nfl: chicago bears

The 2017 NFL Draft begins today.

Gerald Ford’s college football career at the University of Michigan ended in 1935, a year before the National Football League (NFL) held its first draft. It’s widely known that he received contract offers to play professional football for the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, although he declined them to pursue his dream of attending law school.  What had not been well known is that the future President also received an offer to play for the Chicago Bears. 

This little known fact was recently discovered by a visiting researcher who uncovered a long buried letter from George Halas, owner and coach of the Bears as well as a co-founder of the NFL. In the letter Halas confirmed that he made his contract offer to Jerry Ford following his participation in the 1935 College All-Star game, an exhibition game played against the Bears in Chicago. He also expressed his belief in Ford’s ability to play at the professional level, writing that “Jerry had the size, the speed and mobility and obviously the reflexes that are a part of a quick, sharp mentality so he most assuredly would have become an excellent big league lineman.”

President Ford received a copy of the Halas letter and an article about his football career from Bill Wolfan, a friend from Grand Rapids who met young Jerry Ford while covering high school sports for the Grand Rapids Herald. Wolfan went on to work in the Public Affairs Department at the Chicago Transit  Authority (CTA), which also had charge of Soldier Field, home stadium for the Chicago Bears.

Image: Copy of letter from George Halas to W.B. “Bill” Wolfan, 1/9/1975, from the White House Central Files Subject File, Box 1, “PP 2 Exec. 9/1/75 - 2/28/76″

Willie Thrower was a pioneer for African Americans in football, the first to play quarterback professionally.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1930, Willie Thrower made history in 1953, when he relieved Bears QB George Blanda during a game against the San Francisco 49ers. Thrower’s professional career, however, was short-lived. He played another game that season, but was not re-signed by the team. Thrower went to Canada to play for the Blue Bombers in Manitoba for three seasons and finished his career playing semi-professionally in Toronto.

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