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NFL Hall of Famers who served in the military: Sid Luckman

In addition to being the greatest downfield passer of his generation, Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman was also an accomplished rusher.

In addition to being the greatest downfield passer of his generation, Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman was also an accomplished rusher.

In commemoration of D-Day, we bring you another installment of our series on NFL Hall of Famers who served in the armed forces. On Memorial Day we profiled head coach Marv Levy. Today we look at the greatest Chicago Bears quarterback of them all: the incomparable Sid Luckman.

College phenom

Sid Luckman’s road to the NFL was anything but conventional. After a successful college career as a single-wing tailback for Columbia University, Luckman came to the attention of Chicago Bears owner and head coach George Halas, who had the notion that Luckman could make an effective quarterback in his new T-formation system.

Knowing that the Bears would be drafting too low in the first round of the 1939 NFL Draft to have a realistic shot at selecting Luckman, Halas crafted an ingenious plan by which he arranged to have the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) draft Luckman second overall — and then trade him to Chicago. Rather than reacting with joy at the prospect of playing for the Chicago Bears, Luckman turned down the offer, preferring instead to go work in his father’s trucking company.

Never one to take “no” for an answer, Halas finagled his way into a dinner invitation at Luckman’s house, where he prevailed upon Luckman to sign a contract worth $5,000. With the Jewish Luckman now safely in the fold, Halas famously said, “You and Jesus Christ are the only two people I would ever pay this to.”

Luckman’s response: “Thank you, coach. You put me in great company.”

Innovation

In concert with defensive coordinator Clark Shaughnessy, who was tasked with developing strategies to counter his new offensive scheme, Halas proceeded to revitalize the outdated T-formation offense, crafting a complex system unlike anything had ever been fielded before. Perhaps the most notable innovation was that of the man in motion, which enabled Luckman to exploit defensive mismatches in a way that had never been possible with the more static offensive schemes typical of the time.

The impact of the Bears’ new offensive style was immediate. In only Luckman’s second season, Chicago went to the NFL title game, where they squared off against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins had no answer for the might of Halas’ dynamic offense, as Luckman pitched a shutout, rolling up an incredible 73 points on Bears’ seemingly hapless opponents. Ironically, Luckman himself only attempted six passes (completing four) for 102 yards in the game.

Sid Luckman would be considered a decent passer today. In the era when he played, there was no one like him.

Sid Luckman would be considered a decent passer today. In the era when he played, there was no one like him.

That was only the beginning of a stretch of domination that has rarely been equaled since. Between 1940 and 1946, Chicago went 54-17-3 for an impressive win percentage of .750, appearing in five championship games and winning four of them.

Amidst of this string of incredible success, Luckman volunteered to join the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1943, assuming the rank of ensign. Although his duties prevented him from practicing with the team, making his accomplishments all the more remarkable, he did receive leave to play on Sundays. Unlike many NFL players who wore a uniform of the armed services, Luckman was never deployed abroad. He was discharged in 1946 and returned to the team.

After retiring in 1950, Luckman was recognized for his achievements by induction into the College Football Hall of Fame (1960) and Pro Football Hall of Fame (1965).

Retrospect

Although Sid Luckman’s numbers don’t look spectacular compared to the aerial extravaganza put up by today’s precision quarterbacks, they were nothing short of astronomical for his era. He finished with a 51.8 completion percentage, having amassed 14,686 yards, 137 touchdowns, and 134 interceptions for a career passer rating of 75.0 — unheard of in that time. To this day, he ranks second all time in average yards per attempt at 8.4, behind only Otto Graham at 8.6, and holds the NFL record for career touchdown percentage, having averaged an incredible 7.9 touchdowns per 100 passing attempts.

Indeed, his numbers still hold up well: his career Complete Quarterback Rating (CQBR) of 57.49 is a tick higher than that of current Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (56.49) and slightly lower than that of Detroit Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford (59.69). In other words, Sid Luckman would be an above-average quarterback even in today’s NFL.

In his day, he was simply the greatest anyone had ever seen.

368 comments
thebaskett
thebaskett

You should write one of these for NBA Champion Harry Grant

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

For the record, the Bears are planning to work out quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell, Trent Edwards and Jordan Palmer. I don't expect them to sign any of them. I think it is more of a way for them to see what's available if injuries occur later in the year.

AndrewLeT
AndrewLeT

I also learned that the Cowboys, Redskins, Raiders, and Falcons don't retire numbers.  The falcons i can understand because there really isn't history there, but i'm surprised the other 3 don't.  must be a dickhead owners thing.

Koosh12684
Koosh12684

How many more numbers are the Packers allowed to retire?  If its only one (17.23) more, then save that shit for Rodgers.  Favre had his chance.

Super Mantha
Super Mantha

wow Suh dropped 2 spots on the top 100 players even tho he had a WAY better year in 2012

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

I have no idea why, but they really seem to like Josh McCown. I'm hoping Blanchard emerges as the #2.

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused moderator

@andylet445 

Nobody in the Cowboys is more important than Jerry Jones. If he can't have a jersey to hang, no one can.

AndrewLeT
AndrewLeT

Officially retired numbers NFCN

Bears - 13

Lions - 6

Vikings - 6

Packers - 5

i think the packers will be fine.

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@Buhlitz  Besides, Suh at 38 or whatever last season based on 2011 was a joke.

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@Buhlitz  It's a subjective list. But consider the possibility that some other players improved more.

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

@Mr._Horse 

That's just a bit out of context. He goes on to say both sides were at fault. It may be the first time he took part of the blame, but I wouldn't know. I think, outside of the Packer fan base, most people just see this as a silly soap opera.

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@andylet445  More proof the Lions are better than the Packers, right there.

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@Borderline Football Brilliant   Yeah, probably.  But it is the first time he ate some blame and it is important to Packers fans.  He was the QB for a long time, and the ring. 

Koosh12684
Koosh12684

@andylet445 @Mr._Horse @J. Walter Weatherman Favre also won the superbowl for me on my birthday.  I respect all he has done.  But after that horse shit, he doesn't deserve his number retired.  I won't be disappointed if he does.  Its just how I feel.

AndrewLeT
AndrewLeT

@Mr._Horse @andylet445 or the packers hold a higher standard of play from their players making it that much harder to be considered worthy of a number retired in your honor.

Koosh12684
Koosh12684

@Mr._Horse@Borderline Football Brilliant "So I hate it, that it happened that way and I tried to go on and play my best football in spite of those things. And I had a great year my first year in Minnesota..."

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Aaaaaaand then he takes it all back....