yards in the 56-7 trouncing, the first time a quarterback had thrown for more than 400 yards in a single game.
Luckman was named All-Pro five times — 1941 to 1944 and 1947.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
After 12 years in the NFL, Luckman retired and launched a successful business career in the packaging industry.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.