When my wife and I first moved to Atlanta, I took her to a football game because her favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, was playing the Atlanta Falcons. It was a televised Monday night game, and she wore a 49ers jersey even though we were sitting with the Falcons’ fans. San Francisco clobbered Atlanta that game, and the only person cheering in our section was my wife. I think that was the last time we went to a game together.
As a new season of football begins here in the United States, I thought it might be interesting to look to the past and learn the story of how one of the most popular professional sports in America got started on the road to becoming the frenzied national spectacle it is today…
It began in Pennsylvania in the 1890s, when matches between local athletic clubs were so competitive that one of them, the Allegheny Athletic Association, hired a Yale football star to play for them in a game against a rival club. William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was paid $25 to play, along with a $500 bonus if they won. He scored the only touchdown, won the bonus, and became the first official professional football player. Within four years, the entire Allegheny team was made up of paid players. As football became more popular, teams were organized all over the country.
Despite its growth, football was considered a secondary sport for the next few decades, being overshadowed by boxing, horseracing, and baseball. It drew crowds as a spectator sport, but lack of organization and vision were keeping it from realizing its potential.
In 1920, a young athlete named George moved to Decatur, Illinois to take a sales position with Staley Starch after a hip injury ended his professional baseball career. George had played a bit of football as well, and he became the player-coach of the company football team. The team had 13 wins and just one loss under George in his first season.
In August of that year, four Ohio football team owners met in an automobile showroom in Canton, Ohio to form a new professional league. They nominated legendary decathlete and football star Jim Thorpe to be its president, hoping his fame would help get the league taken seriously. On September 17, a second meeting was held in Canton, and George was present on behalf of the Decatur Staleys. Sitting on the running boards of cars, the men officially formed the American Professional Football Association, made up of 14 teams. Within 2 years, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League, and Staley Starch turned over control of its team to George.
George moved the team to Chicago and renamed them the Bears. Over the course of nearly five decades, George Halas made huge contributions to what would eventually become the most popular sports league in North America. He helped perfect the T Formation, an offensive approach that redefined the sport by making it more fluid and exciting to watch. He achieved numerous coaching records, and participated in not just the creation of the league, but in helping get the sport televised. He had the kind of impact that only perseverance, along with talent and intelligence, can make possible.
Thinking about George’s lifetime as an NFL coach makes me think about patience. Most people don’t have enough of it when it comes to getting where they want to be in life. And while it’s easy to say “just have patience,” we all know it’s never really that easy. I’ll admit that even I’m not always the most patient person.
As hard as it is to be patient, it’s vital to realize that everything that happens is going to help you in some way. If you’re trying to move forward in your education but it feels like it’s never going to end, try to recognize that every single thing you learn is positively impacting your personal growth. If you’re trying to progress in your career, remind yourself that every experience is building you into the person who’ll be ready to seize that big opportunity when it comes your way.
Today, September 17th, the NFL celebrates its 94th anniversary as a league built on stamina, resilience, patience and passion. It’s a good time to remember that, even if something doesn’t appear relevant now, you may be surprised at how it comes back around to help you at just the right time. Your big chance may be just around the corner, and no matter who your team is, I’ll be rooting for you this Sunday!
Until next week…
Live Your Dreams,
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