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5 Qs, 5 As with Windy City Gridiron

Will Justin Fields play? What will the defense look like? And what does this have to do with 1937?

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

On October 10, 1937, Myril Hoag hit a solo home run in the second inning and Joe DiMaggio hit a solo shot in the third inning to give the New York Yankees a 2-0 lead over the New York Giants in Game 5 of the World Series. The Giants tied the game in the bottom of the third, when Mel Ott hit a two-run home run with Eli Manning Dick Bartell standing on first. But in the top of the fifth, pitcher Lefty Gomez screamed “Shohei Ohtani!” as he singled in the go-ahead run after Tony Lazzeri tripled to lead off the inning.

To this day, nobody knows what it means.

Four batters later, Lou Gehrig doubled to score Gomez and the Yankees went on to win the game and the World Series by a 4-1 series margin. Gomez, one of the lesser-talked about Hall of Famers on the 30’s Yankees, singled in his own game-winning run as he pitched a 9-inning gem to seal a World Series championship, a literal daydream of so many young lefties.

500 miles away, a much less popular sport called “football” was happening.

For just the fifth time in franchise history, the Cleveland Rams were getting set to play a game and for the third time, it would be at their home stadium “League Park” in Cleveland, Ohio. However, it would already be the second time that the Rams played a team from Chicago at League Park; one week earlier, the Rams lost to the Chicago Cardinals by a score of 6-0.

And that was already Cleveland’s second time being shut out after a 28-0 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 1, their first ever game at League Park or anywhere else.

Rams fans must have rioted after losing to the Lions, probably shouting things like “We’re sick of the Detroit Lions winning everything!” and “I bet it’s gonna be a long century of the Detroit Lions dominating football just like the Yankees dominate baseball!” and “Did you hear about Lefty Gomez today, see?!”

A las.

Led by George Halas, who was the franchise’s first head coach when they were known as the Decatur Staleys in 1920, then the Chicago Staleys in 1921, then the Chicago Bears in 1922 (Halas changes team names in front of the Washington Football Team like Matthew Stafford throws footballs in front of Tim Tebow; “It’s not that hard, is it?”), the Bears were a dominant team of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Halas coached them on and off between 1920 and 1967 and the franchise won a Casey Stengel-like eight championships in that period of time.

So basically, the stage couldn’t have been any bigger for the Rams’ version of George Halas: Hugo Bezdek.

Known for living in a clock in Martin Scorsese’s house, Bezdek’s family emigrated from Austria to America in 1891 when he was 6 years old, and it was only 15 years later that he became the head football coach at the University of Oregon. You would think that makes Bedzek the first “Sean McVay” of college football, but at 21, he was probably one of the oldest coaches in the country at the time, if not one of the oldest people period.

After posting a 5-0-1 record in his Ducks debut, Bezdek wound up as a good coach at Arkansas, before heading back to Oregon in 1913, then eventually taking over at Penn State in 1918 where he was mentored by Joe Paterno.

In between all of that, Bezdek did something even more unbelievable than meeting Martin Scorsese: from the middle of 1917 to the end of 1919, he was the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hugo Bezdek remains the only person to ever be a head coach in the NFL and a manager in the MLB. Which I find especially strange given that nobody has ever been able to prove what a baseball manager even does.

Bezdek also coached the basketball team at Oregon and briefly at Penn State, but I think even I once coached the Penn State basketball team. (Penn State has a basketball team?)

One of Bezdek’s players on the 1919 Pirates was a Casey Stengel-like guy named Casey Stengel, himself a future Hall of Fame manager who would win seven world championships with the Yankees, beginning with his first season at the helm in 1949.

Another player on the 1919 Pirates was a 19-year-old pitcher of little historical regard named “Big” Jack Wisner and it’s my dream to believe that this is an actual picture of him from 100 years ago:

The handsome young man’s career in Pittsburgh was brief and he last pitched for the Pirates in 1920, when he was 20. Wisner wouldn’t appear in the big leagues again until 1925, when he pitched 40.1 innings for the Giants, then again with 28 more innings in 1926, which would turn out to be his last professional season.

One of Wisner’s teammates that year though was Bill Terry, the last person in National League history to hit .400, which he accomplished by hitting .401 in 1930 over 710 plate appearances.

