1963 Bears Recall Shock of JFK Assassination

NBC 5 News

It was a special year for George Halas and the Chicago Bears.

In 1963, the Bears finished the season with an 11-1-2 record en route to beating the New York football Giants for the NFL championship, but it was that one tie game that is forever etched in the memories of the '63 champs. 

The date Nov. 24 was Week 11 of the football season, and the Bears were practicing at Wrigley Field.  

"I'll never forget because [Bears guard] Ted [Karras] and I were going around the curve near 22nd Street on the Dan Ryan," former Tackle John Johnson recalled. "They announced, and it was like you just lost your breath."

President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

"We had just come off the practice field when we heard about it, so it was quite a shock knowing something like that could happen in the United States," former fullback Ronnie Bull said. "It took us all aback." 

In that moment no one on the '63 Bears team thought football was important. Everyone was in shock.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was in contact with the White House and made the decision the games would go on, but there would be no television, radio or music played at the stadiums. 

Two days later Bears guard Bob Wetoska remembers the bus ride to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh listening to the news reports on a radio someone placed on the luggage rack. 

"They were announcing the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald out of prison" Wetoska recalled, "and Jack Ruby shot him. The announcer came on the radio and said 'He's shot! He's shot!' and the old man [Halas] jumped out of his seat saying 'you're supposed to be thinking about the ballgame!'" 

And with that the Bears coach knocked the radio to the floor.

The Bears tied the Steelers that day 17-17 thanks to a Mike Ditka run setting up the game-tying field goal. Players who were there say it was one of the greatest runs in football, a run no one but those on the field and the 40,000 fans in the stands would see.

One month later the Bears won the championship.  But, they'll never forget the one game they wished they never played.

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