Two years later, Terry became a player/manager for the Giants and in 1933, they won the World Series. Terry was now an All-Star first baseman and a championship manager who regularly helped the team win 90+ games, but he stepped away from the plate in 1936 after hitting a paltry .310 over 79 games.

Media members everywhere rushed to the presses for headlines like, “Terry-atric?! 37-year-old Giants batter can’t hit a barn door with his .310 average!!! (WWII coming btw!!)”

A year later, Terry helped “manage” the Giants back to the World Series, where on October 10, 1937, he against lost to his big brothers in New York, signaling that a shift to the lefty coast would have to be necessary one day.

But on this October day, it would be the Rams (the franchise that opened the door for the Giants and Dodgers to move from New York to California) against the Bears, Hugo against Halas, baseball against football.

To the surprise of no one: Bears 20, Rams 2.

The first of 95 meetings between the two franchises.

Game 96 will be this Sunday at SoFi Stadium, a league park that cost $5 billion to build, which is the equivalent of $215.25 in 1937 money.

Chicago will be somewhat different this year than they were under Halas, so in order to get to know the present iteration of the team much better, I sent 5 Qs to Patti Curl from SB Nation’s Bears site Windy City Gridiron. In return, Patti sent me five corresponding As.

Let’s find out... What’s new with the Chicago Bears?

Q - I wish I could ask you more about Justin Fields, but I have no doubt that Matt Nagy intends Andy Dalton to start and finish this game against the Rams. But we also know that with QBs such as Lamar Jackson and Taysom Hill (using “QB” loosely), it’s becoming increasingly common to design plays for the backup, especially when they’re talented young players who the team invested a first round pick into acquiring. Nagy has suggested there will be opportunities for Fields this season, do you expect any of those moments to happen on Sunday night and if so, what types of plays would you say we are most likely to see from Fields if he does get some action?

A - I think Matt Nagy is already getting enough heat for his decision to wait on starting Fields that putting him in for a few snaps would risk things combusting into a full-blown inferno. Pretty much everyone except the Bears decision-makers think Fields should be starting day one. I personally am a calm and collected fan-blogger and unapologetic homer willing to do mental gymnastics to justify the Bears’ decisions. So I naturally understand there are pros and cons to both starting immediately or gestating longer in a quarterback womb bathed in the wisdom that seeps out of the beautifully wizened minds of Andrew Dalton and Nicholas Foles.

I think if Fields goes out, it’s on the goal line or 4th and short. The Bears will use the threat of his speed to give the defense pause while he hands it off to David Montgomery.

Also Read: Will Rams face Justin Fields on Sunday?

Q - Not even the addition of Matthew Stafford could prevent Aaron Donald from being the most dominant force on the LA Rams roster; the Bears named former UDFA/practice squad player Sam Mustipher as the starting center and it looks like he’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with Cody Whitehair and James Daniels at guard. How big of a concern or strength is Chicago’s offensive line, especially when it comes to the interior?

A - About that...the good news for the Bears is the middle is the strong part of their offensive line. The bad news is, that’s kind of like saying the middle is the strong part of a dandelion. Cody Whitehair and James Daniels have both shown promise, but have both broken that promise on multiple occasions, in part because they’ve swapped positions much too frequently. Whitehair has been the most consistent and is currently at his best position in the left guard spot. Sam Mustipher is an undrafted free agent who performed above expectation when he took over at center last season, but that’s a far stretch from being ready to stop Aaron Donald from ravaging the quasi-mobile Andy Dalton.

As far as our tackles? Germain Ifedi got cut from the Seahawks offensive line. And although Jason Peters has been nice enough to take a break from his Bingo games to fill in at left tackle, I’m worried he might not make it through the game, since it will go considerably past his bed time. He’s old. That’s the joke.

Also read: What happened in Rams-Bears last season?

Q - The Bears kept five tight ends on the roster, including former Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham and 2020’s second round pick, Cole Kmet. It’s been a while since Graham was an exceptional threat in the passing game but he did catch eight touchdowns last season. Kmet averaged only 5.5 yards per target in 2020, but is only 22 and seems to have a lot of potential. Is tight end considered a strength or a weakness this year for Chicago? Who among them would you expect to play a role this weekend?

A - The Bears are counting on tight end to be a strength this year, and it honestly only takes a mental handspring and a couple mental somersaults to see that playing out. Graham has shown he can use his height and understanding of leverage to remain a valuable red zone target even with waning athleticism. Kmet has a nice frame with a decent head on top of it, and last year he showed enough promise to believe he can take a significant second year leap. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesse James sees some snaps and plays the role of an unassuming target for a catch or two. I was fantasizing about Jesper Horsted developing into an athletic “move” tight end to complement Kmet’s in-line strengths even before his three touchdown preseason game three, but if we’re being honest, he was lucky to make the roster and won’t see offensive snaps Sunday. J.P Holtz is essentially a fullback and special teamer, and his designation as a tight end rather than running back is the reason the Bears tight end roster number is so high.

Chicago Bears v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Also read: Don’t overlook the Bears!

Q - Which key players on Chicago’s roster who are expected to start against the Rams missed significant time in training camp and practices leading up to Week 1? Are there any questionable/doubtful statuses as far as injuries?

A - For starters, 60% the offensive line (as well as all of their backups). Mustipher and Whitehair are the only lineman that stayed healthy through camp and preseason, and due to depth injuries, the Bears had stints of “first string” lineman that didn’t even make the eventual practice squad. As a result, the current starting line has had very limited time working together, even in practice.

Besides that, Robert Quinn has been nursing an ankle injury and otherwise seems to be on an injury-prevention snap count while the Bears try to squeeze what they can out of his bloated contract. But right now, the Bears are pretty much either healthy or on PUP/IR (Tarik Cohen, Danny Trevathan, Tevin Jenkins).

Thursday update: Eddie Goldman has a newly reported ankle/knee injury and his chances to smother the will to live out of Darrell Henderson this Sunday have decreased considerably.

Q - There’s no denying the fact that the Bears legacy as a franchise lies with its defense. How is the outlook for Chicago’s defense in 2021 and does it have the potential to be a top-5 unit? What are its greatest weaknesses?

A - The Bears defensive outlook has been tenuous since the release of Kyle Fuller. If the Bears pull off a top 5 unit, it means Sean Desai has Staley-level success executing his version of the Fangio scheme, that Robert Quinn or Trevis Gipson prove to be a formidable threat opposite Khalil Mack, and the Bears cornerbacks all play significantly above expectation. Any of these things are possible, and presumably the first will improve the likelihood of the other two. That said, most likely the Bears defense will be worse than last year, when they ranked 8th in DVOA.

I already hinted at it, but the greatest weakness is definitely the secondary. Jaylon Johnson at CB1 is the spot the Bears are most confident in. He’s a second year player who had a great start but uneven finish to his rookie campaign. He has a history of shoulder injuries, and I expect him to play well unless/until his shoulder gets reaggravated. Kindle Vildor is a promising 5th round pick at CB2, but he’s short for an outside corner, and hasn’t shown he can be a difference maker at the NFL level. He was an aggressive playmaker in college, but this preseason looked more like someone who was trying not to be a liability. Duke Shelley is the starting nickel, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he didn’t make the team. Honestly, with how good Roquan Smith is in coverage, I think the Bears may be better off playing more base than nickel this year. As far as safeties, Tashaun Gipson is fine, and we’re all counting on Eddie Jackson to return to his glory days when he played under Fangio, mostly because we don’t want to think about this secondary if he doesn’t.

Answering this question has made me sad. Why couldn’t you have ended with a question about Justin Fields?

Follow Patti on Twitter at @OpinionBear

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More historical facts:

  • Hugo went 1-13 as head coach before he was fired
  • His last gig was football head coach at Delaware Valley, one of the lesser known varieties of ranch dressing
  • When the Rams moved to LA in 1946, they met the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 3, with the game ending in a 28-28 tie
  • 12 players threw a pass for the Rams in 1937 and they threw 21 interceptions on 168 attempts
  • The Bears lead the series 54-38-3
  • The first playoff game between the two teams resulted in a 24-14 win for the Rams, in which Bob Waterfield threw three touchdown passes to Tom Fears; Fears finished with 198 yards and seven catches
  • Fears held the playoff record for receiving yards for 38 years and it remains the ninth-highest single game total in postseason history
  • The next playoff game between them came during Chicago’s historical 1985 season and the Bears won that game 24-0
  • Must have felt like being back in Cleveland again